Evaluation: New ‘Monkey King’ translation feels like the best Pixar adventures

“Monkey King: Journey to the West” by Wu Cheng’en, translated by Julia Lovell Photograph: Penguin Classics

Number of literary heroes are a lot more ubiquitous and enduring to many generations of Asians around the globe than Monkey of the 16th century Chinese novel “Journey to the West,” by Wu Cheng’en.

Viewed as a person of the 4 Vintage Novels of Chinese literature, the sprawling, picaresque fable has been adapted into numerous films, Tv displays, stage performs and children’s textbooks in Asia. “Monkey King: Journey to the West,” a new translation from Penguin Classics, serves as a stable primer for Western neophytes.

Anthony C. Yu’s 4-quantity translation of the full “Journey to the West” was published by University of Chicago Press in between 1977 and 1983 and runs 100 chapters and much more than 1,800 pages. Julia Lovell’s latest variation is just 340 pages, and in her translator’s note, she clarifies that numerous omissions were manufactured “in the interests of narrative financial system and pace.” The outcome is a breezy, motion-packed narrative that by no means pauses to surface the novel’s Buddhist themes and is peppered with Western colloquialisms like “Back in a jiffy!” to switch any wordplay that would have necessary footnotes. Even the geography of Monkey’s journey west is remaining hazy.

Julia Lovell translated the most current American edition of “Monkey King: Journey to the West.” Image: Dominic Mifsud

Born from divine stone, Monkey develops particular powers although training for immortality, which contain condition-shifting and the potential to cloud-somersault over 108,000 miles in a one leap. He wields a magic personnel that can turn out to be little sufficient to in shape in his ear and huge adequate to defeat down huge monsters. When the at any time-mischievous Monkey eats all the peaches of immortality in Heaven, an offended Buddha pins him beneath a mountain for 500 a long time as punishment.

Enter Tripitaka, a monk billed with trekking west to India to retrieve Buddhist scriptures to enlighten the Chinese. When the monk arrives upon the mountain, Monkey talks Buddha into liberating him so he can atone for his sins by protecting Tripitaka on his journey. Together the way, Monkey teams up with sidekicks: Pigsy, a pig spirit inclined to cowardice in fight Sandy, a cannibalistic sand monster and Horse, a dragon horse. Our heroes will go from mountain to mountain as they journey west, every peak presenting a new monster to defeat.

“Monkey King: Journey to the West” is rich with imaginative planet-setting up that evokes the ideal Pixar movies. This passage through Monkey’s battle with the Bull Demon reads like a scene in “Finding Nemo”:

“Transforming this time into a 30-six-pound crab, Monkey leaped in and sank straight to the bottom, exactly where he encountered a finely carved gateway. … Peeking in via the doorframe of milky jade, he took in a scene of aquatic revelry: whales singing, large crabs dancing, tortoises piping, alligators drumming, and perch courtesans stroking jade zithers.”

The guide is also really funny, as when Monkey and Pigsy urinate into a flowerpot and convince Taoist monks that consuming their “holy water” will give them immortality. “This is conveniently the most enjoyable I’ve ever had with you, Monkey,” suggests Pigsy. With this new readable version of “Monkey King,” Western readers will also have lots of entertaining.

“Monkey King: Journey to the West”
By Wu Cheng’en, translated by Julia Lovell (Foreword by Gene Luen Yang)
(Penguin Classics 340 internet pages $30)




  • Leland Cheuk

    Leland Cheuk is the author of 3 textbooks, most not long ago the novel “No Excellent Quite Lousy Asian.” His writing has appeared in the Washington Article, NPR and Salon.