~written by Cheng’en Wu
~translated by Anthony C. Yu
I have steadily been making my way through Anthony C. Yu's translation of The Journey to the West and have reached the third of four volumes. The translation was first published by the University of Chicago press between 1977 and 1983, the third volume initially being released in 1980. I chose to read Yu's complete translation because it is an unabridged version of The Journey to the West and I wanted to read such an influential work in its entirety at least once. Yu also translated an abridged edition of the Chinese classic under the title The Monkey and the Monk. The Journey to the West as it is known today was originally written anonymously in China in the late 1500s and is commonly attributed to the author Cheng'en Wu. So far, I have been enjoying Yu's translation and appreciate all of the endnotes that he has included for guidance. I looked forward to reading the third volume.
The Buddhist monk Tripitaka was sent to the Western Heaven in order to retrieve sacred scriptures. Years have passed since he began his journey, accompanied by his protectors and companions Monkey, Pa-Chieh, Sha Monk, and a white horse that's actually a shape-shifting dragon in disguise. They've faced many dangers and challenges together, performing numerous good deeds and defeating many monsters, demons, and fiends along the way, often with additional divine aid. And yet the small group has yet to reach the Western Heaven and Tripitaka has yet to reach his goal. Still, with help, the monk perseveres whether he's facing fiends that want to devour him to gain immortality or bed him because he's such a handsome fellow. It's been a long journey, and there's still a long way to go.
Out of all of the traveling companions, Sha Monk is probably the most level-headed. Surprisingly enough, even more so than Tripitaka. When Monkey and Pa-Chieh run off for a fight, it's usually Sha Monk that is left behind to guard Tripitaka and the horse and luggage. Why the horse needs protection I'm not sure since the dragon has been shown on multiple occasions to be capable of taking care of himself and others. Although Sha Monk isn't often called on to fight, his battle prowess is quite impressive when needed. Tripitaka, who has unfortunately taken to falling off his horse in fear again, is lucky to have such skilled companions that care for him to accompany him on his journey. Monkey is particularly protective and possessive of Tripitaka, often calling him "my monk" when speaking to others.
Although The Journey to the West can be somewhat repetitive due to its form, the author still shows an impressive amount of creativity in the traveler's encounters and with the variety of fiends and monsters themselves. Some are established creatures and characters incorporated from Chinese folklore, but some are the author's own inventions. Another interesting aspect of The Journey to the West is its use of poetry. The poetry isn't always included in English translations, but Yu retains it. Poems are most often implemented when someone or something is being described for the first time or when there is a fight going on. The introductions can be very dramatic, as are the battles. The use of poetry also has the effect of speeding up the pacing of the narrative. Even so, I'm beginning to wonder if Tripitaka and his companions will ever reach the Western Heaven. Guess I'll just have to read the final volume to find out.