I knew nothing about this 16th century Chinese classic before reading, so it was quite an adventure for me. A new translation and abridged edition by Julia Lovell, this book is an epic fantasy / spiritual quest, based on historical events. It was first published anonymously but is generally attributed to Wu Cheng’en, a novelist and poet of the Ming Dynasty.
The first part of the story is the adventures of a stone monkey who is born from a mountain. A selfish superhero, he reigns over the other monkeys. He becomes immortal and can transform into anything. The rest of the story concerns a monk, Tripitaka, who is on a quest to travel to India and bring back Buddhist scriptures to China. With him as protectors are Monkey and the demons Pigsy and Sandy. The goddess Guanyin helps and hinders their journey, while the Buddha himself is possibly shaping their fate.
I liked the strong characters, humour and magical quality to the story. The language style is modern and easy to read. There are many references to Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism, which don’t need any explanation but you could always look the terms up and read about the religions afterwards. What I wasn’t so keen on was the repetitive nature of the story, to the extent that by two thirds of the way through, I was tired of so many battles with demons.
Overall, I’m glad that I’ve read Monkey King: Journey to the West. However, I wouldn’t re-read it.
Thank you to the publisher Penguin for the advance copy via NetGalley. The book will be published as a Penguin Clothbound Classic on 11th February.