My World Literature II class has just finished working our way through a massive text entitled Monkey: A Folk Novel of China. Other translations of this Chinese tale are called The Money and the Monk or Journey to the West. The original story is by Wu Cheng-En (pronounced Woo Chung Un) and takes up exactly 100 chapters. The class read through 30 of them, leaving out a major portion of the monotonous traveling in the middle of the book.
The main character of the book is Monkey (who later has his name changed to Aware of Nothingness), an intelligent and ambitious creature who pursues the Buddhist religion until he becomes an all-powerful immortal. While he is invincible, Monkey is not necessarily a model character. He is selfish, curious, and trouble-making, which makes for a fascinating romp through Asia. He is ultimately joined on a journey for the holy Buddhist scriptures by Tripitaka, a legendary Buddhist monk, and two monsters named Pigsy and Sandy.
Iam by no means a Buddhist, but he mysticism of the Orient and of Eastern religions make this novel one of the most colorful and fascinating that I have read, even if the sheer volume of it was a bit exhausting. Oh well, soon I’ll be reading Anna Karenina and only wishing for a mere thirty chapter book. Anyway, it slightly embarrasses me to admit this as an English major, but I had never before read any oriental literature. I really appreciated the snapshot of Chinese culture and history.
The most exciting thing about this book is that a Hong Kong production company is making it into a feature film! Featured in this post is some of the epic concept art for the film The Monkey King which began filming last October. I have heard predictions that it is expected to be the Asian response to Avatar. Depending on what you thought of Avatar, this could be a good or bad thing, but I am excited for sure!