book: Wu Cheng En “Monkey”

September 3, 2010

A little diversity from my normal crime thriller or comedy reads Monkey written in the mid-sixteenth century by Wu Ch-eng-en (c. 1505-80).  The broadest description of the story is that it tells of a Buddhist Priest Tripitaka pilgrimage from China to India to get the sacred scriptures from Buddha.  He is accompanied on his way by a Pig monster Pigsy, a river monster Sandy and Monkey – hatched from a stone egg and gains the secrets of heaven and earth to become equal to heaven itself.  Monkey is a trickster who can ride on clouds, change shape, multiply himself and beat dragons, bandits, demons and wizards all of whom try to foil their mission.

Many of my generation will of course remember the 70s TV series Monkey (or Monkey Magic) where the characters looked like this.

I remember being fairly confused by this because the horse is a dragon Pigsy doesn’t look like a big and the monk is obviously played by a girl.  Having now read the book – I am little the wiser in some areas and a little more familiar with some of the historical Chinese mythology.  I’m sure there are lots of hidden Buddhist and Taoist concepts in this story that went over my head but I enjoyed the slapstick nonsense and of course the character of Monkey is fantastic.