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Invitation to World Literature

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A photo of a mountain pass in the Himalayas. This is the kind of territory the real monk Hsuan Tsang traveled over as he walked from China to India in the first century CE. It was a terrible and dangerous journey in real life; in the novel, it would be made even worse by demons and other supernatural threats.
© 2010 JupiterImages Corporation
David Damrosch talks about this image
A 1913 image of Monkey. He is almost always shown on the alert, his magical staff in hand, ready to wreak havoc on the deserving and the undeserving. Here his monkey-ness is downplayed, as the artist has given him a more human form.
David Damrosch talks about this image
Tripitaka, the Buddhist monk whom Monkey must transport safely to India and back. His gentleness — even weakness — come through in this drawing. His answer to danger was to meditate; Monkey's was to attack.
The Boddhisatva, Kuan Yin. This Enlightened being has given up the chance to live in Paradise in favor of helping beings on earth. She guides Monkey and Tripitaka, intervening on their behalf when necessary. Her beauty, kindness, and humor come through in this portrait.
Sandy, one of Tripitaka's three companions. Along with Monkey and Pigsy, Sandy guards Tripitaka on his journey. Sandy is the quietest of the companions, using his brawn when necessary, as this drawing shows.
Pigsy, the final of the three companions of Tripitaka. He, like Sandy, once lived in the Jade Emperor's heaven but was banished for bad behavior. On earth, he is half-pig, with a tremendous appetite for food but not as much enthusiasm for battle.
Buddha providing the sacred scriptures of Buddhism, surrounded by Enlightened beings, with a figure who looks like Kuan Yin in the foreground. When Tripitaka, Monkey, Sandy, and Pigsy finally reached the Buddha, they were given the sacred scriptures to take back to China.
A photo of "Monkey over Tiananmen Square", by Jennifer Wen Ma, as featured in the episode on the Watch page of this site. Monkey stands guard over Beijing, flying across the sky with his staff, ever on the lookout for injustice. Growing up in Communist China, Ma was inspired by Monkey's rebellious yet just nature.
Image courtesy of Jennifer Wen Ma.
A statue of Hsuan Tsang, the real Buddhist monk who brought Buddhism to China, and the inspiration for Tripitaka. This statue has been decorated by pious 21st-century Chinese Buddhists. Hsuan Tsang's real story is still celebrated in China, just as the fictional story of Journey to the West is still read and enjoyed.
Image courtesy of Diane Wolkstein.