The nature of monkey is irrepressible!


Hands up if you didn’t happen to watch Monkey Magic when you were a child? Hell, even just thinking about the fantastic old show sent a wave of goose bumps down my arm. The particularly dinky yet ridiculously awesome old Japanese show was based on the epic Chinese tale; Journey to the West, written by Wu Cheng’en in 16th Century China.

Recently I read the Penguin translation of the title, named simply, ‘Monkey.’ Here we have an abridged English version of Wu Cheng’en’s classic tale, and whilst it is quite brief, it is highly enjoyable from start to finish.

It tells of the tale of a particularly devout Buddhist priest by the name of Tripitaka, who along with his three disciples must travel on foot from China to India in order to collect a series of scriptures from Buddha, thus also finding enlightenment.

Whilst initially starting out with a handful of mortal disciples, Tripitaka is soon captured by a band of ogres and his disciples are promptly eaten. As he progresses, with a little divine intervention, he is soon joined by Monkey, Pigsy and Sandy, three heavenly beings who are doing penance for various mis-deeds in their past – most notably of these, Monkey, who is by far and away one of the most enjoyable characters you will come across.

The nature of monkey is irrepressible they say, and it is precisely true. Much of the first half of the book details Monkey’s rise to power and then his insane misbehaviour in the realms of heaven. Monkey, or ‘The Great Sage Equal of Heaven’ – a title in which he forces the Jade Emperor to bestow on him at the risk of further mischief, is a hilarious character. As violent and playful as he is intelligent, like his real life counter-parts, he is unpredictable and amusing.

Monkey’s counter-part Pigsy, is likewise a joy to behold, whose main value is his strength and ability to almost eat without pause, and is constantly feeling injustice at the hands of Monkey, and always looking for ways to play pranks on him. The bantering that goes on between these two is wonderful, and if anything, I wish there was more of it.

While the book is a pleasant read, it is only really a taster of the real story to which I now plan on hunting down a copy in all its glorious detail. It’s a light read and purely fable and if you’re going to remotely enjoy it, leave your realities at the door. One of the things I enjoyed most about the story was the description of all the heavenly beings; which cover everything from the Dragon King who has a palace at the bottom of a well, to the little boy responsible for making wind, to the fact that death can be negated by negotiating with the King of the dead. Everything you can think of has some divine being associated with it, and the level of detail and seriousness in which they are described is endearingly fun.

If you watched the old TV show, you owe it to yourself to rekindle those old memories and pick up a copy of this book. If you have no idea what any of this is about and even a mote of interest in a famous Chinese story, then I highly recommend it.


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2 Responses to “The nature of monkey is irrepressible!”

  1. Anna Says:

    OMG, I must have it!

  2. Journey to the West: Conquering the Demons review | Life After China Says:

    […] This latest movie is a reimagining of the classic Chinese tale, Journey to the West. I grew up enjoying Monkey Magic, and as an adult, formed a deep appreciation for the entire story, having previously posted about Wu Ch’eng-en’s Monkey here […]

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