The Journey to the West, Volume 2

Author: Cheng’en Wu
Translator: Anthony C. Yu
U.S. publisher: University of Chicago Press
ISBN: 9780226971513
Released: February 1983
Original release: 16th century

The second volume of Anthony C. Yu’s translation of The Journey to the West was originally published in 1978. The Chicago University Press initially released Yu’s translation, the first and one of the only complete translations of The Journey to the West available in English, in four volumes between 1977 and 1983. I recently learned that Yu is working on updating and revising his translation, but it has yet to be published. The original version of The Journey to the West was written in sixteenth-century China. Although written anonymously, it has been attributed to Cheng’en Wu. The Journey to the West has become an extremely important and highly influential classic of world literature. It’s because of its influence that I wanted to read the work. And now that I’ve read the first half of The Journey to the West, I seem to be running into even more references to the tale than I was before. Or, maybe it’s just that I can recognize them now.

The second volume of The Journey to the West covers chapters twenty-five to fifty of the original tale. At this point, the monk Tripitaka is well along in his journey to retrieve sacred Buddhist scriptures from the Western Heaven. The trip so far has been quite an ordeal for him and has been made both better and worse by his traveling companions. It has also lasted much longer than he anticipated; he hasn’t even reached his destination yet, yet alone returned to the Tang empire. Tripitaka is repeatedly confronted by monsters and demons who would like to eat him in order to gain immortality. Fortunately, his companions, especially Monkey, are very protective of him. But sometimes even they are no match for the challenges that await them.

Throughout The Journey to the West, Pa-Chieh, one of Tripitaka’s traveling companions and protectors, is frequently referred to as Idiot. After reading the first volume, I wasn’t quite sure why, feeling that the moniker often fit Monkey more than it did Pa-Chieh. But after finishing the second volume I understand why he is called that. Simply put, it is because Pa-Chieh really is an idiot. He’s prone to acting without thinking things through and makes trouble seemingly for trouble’s sake. Poor Tripitaka is usually the one to suffer most for Pa-Chieh’s follies. Pa-Chieh also has an interesting relationship with Monkey—something almost akin to a sibling rivalry. He is constantly challenging Monkey’s authority and tries to outdo him. In return, Monkey doesn’t hesitate to put Pa-Chieh in his place or play pranks on him. In some ways, they are actually quite alike.

The Journey to the West is a single story (or, depending on how you look at it, a string of closely related stories). The reason that it has been divided into individual volumes is that it is so long. Although, it is written in a style that makes it easy to put down and pick back up again. The chapters are short and often retell what has already happened. Yu seems to expect the reader to not only have read the first volume, but to also have it on hand; many of the footnotes and the story itself cross reference each other between volumes. I am very grateful for Yu’s notes. The Journey to the West incorporates many Chinese and religious tales and legends, most of which I wouldn’t have recognized if it wasn’t for Yu since I’m not personally familiar with the mythologies. I really am enjoying The Journey to the West. It is an exciting tale that can be both humorous and gruesome. I’m looking forward to finding out what happens in the third volume.

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