Remember back in July when I announced my poll results to you, my bright-eyed, blog-hungry friends? Have you noticed that I still haven’t explained my love for monkeys?
My gut reaction when the question first appeared was simple — monkeys are FUN! There’s nothing to explain, for heaven’s sake. Everyone loves monkeys, don’t they? Monkeys are carefree! Monkeys are cute! Monkeys throw poo!
Wellll….OK…. I really am a grownup who realizes monkeys don’t necessarily have it that great. I mean, they live in pretty complex, hierarchical social groups which one minute can be loving and nurturing and the next minute can seem senselessly cruel. And some of them live in cages. But that stuff is true of life for ALL of us, isn’t it? So let’s just push the negative stuff aside for a minute, and take a look at the really cool things we — or at least I — imagine about monkeys’ lives. Hang onto your bananas and coconuts! I think I’ll make a list.
23 reasons why I love monkeys
1. They have sweet little hairy human-child faces that make me want to mother them.
2. They scream at the top of their lungs whenever they feel like it.
3. When one monkey screams at the top of his lungs, it excites his friend-monkeys, who join in with unadulterated, euphoric abandon.
4. I just have to smile — even if it’s only a little — when I look at a monkey. I’ll bet you do, too.
5. Say the word ‘monkey’ three times REALLY fast. Now, that gave you a chuckle, did it not? I’ll be willing to bet that, at the very least, it amused someone nearby.
6. They pick bugs out of each other’s fur.
7. They are curious and learn very quickly.
8. They really seem to love a good practical joke.
9. They don’t have to be at work every day at the crack of 8:30.
10. They have no concept of ‘politically correct.’
11. They swing carefree in tall treetops, unafraid.
12. Some monkeys may live in cages, but I’ll bet they don’t live in metaphorical cages.
13. They make friends with animals outside their own species.
14. A monkey’s friends are his friends for life.
15. It’s perfectly acceptable for monkeys to be naked at all times.
16. They have no mortgages or other bill-paying obligations.
17. They don’t belong to any homeowner’s organizations, and — even if they did — they wouldn’t give a rat’s ass whether their neighbors thought their shutters need to be painted.
18. Monkeys scratch whatever itches, no matter who’s around.
19. They have impressively strong tails.
20. They’re fuzzy!
21. Sometimes they have affectionate group grooming sessions which last for hours.
22. They throw poo at things which displease them.
23. When I was in grade school, I was a giggling, gleeful witness as a baby monkey crawled to the top of Johnny Carson’s head and — you guessed it — went wee-wee. I still laugh when I remember the look on his face.
So. After introducing my blog to a handful of friends, someone asks, “How is it that monkeys are, ahem, ‘magical’?”
Ahhhhh, dear reader…..you see, not all monkeys ARE magical.
Travel with me, if you will, to an ancient time where myths are real, where simple animals have hopes and dreams, where magical powers are required to get through life’s adventures. Imagine a special rock in eastern Asia that, since the creation of the world, had been nurtured by “the pure essences of Heaven and the fine savours of Earth, the vigour of sunshine and the grace of moonlight, till at last it became magically pregnant.”
The rock gives birth to a living, breathing stone monkey, whose eyes reflect “a steely light” which “flashes as far as the Palace of the Pole Star. This shaft of light astonished the Jade Emperor as he sat in the Cloud Palace of the Golden Gates, in the Treasure Hall of the Holy Mists, surrounded by his fairy Ministers.”
So it becomes known by some pretty important god-types that this is quite a special monkey.
Well, he goes to live with the nearby normal monkeys. One day, “they decided to follow a stream to its source — a waterfall. The monkeys decided that whoever was brave enough to jump through the waterfall would become their king. The stone monkey went through the waterfall unscathed and discovered a huge cave behind the waterfall. From then onwards, the monkeys made their home in this Water Curtain Cave, and made the stone monkey their king.”
Three hundred years pass in blissful happiness, until one day the stone monkey leaves on a raft to search for a way to immortality. He floats across the sea to the Southern Continent, where he learns to speak and walk like a human. He crosses another ocean to the Western Continent, where he finally learns the way of immortality and gains a host of magical powers. He learns, for example, to “transform himself into seventy-two different images such as a tree, a bird, a beast of prey or a bug as small as a mosquito so as to sneak into an enemy’s belly to fight him or her inside out. Using clouds as a vehicle, he can travel 180,000 miles in a single somersault.”
Pretty damn cool, huh?
He goes back home to the monkeys he grew up with, where he gathers an army of 47,000 and begins to get a really big head. (Figuratively. I don’t mean his head started to outgrow his body. I suppose that sort of thing could happen in a myth, but it’s not happening here.) He claims to be king, and NOT just of the monkeys. This pisses off the Jade Emperor, and he sends his own army to find this impudent stone monkey.
However, the heavenly army cannot defeat the stone monkey’s magical powers. After many attempts, “the dove faction of the heavenly court persuaded the emperor to offer the monkey an official title to appease him. The monkey accepted the offer on a trial basis. However, he learned a few days later that he was cheated and being jeered all over the heavenly court: the position he held was nothing but a stable keeper. Enraged, he revolted.”
After a long war, and with the help of all the god warriors, the heavenly army finally did subdue the stone monkey. But all methods of execution failed. It was completely impossible to kill him. As a last resort, the emperor commanded he be burned in the furnace — but instead of killing him, the fire and smoke gave the monkey more powers. He fought his way back home again.
At last, the emperor asked Buddha himself for help. The Buddha moved a great mountain known as the Mount of Five Fingers to fall upon the stone monkey. The monkey still did not die, but this time he was imprisoned under this mountain in a stone box where he could not move. Everyone forgot about him, and for years and years, he was there alone, under guard.
This, my friends, is where the stone monkey king’s story REALLY begins. Everything I’ve written so far has just been backstory. You see, an ancient seeker named Kuan-yin was sent by The Buddha to recruit the monkey’s help with a mission. Her task was to fetch some sacred scriptures from India. The Buddha believed that, even though the sins of the monkey were great, he was ready “to learn his lesson and embrace the Faith and devote himself to the good.”
Thus continues “The Journey to the West,” a captivating, epic story known to Chinese people throughout the world. Even though Kuan-yin recruits a team of other helpers, the story focuses on the stone monkey king, Sun Wu Kong.
I’m actually thinking about reading this story, myself. Or, rather, downloading it and listening to it on my iPod.
Now. At this point, I know you’re anticipating the moment — that one paragraph, that enlightening sentence, the payoff — where I bring ancient Chinese mythology together with this ridiculously obscure blog authored by a twenty-first century, strange-thinking American.
Well, then. Here it is. Without further ado.
Sorry. No connection. I googled “magic monkey myth” this morning, and the story of the monkey king seemed to leap off my laptop screen. In truth, I tried probably 40 other names when setting up this blog, and everything was taken. I don’t even remember what my first attempts were, but eventually I turned to phrases incorporating the word “monkey.” Because, well, monkeys are fun! An alliteration theme gripped me, so I pulled up all the “M” words in my e-thesaurus.
Macabre? Nah. Macaroni? Macaroons? Those are dumb. Machiavellian? Interesting concept, but, no…too pretentious. Hey, madmonkey sounds like a good one…..but, no, that name is taken. I guess it sounds too angry, anyway.
You get the picture.
“Magical” was perfect….versatile, memorable, easy to spell, a bit weird and mysterious. Well, mysterious up until now, anyway.
If anyone asks, the name of my blog relates quite brilliantly to 16th-century Chinese mythology. You’ll say something like, “Lisa’s not Chinese, mind you, but the woman is SO incredibly well-read. We should all wish that we could possess even a fraction of her insight. Her blog entries are like rays of light from the heavens, bestowed upon us so that we might become better human beings.”
My retelling of the monkey king legend, as well as the quoted text, originates from these sites: