Sunday, August 07, 2011

Sunday Salon: Ancient Chinese Tales.

This cartoon is based on the book I am reading at the moment: Monkey: Journey to the West (translated by Arthur Waley). It starts when a stone monkey hatches from a stone egg which has hatched, in turn from a rock. The monkey is mischievous, rude and bumptious - behaviour one would expect from a simian - but so far, in this book, this behaviour has been amply rewarded.

He becomes king of the other monkeys, he learns the secret of immortality via 'illumination' taught by a patriarch, and he then learns how to combat lightning, a fire that turns the bones to ashes, and a wind that travels upwards into his bowels and dissolves away the body completely.

He also learns how to soar on a cloud, transform himself into 75 different things at will, and also use the method 'Body outside the Body' in which hairs plucked from his body all change in small versions of himself when he orders them to 'change!'.

He can become invisible, can penetrate stone, bronze and water (which cannot drown him), he can grow extra heads and arms, and can lift the colossal iron that smoothed out the Milky Way. It is like the most fabulous cartoon ever seen, and it was invented by one Wu Ch'êng-ên 500 years ago.

The story is based on the adventures of a monk who lived 700 years before that. This monk was a Buddhist called Hsüan-Tsang and, dissatisfied with the sutras available in Chinese, he travelled to India to find the originals in Sanskrit. The monk's travels were described by himself, and then others. I am tempted to read these accounts, but unfortunately they seem to be rather expensive, so I think I shall be content with the adventures of this monkey.

I bought this book from Amazon.


Anonymous Laurel-Rain Snow said...

I have never heard of this book! I does sound intriguing, though. Thanks for sharing...and for visiting my blog. Have a great week!

Sun Aug 07, 04:41:00 pm  
Blogger Clare Dudman said...

My pleasure Laurel-Rain! I thought I'd get in early this week!

Sun Aug 07, 04:43:00 pm  
Blogger Anne S said...

Many years ago (1970s) there was a TV series of Monkey that I watched addictively. I have the book, translated by Arthur Waley, but haven't read it.

Mon Aug 08, 04:07:00 am  
Blogger Clare Dudman said...

Aha, thanks Anne. I keep seeing references to some amazing Japanese TV series of the same name - I guess this must be it. Hodmandod Senior remembers it too. It seems to have passed under my radar, though, for some reason.

The book is unexpectedly funny and modern - I suppose because it is full of wry observances of monkey (human) behaviour that doesn't date.

Mon Aug 08, 07:32:00 am  

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