Monkey is an epic allegorical
tale by the sixteenth century poet Wu Ch’eng-En. It is about
the adventures of a monkey who has been magically awakened
from an egg born to a rock impregnated by the elements. After
building up his own kingdom, Monkey goes off to learn and
develop supernatural powers. Being offered a job in heaven,
he then causes trouble with his unruly and selfish behavior,
and flees his due punishment. Although, for a while, he defeats
the forces of heaven sent to subdue him, he is eventually
overpowered and imprisoned for centuries in a mountain. He
is promised release in return for becoming the disciple of,
and protecting, Tripitaka, a monk who has been sent to India
to collect Buddhist teachings and take them back to China.
The remaining two-thirds of the story follow the heroic journey
of Tripitaka, along with Monkey and his two fellow-disciples,
Pigsy and Sandy. After facing all sorts of monsters, evils
and terrible trials, they finally win through and fulfil their
difficult and dangerous mission.
This version, on a Nimbus MP3, adapted
and translated by Arthur Waley, is read by the wonderful Kenneth
Williams. Williams imbues the story, which is an amazing combination
of profundity, comedy, satire, deep spirituality and the ridiculous,
with his characteristic comic brilliance. He is splendidly
flexible, capturing the various moods of the work with deep
insight, and creating extremely strong individual characters
for each figure in the story. Thus, the earthy Pigsy is brought
to life with a slow and stupid voice, Sandy – originally a
dragon – with a rather dry, nasal drawl, and the precocious
Monkey with a lively, high, cheeky and self-confident air.
The accents are, as one might imagine, brilliant – especially
the hilarious rustic farm labourers!
The presentation of this single MP3 disc
(14 hours long!) could be better, but the content is just
superb. A beautiful, uplifting, gripping, amusing tale, narrated
with debonair flair by a master story-teller – I doubt anyone
could do a better version. Buy it!