Manuscript draft of Empire of the Sun by J G Ballard


This is the manuscript draft of Empire of the Sun, the semi-autobiographical novel by the British writer J G Ballard (published 1984). Shown here is an extract from Chapter 31, written out in Ballard's hand in blue ink, in which Jim and his fellow prisoners, sick and exhausted, have been forced to march away from the internment camp. Temporarily camping at the football stadium, Jim witnesses – or believes to have witnessed – the explosion of an atomic bomb.

Set during the Second World War, the novel draws on Ballard’s childhood experience in the Japanese-controlled Lunghua civilian internment camp in China: Ballard had been born to British expatriate parents in the Shanghai International Settlement. The main protagonist of the novel is a boy called Jamie (Jim) Graham, following Ballard’s first and middle names. Jim’s experience of the war is distinctly different to that of the adults around him: in many ways he enjoys the apocalyptic landscapes he inhabits, using them as a space for play; despite the horrors of war, he’s energised by his fascination with military airplanes, cinema, advertising and magazines; and his survival techniques and ability to mix with both prison guards and prisoners provide him with comparative freedom. 

In the novel, Jim is separated from his parents, although in reality Ballard was interned with his family. The decision to make Jim ‘a sort of orphan’ allowed Ballard to make the breakthrough into beginning the novel, ending what he described as ‘one of the longest periods a professional writer has put off describing the most formative events in his life. 20 years to forget, and then 20 years to remember… Once I separated Jim from his parents the novel unrolled itself at my feet like a bullet-ridden carpet.’

Ballard’s work had hitherto often been ghettoised as science fiction, or caused widespread controversy in the case of Crash (1973). Empire of the Sun, however, was warmly received by a literary mainstream Ballard described as ‘the enemy’, to the extent that it won both the Guardian fiction prize and the James Tait Black Memorial Prize. Having been adapted by the playwright Tom Stoppard, it was subsequently made into a big-budget Hollywood film in 1987.

Full title:
The Papers of James Graham Ballard: 'The Empire of the Sun' (Autograph Manuscript): 592-687
c. 1983
Manuscript / Draft
J G Ballard
Usage terms

Manuscript draft of Empire of the Sun, by J. G. Ballard © J. G. Ballard. Reproduced by permission of the J. G. Ballard Estate. All rights reserved. You may not use this work for commercial purposes and the copyright holder must be credited.

Held by
British Library
Add MS 88938/3/13/1/7

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