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!
Em Marshall, musicweb-international.com