Remember in Little Women when the girls act out Pilgrim’s Progress in their imaginative play? I used to think that was so cool when I was a kid. Then I read Pilgrim’s Progress, and decided that was literally the most boring game ever played by any children anywhere. Ever. My kids’ version is equally detailed and accurate, but far more entertaining. They are on a kick of playing Monkey King.
They have a book called Monkey, by Ed Young, which tells a good portion of the Monkey King’s story in picture book form. They’ve enjoyed it for a year or more. The other day, Ling read some of it to them in Chinese, and taught them how to say “Monkey King,” “punch,” and “kick” in Chinese. So they’ve been going around the house shadowboxing and shouting “Ti! Ti! I’m Houwang! Chong! Chong! Chong!” It’s…cute?
Recently, Silas asked me to get him an audio book of Journey to the West. I couldn’t find that exact thing, but I did find Monkey, in Arthur Waley’s translation. Petra isn’t a good enough listener to follow the story of such a long audio book, but Silas is listening to it and then summarizing it for her.
Journey to the West is a Chinese novel from the 16th century, which is weirdly related to Pilgrim’s Progress. It’s sort of an allegory about characters on their pilgrimage to enlightenment and peaceful cooperation, but it also has comic book hero stuff. Monkey can change shape and size, he fights all sorts of super cool bad guys, and he collects neat artifacts on his journey, which give him extra special powers. He’s a trickster character. We love those around here. Journey to the West is like Pilgrim’s Progress if Pilgrim’s Progress weren’t astoundingly boring and devoid of anything fun or whimsical. My kids are playing through Monkey’s journey just like Jo March and her sisters play through Pilgrim’s journey.
The other day, I found stones all over the porch. When I asked them what that was about, they said that they were making the porch into The Mountain of Flowers and Fruit, and Monkey was going to burst out of one of the stones at any moment.
They found some old tool handles in the shed and decided that they were both Monkey Kings and the dowels were their Stone Pillars that they had stolen from a Dragon King or something.
They decided that our shrubberies were Five Finger Mountain and they needed to be Monk Tang and rescue Monkey. “He’s been in time-out for 500 years.”
I’m a pacifist, and I don’t want to glorify violence, but I remember reading that kids who get to act out their violent impulses in play actually grow up to be less violent, so I try to just let them do their thing. They make some ferocious faces, though!
Who am I kidding? I love this stuff. They are so into it and so intense and they get so many of the details right.