Further Notes on Travels in a Westerly Direction

Inspired by my post about a movie inspired by it, a drawing and some more thoughts on “Journey to the West.”

Writing about The Forbidden Kingdom, which, as we’ve discussed is pretty clearly influenced by Journey to the West has had me doing some more reading up on Journey to the West.

Also, I felt inspired to do this quick (and, all in all, pretty mediocre) sketch of the four main characters.

A drawing of the the four heroes of Journey to the West: Sun Wukong the Monkey King, Sanzang the monk, Zhu Bajie the pig demon, and Sha Wujing the ogre.
Sun Wukong (usually called “Monkey” in English), Tang Sanzang (“Tripitaka”), Zhu Bajie (“Pigsy”), and Sha Wujing (“Sandy”), presumably journeying West.

That’s Sun Wukong on the left. Most depictions of the characters from Journey to the West have Wukong leading the line, presumably because he’s either the strongest character, or because he’s the most prominent (he’s not necessarily the main character, but he is the most famous and interesting).

His staff is called the Ruyi Jingu Bang. English translations of the name tend to vary have trouble conveying the sense that the thing can grow or shrink at Wukong’s command — much like Goku’s Power Pole in Dragon Ball (again, bear in mind that Wukong’s name in Japanese literally is “Goku”).

It might not come across clearly in my drawing, but Wukong’s other famous accessory is the headband he is forced to wear by the goddess (technically, bodhisattva) Guanyin, which allows Sanzang to keep the famously rowdy Wukong in line by causing magic headaches with a word. I am pretty sure this was the inspiration of the magic control necklace Kagome uses on Inuyasha.

Wukong’s pose is based on the same pose briefly used by Jet Li’s Wukong in The Forbidden Kingdom.

As seen here.
The Forbidden Kingdom: Lionsgate.

And apparently it’s a real Shaolin technique.

Next to Wukong is Tang Sanzang, the (arguable) actual main character of Journey to the West. He’s the one actually doing the journeying; the other three are all conscripted into helping him. Though, of course, Wukong is bombastic and powerful, so he overshadows Sangzang at basically every turn.

I tried to replicate most of the common depictions of Sangzang, which I’m sure is full of Buddhist symbolism I don’t fully understand. In Chinese depictions, he’s almost always wearing a green robe and a crown(?) that I’m pretty sure is supposed to look like a lotus.

Third in line is Zhu Bajie, holding his famous nine-toothed rake. As far as I can tell, it is ostensibly just a farm tool, but it does get several surprisingly lengthy passages talking about what a mighty, badassful weapon it is.

At the right end of the group is Sha Wujing with his monk’s spade. I’m not entirely clear on what he is supposed to be. He’s clearly described some kind of monster or ogre, but most depictions of him just make him big and burly, but basically human.

Further complicating things is the fact that I’m not entirely clear if he’s a water monster (he lives in a river) or a sand monster (the river is called the “quicksand river” and his most common English name is “Sandy”), or, like, specifically a riverbed monster?

Yeah. I don’t really know.

Ultimately, I just decided to try to replicate the most common depictions of him.

I’ve never actually read Journey to the West. I have skimmed through an abridged version that I didn’t really enjoy. And I do remember watching, like I’ve said a couple times now, the old Canada-China co-produced cartoon from the early 2000s.

The full text of Journey to the West (it’s about 2000 pages long) is basically a series of loosely-connected episodic adventures, rather than a single, entirely contiguous narrative.

It’s almost like a TV show that way.

And much like how Romance of the Three Kingdoms doesn’t actually get to the proper Three Kingdoms period until about 2/3 of the way in, the actual Journey to the West itself doesn’t happen for a while.

The first part is about Sun Wukong basically just being a jerk to the various gods and Immortals up in Heaven until he ends up trapped under a mountain by the Buddha.

Whereupon the eventual journey itself serving as his atonement for the aforementioned being a jerk and ultimately facilitating his process of enlightenment in what essentially amounts to a Buddhist parable.

Now, aside from the fact that the whole thing is, like I said, 2000 pages long, the fact that most of the story is basically self-contained, standalone adventures is probably why most English versions are abridged.

As I understand it, the most famous English version is Arthur Waley‘s Monkey, which only tells about a third of the story but tells every plotline included in full.

If you want to read a version of Journey to the West, this is probably the way to go.

Though, warning to my fellow Canadians, for some reason, it’s really expensive on Canadian Amazon for some reason. Granted, it doesn’t seem too hard to track down elsewhere.

So, yeah, Journey to the West.

Kind of a big deal. Influenced video games and movies and animes and such (and at least one resoundingly mediocre drawing).

Check it out, maybe. I guess.

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