Arslan Bahadır is a popular Turkestani fictional character created by Çoqan Aytmaş-uli for a series of books published between 1959 and 1980. His adventures as a warrior-champion in the army and court of Timür have become the subject of three television series (one animated, two live-action), as well as a number of graphic novels and one film (with another in the works). The tone of these varies considerably from gruesomely bloodthirsty to cheesy and innocent.
The original Arslan Bahadır series of books by Çoqan Aytmaş-ulı are perhaps best classified as "historical fantasy". Although putatively set in the reign of Timür (1370-1405), the books feature several obvious anachronisms, such as the use of a primitive man-powered zeppelin in Arslan Bahadır and the Eagle Lords (1972), that belong in the realm of the fantastic. The books feature very little in the way of the supernatural – no "real" magic, for example – but they are as much a fantasy as the novels of Juliette Verne. Despite these willful anachronisms, in some ways the books are quite historical – the savage violence of that era is portrayed uncompromisingly, as is the general historical and cultural milieu, especially the court intrigue, but also the cultural flowering of Central Asia that took place in the reign of Timür.
Books featuring Arslan Bahadır written by other authors after the death of Çoqan Aytmaş-ulı in 1981 are more varied in their approach, and have received mixed receptions among fans of the original books.
The books in the original series are as follows:
- Arslan Bahadır (1959)
- Arslan Bahadır's Quest (1962)
- Arslan Bahadır and the Golden Horde (1964)
- Arslan Bahadır's Vengeance (1967)
- Arslan Bahadır and the Black Sultan (1970)
- Arslan Bahadır and the Eagle Lords (1972)
- Arslan the Warrior (prequel, published 1976)
- Arslan Bahadır and the Persian Princess (1980)
Additional books by other authors:
- Arslan Bahadır and the Russian Gold (Petir Saloman-ulı, 1988)
- Arslan Bahadır's Bride (Qunduz Davud-qızı, 1993)
- Arslan Bahadır and the Mountain King (Petir Saloman-ulı, 1994)
- Arslan Bahadır's Legacy (Qunduz Davud-qızı, 1996)
- Arslan Bahadır in Exile (Yunus Islam-ulı, 2000)
- Arslan Bahadır Conquers Jerusalem (Petir Saloman-ulı, 2001)
- Arslan Bahadır and the Devil Priest (Ardaq Sapor-ulı, 2004)
- Arslan Bahadır and the Great Tournament (Ardaq Sapor-ulı, 2007)
Television and Film
The 1969 Television Series
The original Arslan Bahadır television series was quite different in tone from the books – less bloodthirsty and savage, for one thing – and extended the character's popularity to people who might have never otherwise read the books. Çoqan Aytmaş-ulı was brought in as a creative overseer for the first two seasons, which stuck more closely to Çoqan's original storylines and theme. In the third season, though, although he was kept on as a creative consultant, a new producer seeking to cash in on the popularity of the show began to depart increasingly from Çoqan Aytmaş-ulı's work. Çoqan was reportedly furious over the increasing liberties taken with his character, and pulled out of the project after the third season. The show continued for two more seasons, with increasing liberty taken not only with the character but also with the show's internal history, but it brought increasingly disappointing returns, and was cancelled in 1974.
The costuming and scenery budgets of the show were lavish, but the special effects have dated badly, and some of the acting was quite wooden.
The cast and first production team of the original TV series were reunited to make a full-length film which opened in 1977, but even that did not do as well as expected.
The 1980s/1990s Animated Series
The New Series
In 2004, Turkestani television and film producer Ruza Şahadı received permission from Çoqan Aytmaş-ulı's estate to produce a new television series based closely on the original books. Arslan first aired in 2006. Older fans who had seen the original 1970s series and children who had grown up with the animated Adventures of Arslan Bahadır in the 80s and 90s were shocked to discover that the new series was vastly different: much more adult in its themes, with betrayals, plots, intrigue, savagery, complex characters and moral ambiguity, a lot like the original books (which somehow slipped under the Department of Homeland Security's early censorship net, perhaps because of its authoritarian tone and historical subject matter).
Despite its controversies among fans of the earlier series, Arslan attracted a new fan base, interpreting the older heroic tales for a new generation. The latest series re-establishes Arslan Bahadır in his correct historical setting. Ruza Şahadı has clearly researched both the Timurid time period and the original books, and anachronisms like the man-powered airship are present, but only if they were present in the original novels.
A feature film is currently in production, and is expected to hit the cinemas in 2010.