Romance of the Three Kingdoms Podcast – Out of Pods Review 
Episodes Reviewed: 01-154
Average Episode Length: 30 Minutes
Release Schedule: Finished
So, this is the second time I’ve reviewed The Romance of the Three Kingdoms Podcast for the site; the reason I’ve returned to it is because it is finished! John Zhu’s 4 year long project to read the novel of the same name and present it in an accessible manner for western audiences reached its conclusion in the middle of last year. Once I’d gotten over my grief from it finishing, I’ve listened to the entire run of the podcast again. Here are my thoughts on it.
An epic tale that spans a century of chinese history from the year 180 to 280 A.D. encompassing the collapse of the Eastern Han Dynasty, the chaos that followed and the eventual reunification of China under one Kingdom once again. It is full of legendary characters, grand schemes, battles that changed the course of history and many, many banquets. The Romance of the Three Kingdoms novel is described as 80% history, 20% Fiction. The characters are real people, the events really happened but there’s a bit of artistic flourish in the telling that sets the novel apart from the textbooks you’d find in school. It’s a fascinating period of history and the novel has permeated chinese culture to such a degree that it is as important to them as the works of Shakespeare are in the west.
So, why listen to this podcast instead of picking up an english translation of the novel? The reason for that is due to the style in which the novel was written. In its original chinese form the style is compact, dense, full of information and has a beauty to it on the page. However when it is translated into English that magic becomes very dry, dull and impenetrable. In short, it isn’t an easy read. That is where John Zhu comes in, a Chinese American perfectly placed to bridge that gap. Taking the novel and adapting it into podcast episodes of around 30 minutes in length. John does an excellent job of making sure that you don’t get lost in the weeds and maximises your enjoyment of the story.
Does he tell you the name of a guy who’s just turned up and gets killed 3 sentences later? No, he calls him Red Shirt 1, or nameless schmo as, in a novel with a cast of characters numbering in the thousands it really isn’t necessary for you to know it. When a character makes a historical or cultural reference John takes time to explain it to save you losing 4 hours going down the rabbit hole on Google. I do enjoy a good googling rabbit hole but I appreciate the effort that John puts in to make sure that any rabbit holes I go down are extra treats and that without them I’ll understand what is happening. For some things he takes it further and does a Supplemental Episode where he goes a bit deeper on things, such as Legendary Advisors that are referenced frequently by characters. In these supplemental episodes he also explores some of the differences between the Historical and Fictional depictions of key characters. All of which are fascinating. He even has set up a website which contains additional information, like maps and such, at www.3kingdomspodcast.com.
John is an excellent narrator; I’ve enjoyed listening to him. I’m sad that the story has come to an end. It’s been brilliant and I’ve no doubt that I will listen to it again several times in the years to come. I can’t recommend this podcast highly enough and to sweeten the deal, John Zhu has started a new podcast which deals with another of the great chinese classics, The Water Margin or Outlaws of the Marsh as it is sometimes called. Stay tuned for a review on that in the future… in the meantime, enjoy the Romance of the Three Kingdoms Podcast!