Year published :January 2017

Pages :214 pp.

Size :14x21 cm.

Black & White illustrations :6

ISBN: 9786162151316

Five Studies on Khun Chang Khun Phaen: The Many Faces of a Thai Literary Classic

by Chris Baker and Pasuk Phongpaichit

Edited by Chris Baker and Pasuk Phongpaichit 

Siam’s great folk epic The Tale of Khun Chang Khun Phaen has entertained and delighted readers and audiences down through the centuries, with its rich and earthy portrayal of life and relationships in love and war. Here, a mix of Thai and Western scholars present five critical essays that uncover hidden layers of meaning and expose new themes using theories and approaches developed mainly within the field of Western literary criticism. 

The first two essays arise out of the crucible of Thailand’s social upheaval and student protest movement in the early 1970s, when Thai literary criticism was nascent. They argue that the tale shows a society without principle, and the characters reveal the latent aggression that resides universally in the human psyche. The remaining three essays originated a generation or more later. The third essay contends that the tale was designed to teach Buddhist morality by employing the Three Worlds cosmography and the law of karma. The fourth essay analyzes the forest as a metaphorical space for the recovery of selfhood, and the final essay examines the tale as a manual that gives crucial guidance on power and politics. 

“One measure of a literary classic is that it reflects the complexity of real life and can be read in many different ways,” the introduction states. This first collection of English-language studies on The Tale of Khun Chang Khun Phaen will enhance the understanding and enjoyment of a great Asian classic. 


  1. A Society Which Lacks Principle—ML Boonlua Debyasuvarn
  2. The Aggression of Characters in Khun Chang Khun Phaen—Cholthira Satyawadhna
  3. Khun Chang Khun Phaen and the Moral Landscape of the Three Worlds Cosmology—Warunee Osatharom
  4. Space, Identity, and Self-Definition: The Forest in Khun Chang Khun Phaen—David C. Atherton
  5. The Revolt of Khun Phaen: Contesting Power in Early Modern Siam—Chris Baker and Pasuk Phongpaichit


  • Literary critiques by both Thai and Western scholars
  • Illuminates a variety of themes and interpretations of Khun Chang Khun Phaen
  • Record of early Thai literary criticism in translation
  • Provides a window on Thai society, culture, and religious values
  • Includes six b/w illustrations

About the Editors 

Chris Baker is a historian and long-time resident of Thailand. Pasuk Phongpaichit is professor of economics at Chulalongkorn University. In 2010 they won the A. L. Becker Southeast Asian Literature in Translation Prize for their translation of Khun Chang Khun Phaen. They have also translated the Thai epic poem Yuan Phai, the Defeat of Lanna. 

What Others Are Saying 

“Baker and Pasuk have single-handedly invigorated international interest in classical Thai literature by translating the monumental folk epic Khun Chang Khun Phaen. Now they have compiled this invaluable collection of essays that illustrates how the epic has been read and understood. Three of the essays are superb translations of classic studies by Thai literary scholars—Boonlua, Cholthira, and Warunee. Baker and Pasuk have thrown down a gauntlet to challenge non-Thai-reading literary scholars to deploy current literary theory in conversation with their Thai colleagues. I hope that sparks will fly.”—Thak Chaloemtiarana, professor of Asian literature, religion, culture, and Southeast Asian studies, Cornell University 


literary criticism Thai literature folk epic Siam

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