Evidence of The Fantasy Theme

In Wu Che’eng-en’s Monkey

English 121 M

Response #2

February 9, 2004

“I shall say good-bye to you, go down the mountain, wander like a cloud to the corners of the sea, far away to the end of the world, till I have found… three kinds of Immortal. From them I will learn how to be young forever and escape the doom of death” (Che’eng-En, 13).

This quote was said by the Monkey King, who is the main character of the story. He is talking to his followers in their Cave of the Water Curtain after realizing that one day, he will inevitably fall victim to Yama, the King of Death. He becomes frightened and everyone around him weeps for their own mortality. Another monkey speaks up of those who live on the Earth who live immortally: Buddhas, Immortals and Sages. The Monkey King decides to find these immortals and learn the secrets of eternal youth.

I chose this quote to begin with because I believe it embodies the central theme of fantasy in Monkey. It speaks of immortality and a whimsical journey to the ends of the earth. In this quote, The Monkey King tells his followers of his plans to wander like a cloud. The quote also describes Death as if it were something one could escape. All of these things are rooted strongly in fantastic ideas.

In Chapter XIV of the story, the character of Tripitaka comes across an old woman carrying a brocaded coat and embroidered cap. She teaches him a spell to help Tripitaka control his runaway disciple. She tells Tripitaka that if he simply place the cap and coat on his disciple and say the spell, Tripitaka will no longer have problems with him. The old woman claims that the disciple will “give no more trouble and never dare to leave [Tripitaka]” again (Ch’eng-En, 22). Then the old woman changed into a shaft of golden light and disappeared to the east. Tripitaka guessed then that she must be the Bodhisattva Kuan-yin in disguise.

This scene in the story is obviously very fantastic. Magic is a classic tool in fantasy literature. From Medieval Merlin to The Wizard of Oz, magic has been an effective rhetorical device that captures its audience with alluring possibilities and dark enchantment. This is a perfect example of what magic can do for a story line. It also serves as a sister strategy to “deus ex machina” in the fact that both can sometimes serve as an easy way out of a rock and a hard place. When realistic solutions cannot be found, magic and divine intervention are useful explanations for an author’s “cop-out.” However, easy way out or not, this scene and its magic successfully carry on the theme of Fantasy in the story.

In Chapter XVI, the character of Hog undergoes a drastic change. His appearance begins to morph dramatically and fantasy takes over. His nose “began to turn into a regular snout, his ears became larger and larger, and great bristles began to grow at the back of his neck” (Che’eng-En, 31). This transformation from man to beast is another classic example of fantasy in fiction. For example, in Greek mythology, the God Zeus turns one of his mortal lovers, Iio, into a white cow to protect her from Hera. There are many other examples of this strategy to emphasize fantasy in fiction. However, this particular one found in Monkey is a sufficient one.

There are many other examples that support the theme of fantasy in Monkey. The entire work is even considered a romance piece because of its deep roots in the genre of fantasy. Some say fantasy is childish. However, Wu Ch’eng-En successfully creates a story where fantasy blends with legend beautifully.