Recent Reads: Monkey

Finished reading Monkey: Folk Novel of China by Wu Ch’êng-Ên, translated by Arthur Waley a few days ago.

This book is an abridgement and translation of the Classic Chinese Novel: A Journey to the West….

I think it’s a rather older translation. And… it was abridged for Western tastes….

Thus… Waley did an amazing job! Excellent story. Moves along at a rollicking pace. Not too difficult to pick up some nuance…. A very entertaining Picaresque… that evolves into a fast-paced tale of redemption….

Clearly… the purpose is to display the redemptive Everyman theme that is inherent in Pure Land Buddhism…. Salvation is not hard….

This story mocks other religions… especially Taoism… which is esoteric by its nature….

And… the heroes are presented flaws and all…. In fact, much of the humor is due to the impetuous “sins” of the Pilgrims who accompany the Bodhisattva on the Journey to the West to retrieve Buddhist Scripture in order to save China….

In this story… the Bodhisattva is a whiny wimp… who constantly requires intervention from his four traveling companions… all of whom have sinned and fallen short… and thus need redemption….

In Pure Land Buddhism… the West… which is the area of India in the foothills of the Himalaya Mountains where Siddhārtha or Gautama Buddha was born… represents Heaven…. The Four Pilgrims or Disciples are all monsters… who have fallen from grace….

I think a lot of details were left out of story… and many of the names, which to Western minds would likely seem redundant and confusing… were omitted or replaced by the profession of the character…. Many of the allusions have no Western equivalent… so the more you know about Ancient China and Buddhism and Asian Culture, the more meaningful many of the details will be to you…. Many of the characters come straight out of Chinese and Buddhist Mythology… though many of the references have various alternative tellings….

All-in-all… I found Monkey to be an amazingly entertaining and informative tale…. And a brisk read….

One other comment…. Novels were considered beneath the dignity of the Literati in the Ancient Orient…. The author of novels typically typically wrote those works under pen names…. This work is EXTREMELY well written…. In a later period in Japan… indigenous Japanese literature… and prose in particular… were the purview of women…. That was because fiction was considered beneath educated men, who wrote in Chinese… in a derivative Chinoisesque style…. Women were discouraged from studying Chinese… and women were accorded the freedom to create works of fiction without ridicule…. Women also wrote in a style that suited them…. Meaning that the stories were catty… and romantic… and even sexy…. So… needless to say… the works of the women writers of the Heian Period in Japan were… interesting….

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One thought on “Recent Reads: Monkey

  1. Pingback: Recent Reads: Monkey | Wright-Wang Extreme Mystery, Inc.

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