Monkey: A Journey To The West


A few months ago I posted about the Netflix series The New Legends of Monkey. As I mentioned in that post, I really enjoyed the series and hope that it will continue (still waiting for news on Series 3). I also wrote in that post that it had encouraged me to get out my copy of the book Monkey: A Journey To The West by David Kherdian to re-read. It joined the many other books I have to read for about four months, but I got round to reading it again.

It was fun reading the book again. But, I have to admit, I didn’t get as much out of it as I expected that I would. There were elements that I really enjoyed and I was amazed how often I seemed to be able to recall scenes from the (in)famous TV series Monkey (aka Monkey Magic).

Perhaps, since it was around 25 years since I last touched the book, my expectations of the book were higher than they should have been. In that respect, I do think I will have to go back, at some point, to re-reading the full four-volume translation by Anthony C. Yu. I think the Kherdian version is just too short. And perhaps some of the translations aren’t as good as they could be – I don’t know, I’ve never read the original. But, the Kherdian version lacks the development of most of the characters, there’s too much focus on just Monkey, and the ‘religious’ elements are largely reduced to the discussion on the texts. My memory is that the story had far more in relation to the moral/religious side of things. I still enjoyed the book, but it left me wanting more. Maybe that isn’t a bad thing.

But reading the book again also made me think about my research interests in relation to symbolism. Monkey (or A Journey To The West to use its proper title, rather than have it as a subtitle), despite being a Chinese story originally, has a strong presence in Japan – where, of course, the 1970s TV series originated. During most trips to Japan an image of Monkey – often as a cartoon character, will pop up somewhere. I’m surprised that he hasn’t appeared as an emoji yet. While I can’t imagine that there will be a place for Monkey in my update to Japan: The Basics, I need to think more about whether he would fit into a further book that I am working on that relates to symbolism and related issues. I would be keen to hear from people who come across images and discussion of Monkey in Japan (and elsewhere).

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