James Clavell was a British novelist born in 1921 who gained renown not only for his work on the ‘Asian Saga’ series of novels but also the numerous screenplays he wrote chief amongst which was ‘The Great Escape’.
Order of Asian Saga Series
Order of James Clavell Standalone Novels
James’s father was an officer in the Royal Navy by the names of Commander Richard Charles Clavell. The author was born in Sydney while his father was stationed in Australia, though he was eventually taken to England.
James went to Portsmouth Grammar School. Once his public schooling days ended, the author went into the army, doing his part to fight the Japanese in Malaya. War was a far more brutal animal than the author expected and it wasn’t long before he was wounded in battle and captured by the enemy. That was in 1942
The Japanese initially took him to a camp on Java before depositing him in Changi Prison. The Singaporean facility was popular for the rate at which it killed its prisoners. And while it was no picnic for James Clavell, he often spoke fondly of the diverse collections of people he encountered in the notorious prison, individuals from all walks of life who taught him everything from physics to art. The author grew tougher and learned to survive.
James stuck with the army even after returning to England. However, an accident that injured his leg ended the captain’s military career. After a stint at Birmingham University and a couple of odd jobs in between, James’ wife helped him enter the movie business.
James contributed to screenplays for ‘The Fly’ and ‘The Great Escape’, not to mention directing a couple of movies of his own. The author did not attempt literary fiction until 1960 during the writer’s strike, producing his first novel.
James eventually garnered popularity with his series of historical novels set in the East. The books stood out because they gave readers a unique perspective of the Asian culture. It was believed that James used many of his experiences abroad to write his contemporary and historical fiction.
James died in 1994. Cancer was cited as the cause. He was 72 at the time.
James Clavell Books into Movies/TV
‘King Rat’ was James’ first novel. It became a movie starring George Segal in 1965. The adaptation was well received, garnering a pair of Academy nominations.
Shogun’, another James Clavell novel, became a miniseries in 1980. Adapted for television by NBC and starring Toshiro Mifune and Richard Chamberlain, the miniseries was well received, garnering multiple Emmy Award nominations, receiving three Golden Globes and becoming one of the highest rated miniseries ever seen.
‘Tai-Pan’, another novel from James, wasn’t as fortunate, receiving a movie adaptation in 1986 starring Joan Cheri and Bryan Brown that failed at the box office even while receiving numerous negative reviews.
‘Noble House’ was better received. The James Clavell novel became a Television Miniseries in 1988 featuring Pierce Brosnan. Taking many liberties, Noble House was a success, at least as far as ratings go.
Plans for a ‘Gai-Jin’ adaptation never went anywhere despite reports of attempts to turn the novel into a miniseries in the 1990s.
Best James Clavell Books
James Clavell built his reputation crafting unique stories set within a culture that was wholly unfamiliar to his audience at the time, with some of the best books in the author’s bibliography including:
Shogun: This book takes place in the 1600s in Feudal Japan. Power is held by a council of regents that rule the land. Portugal is looking to gain a foothold in Japan. When an English Pilot called John Blackthorne is deployed to Japan, he is thrust into unfamiliar waters after his Dutch warship is destroyed and he is tried as a pirate.
What unfolds is a curious tale about the adventurer, an invincible Japanese warlord and a beautiful woman struggling to find her place in life.
Tai-Pan: Dirk Struan is the Tai-Pan, a leading figure of a trading company in the Far East. Dirk struggles to elevate himself to the highest position on the Orient as a pirate and a smuggler. Dirk is assured of success because of his wit and cunning. Having amassed a great fortune and a fleet of ships, Dirk has crafted an Empire that is built on loyalty.
The only person threatening Dirk’s future is Tyler Brock, a man that has shown as much cunning as Dirk but who is always second best. Tyler isn’t as smart as his rival but he is determined to take Dirk’s title as Tai-Pan.