• Joe Pace

Favorite Fictional Characters, #188: Ian Dunross


Not James Bond. You can tell by the cardigan.

James Clavell's weighty novel Noble House is the fourth entry in his sweeping Asian Saga (though the fifth in the timeline). A bewildering array of storylines and ever-changing cast of characters that would make George RR Martin blink, the saga begins in feudal Japan with Shogun and winds through the centuries to Iran on the eve of the 1979 coup. The main thread begins in the novel Tai-Pan and follows the Struan family, a bloodline of Scottish opium smugglers who later became prominent businessmen. Struan's company becomes the Noble House, the most dominant trading company in Hong Kong.


In Noble House, the Struan family/company is once again faced with crisis, as economic conditions and the ever-present threats of their rival families gather like storm clouds. Enter the tenth Tai-Pan (or CEO), Ian Dunross. A young, dashing, gifted leader, Dunross is beset on all sides by the many enemies of his house. The Chinese criminal underworld, Russian spies, American financiers, business competitors - there are no shortage of woes. But as Dunross famously states, "An able man has many burdens. As I am abler than most, I sweat more than most." There is no rest for him throughout the novel, and yet he never loses his cool, his reserve, his command. Dunross represents the synthesis of Western and Eastern culture, balancing boldness with deliberation, progress with respect for tradition. He often references his "joss", a kind of Chinese amalgam of fate and luck, and embraces his troubles as a sort of welcome, if consuming, destiny.


The book gave rise to a 1988 mini-series that updated the time frame from the 1960s to the 1980s and placed Pierce Brosnan in the role of Dunross. Brosnan's signature unflappability and suave demeanor are a good fit for the Tai-Pan. Arch-rival Quillan Gornt is played with savage villainous glee by John Rhys-Davies (I can remember thinking at the time that Sallah was being a real scumbag), and the cast is loaded with Asian actors, which lends the program a strong sense of authenticity. It's not often that a screen adaptation proves worthy of the written source material, but the Noble House miniseries works.

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