Monkey King is another one of those books which I read with two aims in mind. I’m always eager to find engaging stories, and as an adventure in the vein of prankster and super hero stories I enjoyed Monkey King with its continual twists and its bold artwork. However, because this graphic novel by Wei Dong Chen hails from China, I also evaluated Stone Monkey on its multicultural merit.
The front pages of Monkey King introduce the main characters while the back pages provide a plot synopsis for those who are unfamiliar with the centuries-old Chinese tale. These two aids, along with the occasional exposition strips in the story itself, provide the background needed to understand this comic about a monkey born from a mountain top. Other monkeys also live on Spring Mountain and they soon accept this new arrival as their leader. Everyone is lives together happily until the mention of treasure. I didn’t find the discovery of furniture and cooking utensils made of stone particularly exciting, but then again I’m not a monkey. With this treasure, the monkeys are all living happily again, until…. And so the story goes. Each time, the world is at peace until an interruption sets the Stone Monkey on a new quest. One such quest even leads him to seek eternal life from Buddha and to battle against the gods of hell and heaven. I read Monkey King in one day, enjoying the irreverent humor and the dynamic texture of the comic artwork.
Regards the book’s multicultural merits, I was somewhat befuddled. This led to a long chat between my husband and I during one of our evening walks. The story hails from a different culture, but does it actually teach me anything about China? To answer that question my husband and I considered: How much do one learn about older German culture from reading stories such as Hansel and Gretel, The Elves and the Shoemaker, or Cinderella? Honestly, probably not much. Fairy tales can certainly represent their culture of origin, as my students and I found out one year when we read various culture’s versions of Cinderella. One of their favorites, The Rough-Faced Girl, could not have happened anywhere but in an Algonquin village by the shores of Lake Ontario. However, I don’t know that I can say that Monkey King had to happen in China. My husband and I also wondered: Do we want our super heroes such as Batman and Spiderman to represent American culture? The stereotype of martial arts already exists about China. Monkey King might very well reinforce it. Of course, these are ethnocentric questions, arising from how I as an American feel about Monkey King, but this is the only perspective I’m qualified to address. One of the inspirations behind my interest in multicultural books is to find ones to introduce to students, while the other is for myself to broaden my awareness of the world. Monkey King did teach me somewhat about aspects of Chinese religion and literature, but mostly it read as a fun fantastical adventure.
Where does that leave me as a reviewer? I wouldn’t put Monkey King on the top of my recommended multicultural books. However, if you like superhero stories and are open to one about a wise-cracking monkey, this is a smash-bang comic with nineteen more volumes to keep you plenty entertained.
My rating? Read it: Borrow from your library or a friend. It’s worth your time.
How would you rate this book?