Book Reviews


Image sourced from ""The Story of Monkey is an ancient Chinese legend written used by Wu Ch’Eng-En in his classic Chinese novel Journey to the West. Michael Dean has rewritten it for Penguin Readers in this fun (and much shorter!) version, simply called Monkey. It has a brief introduction with some information about the author, Wu Ch’Eng-En, but you can skip it if you want and just get straight onto the story! There are handy footnotes and activities at the end.

Monkey is full of fantastical adventures and wondrous events. The Monkey King, one of the heroes of the story, is mischievous and lovable: he can shapeshift, fly across continents and lives for hundreds of years. He steals a banquet from the Queen of Heaven, eats the peaches of immortality and obtains an iron-bound cudgel that makes even the great Dragon Kings fear him. Eventually, he has caused so much mischief that the Buddha imprisons him under a mountain. The adventure continues as a pilgrim called Tripitaka (whose birth and childhood is a story in itself!) is chosen by the Buddha to carry his scriptures to the West (India). The Monkey King accompanies him, along with a dragon that is disguised as a horse and two companions called Sandy and Pigsy who are cursed for their crimes to look like a river ogre and a pig.24421699

Image sourced from ""

Fun as the story is, it also dramatizes the complicated weaving of Chinese religious traditions that was present when Journey to the West was written. China has historically had a strong folk religion with lots of gods and spirits which overlaps with Taoism (founded in China in the late 4th Century BC) and Buddhism, which was brought over from Nepal. In Journey to the West, you can see the creatures of Chinese folklore, the celestial bureaucracy of Taoism, led by the Jade Emperor, and the Buddha himself handing his scriptures to Tripitaka. Not only that, but it is supposedly based on the true story of a monk called Xuanzang who travelled across China, India and Nepal to obtain better Chinese translations of Buddhist scripture.

Of course, Wu Ch’Eng-En has added a lot of impossible things to the story of Xuanzang, as the companions face dragons, demons, gods and ghosts, in a rip-roaring adventure that is now a lot more accessible thanks to Michael Dean’s rewriting! Find Monkey by Wu Ch’Eng-En and Michael Dean in our QUICK READS section at 823.91.

If you liked Monkey

Try some other mythological heroes. In our QUICK READS section, we have graphic novels about Hercules (741.5973) and Theseus (741.5941) from Ancient Greek mythology, and King Arthur (741.5973), as well as a reader on Beowulf (398.2). Their adventures were just as exciting as those of the Monkey King!

Have a look at Mythology: The Complete Guide to Our Imagined Worlds by Christopher Dell. It has a brief section on Journey to the West with an ancient Chinese picture of the Monkey King and lots of other myths and legends. (BOOK ZONE 398.203)

The earliest Chinese animated feature film told the story of a section from Journey to the West. The Wan brothers directed Princess Iron Fan during the Japanese occupation of China in World War Two, hoping to equal Walt Disney’s achievement with Snow White. In turn, Princess Iron Fan influenced the development of Japanese anime. Find Princess Iron Fan online at the Internet Archive:


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