Monkey: Folk Novel of China is an English translation of the Chinese folk tale, Journey to the West; the folk tale was written by Wu Ch’eng-en, and the translation was done by Arthur Waley. When Waley did his translation of Journey to the West back in 1943, not only did he change the title of the work, but he also only translated thirty out of the one hundred chapters of the original folk tale. In the introduction that was written when this book was published in 1943, it makes a mention of the story being a good read for children. However, with some of the content in the story, it’s probably not as appropriate for younger readers. Personally, I think this book is more appropriate for teenagers and adults.
I first heard of Journey to the West a few years ago, when I really started delving into anime and manga. I learned rather quickly that this folk tale has been referenced in a number of anime and manga properties, with the best known of these being the Dragon Ball franchise. Now that I’ve gained a lot of familiarity with Dragon Ball, I decided to read this story to see what elements from the series I recognized as I read this story.
Monkey begins by telling the story of the birth and adventures of the monkey king, who is only referred to as Monkey in this translation of the story. Monkey ends up causing a lot of trouble in the heavenly realms, and ends up being sealed into the mountain of the Five Elements to serve penance until the time is right for him to be rescued. From here, the story shifts to a man named Hsuan Tsang, who ends up becoming a Buddhist monk known as Tripitaka. Tripitaka is given a task by the Bodhisattva Kuan-Yin to make a pilgrimage to India to gather Holy Scriptures and return them to China. Along the way, he gathers three disciples: Monkey, Pigsy, and Sandy. The story follows their adventures as they journey to the west to India in order to get the Scriptures.
This is a very well-written story, even though it’s only a partial translation. I found myself wanting to continue the story as I came to each chapter to find out what happened next. I also enjoyed how the book provided me a glimpse into the elements of another culture, especially in the storytelling elements and devices that are used in another culture’s tales. While Monkey is a bit of a commitment to read at 305 pages, I thought the commitment was worth it.
I also enjoyed finding the elements I recognized from Dragon Ball. This major influences include: Monkey’s traveling cloud and staff as the basis for Goku’s cloud and staff, Yama the Death God is the basis for King Yemma in Dragon Ball Z, the character of Pigsy is the basis for the character of Oolong, and there is a Turtle House mentioned in the book that is the basis of the Kame House (“kame” is Japanese for “turtle”) that appears in the series.
I would definitely recommend Monkey: Folk Novel of China to readers who have an interest in folk tales from around the world. I would also highly recommend this book to anyone who takes a serious interest in manga and anime, since Journey to the West has served as a basis for several manga and anime properties over the years; by reading this story, it might help manga and anime fans to gain a greater appreciation for these references when they encounter them in the manga that they read or the anime that they watch.