If there’s one thing I dislike about a lot of science fiction and fantasy stories, it is plot specific, conveniently inconsistent powers. Also, I don’t think characters could possibly be continuously stupid, but hey, there’s a reason why they’re written stories from the imagination rather than real life. After all, in real life, you can meet people who are far more stupid than some characters in a book or a movie.
Unfortunately, Journey to the West has these issues with its narrative. Inconsistent powers, especially those of our favourite monkey, er…Monkey, who has the power to see through the disguises of evil spirits and demons, until the plot requires him not to be able to do this. This happens a number of times in this quarter, but it’s a plot deviceTM that is used to ensure there is a story to tell. After all, Xuanzang needs to get to the Western Heavens to fetch the scriptures whilst facing peril.
Then there’s our favourite monk, Xuanzang, who has absolutely no powers at all and refuses under any circumstances to listen to the advice of Monkey, who he knows has tremendous magical prowess. He’s also impatient, which gets him into trouble on multiple occasions when all it would have taken for nothing to happen is…well for him to do nothing. We can’t have him getting there easily can we?
Anyway, apart from these issues with magical inconsistency (which is a tautology, no?) and Xuanzang being very silly sometimes, the book continues on narrating the journey of Chen Xuanzang and his three powerful disciples from Chang’an to India to meet the Buddha and get the sacred sutras. He encounters evil spirits, fearsome demons, and even more frightening for a celibate monk, seductive women along the way. His disciples, of course do their best to keep the threats away, but usually end up having to rescue both Xuanzang and each other from whatever latest disaster has befallen the fellowship.
Despite my hatred for magical power inconsistency, the misadventures of the fellowship are wildly entertaining, described brilliantly in the poetic verse peppered throughout. Actually, I have to mention the fantastic poetic verse, which is used in every situation to put some fantastic imagery into the prose. It’s all very scenic, beautifully vivid and imaginative, with exaggerated descriptions of mountains, forests and the demons and spirits they meet along the way.
As I find I’m drawing ever closer to the end of the book, the frenetic pace at which the story is told doesn’t let up from beginning to end, there’s a great sense of humour and camaraderie between the members of the fellowship. I just can’t stop reading it!