Monkey King and the World of Myths Review

By | Thursday, May 16, 2024 Leave a Comment
I first heard about and became interested in Sun Wukong the Monkey King about twenty years ago. I was initially attracted to the basic design of the character -- at least the version I first happened to see as a bronze statue -- but once I started looking into who this character was, I immediately saw why the character has been a staple of Chinese storytelling for centuries. I've gotten several versions of the basic story over the years and it was kind of a no-brainer to order a copy of Maple Lam's Monkey King and the World of Myths as soon as I heard it was coming out.

The book opens with a modified-for-the-sake-of-brevity 13-page origin of the character. If you're familiar with the original story, you might find yourself saying, "That's not how he got his staff!" or something but it's an early indicator that the book's more about getting to some new adventures than just another retelling. And sure enough, it's not long before Wukong is off on a quest to slay the beast that's terrorizing the people of Crete. In a somewhat traditional fashion, though, he's sidetracked briefly, runs into Hades and is coerced into potty training Hades' new dog, Cerberus, who he ends up taking on his quest. The beast he's tracking is evidently in a labrynith and is half-man and half-bull. Instead of beheading the Minotaur, though, they become friends and Wukong re-unites him with his father, who then teaches him how to swim.

At this point, even if you're not super-familiar with either legend of the Minotaur, you might be thinking "What the heck?! I'm pretty sure the original legends didn't end that way!" You'd be right, of course; they didn't. As Lam mentions in her end notes, she deliberately wanted to mix and match mythologies, likening the idea to her own upbringing with both Chinese and American influences. The basic idea of mixing cultural gods in hardly new, of course. Even within the realm of mainstream comics, Hercules from the Greek pantheon was introduced as a rival to Thor of Norse mythos back in Marvel's 1960s books. In this particular case, we have Chinese and Greek but the implication both in Lam's notes and by the open-ended nature of the story suggest she'd like to continue this as a series (presumably if sales do well). I'm not sure which other myths she'd like to tap into, but there is a page in the story itself when they're explaining about all the gods that one of the figures looks like it might be intended to be Cthulhu.

The story is definitely aimed at kids and I think would be a fun read for them, with many light-hearted moments and a couple morality lessons on clear display. As with any interpretation of a centuries-old character, some of his personality aspects are played up more than others. So while Wukong does have some narcissistic tendencies here, for example, Lam puts more emphasis on his impishness and playfulness. The same can be said of the other characters, too -- Cerberus is very much more of a naughty puppy than the typical hellhound they're often depicted as.

Overall, it's a fun look at the character and I enjoyed seeing him interact with characters I don't think I've ever seen him interact with before. Worth taking a look at, particuarly if you'd like to introduce younger ones to the Chinese legend. Monkey King and the World of Myths is available from all major bookstores now and retails for $13.99 US.
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