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Showing posts with label Holiday House. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Holiday House. Show all posts


Gods and Goddesses of the Ancient Norse (2001)

Written and Illustrated by Leonard Everett Fisher

Holiday House

I haven't done a Leonard Everett Fisher book in a while, and I was surprised to see that this one was from 2001. Whenever I hold one of his books, they always seem to have the feel from a bygone era, not something nearly so recent. Paul Galdone has the same effect on me. There's nothing at all flashy or ironic about anything he produces, his books are uniformly handsome and solid.

In this volume, we get exactly what the title promises: the Gods and Goddesses of the Norse people, including fan favorites Odin, Thor and Loki, but who here are given no more special attention than Frigga the goddess of Marriage (from whom 'Friday' comes) and Bragi the God of Poetry. I do appreciate, however, that only Loki's designation is given qualifying quotation marks: "God" of Mischief.

After all the characters have been introduced and their relationships between one another spelled out, it all comes to a head in the final entry: Ragnarok: The Last Battle. Everyone dies, and in very specific ways: Odin will be swallowed alive by Fenris the wolf, Fenris the wolf will be killed by Vidar, and on and on, a death chain. "Once the gods are dead, the last two surviving giants would gulp down the goddesses of Asgard, and then devour the suin, the moon, and the stars. Then they too would disappear. Finally, the great tree Yggdrasill collapses, bringing down the entire universe, leaving behind a cold, empty, and black universe."

This really does sound like the death of the universe, the Big Crunch as some call it, though Stephen Hawking thinks the cosmos will just spin out further and further until everything is too far away from anything to survive. But I prefer imagining everything being devoured and collapsing, the oscillating universe, the Big Bang followed by a Big Crunch followed by another Big Bang and so on. I guess the Norse agree: "After a while, the dark void would give way to a new universe. New worlds would be born. And the gods and goddesses would rise again, to rule a world without evil."

But will they be the same gods and goddesses? Or different iterations of the old gods? How can they say for certain that there will be no evil? Perhaps everything will be doomed to repeat itself. Freya's husband Od will leave her once again, and again she will cry herself to sleep with tears of gold.



Androcles and the Lion (1989)

Androcles and the Lion: An Aesop FableRetold and Illustrated by Janet Stevens

Holiday House

In this version of the classic tale, Androcles seems much more saintly.  His run-in with the lion is not just a random occurrence, but seems just in keeping with his view of nature.  In an image which reminds me of Saint Francis, Stevens draws the young lad sitting cross-legged - albeit shackled - while a bevy of cats and kittens and a few dogs flock about him, crawling on him, licking him.

"Androcles was gentle and kindhearted," she writes.  "After his hard work was done and his cruel master was fast asleep, the stray animals of the city came to visit."

Even after the young slave has escaped and fled to the woods, we find him again kneeling in the grass, surrounded by a bear, a ram, a porcupine, some rabbits and... one ferocious man-eating lion who is roaring so loudly that the rest of the animals run and scatter!!!  The ostrich especially looks like its about to die of a heart attack.

But does Androcles run?

"Easy boy.  There's a big, nasty thorn stuck in your paw.  Will you let me pull it out?  Now be still and don't bite me."

And thus the friendship is struck.  However, it is not much later that the Roman soldiers surprise and capture Androcles, whilst at the same time a different group of soldiers capture the lion.

Androcles is then sent to the Colosseum - there to be devoured in front of cheering attenders - whooping and hollering and whistling.  But it is the very same lion released onto the Colosseum grounds!  And instead of attacking, it becomes a docile pussy cat! The cheering attenders now find themselves whooping and hollering and whistling.  Is there any result which would have not made their day?

Regardless, "Androcles had learned an important lesson," Steven tells us.  "A noble soul never forgets a kindness.

And while Androcles was off learning that important lesson, another less fortunate chap was presumably fed to a different, less sensitive lion, and the Colosseum crowd again cheered, whooped and hollered.

Click here for more versions of Androcles and the Lion!


David and Goliath (1993)

Retold and Illustrated by Leonard Everett Fisher

The phrase "David and Goliath" has such allegorical resonance, its sometimes easy to forget the specifics of the actual story.

I like that the first two pages of Fisher's adaption is a large map to give us - if nothing else - geographical context. It's kind of a strange map, now that I look at it. Egypt and the Mediterranean Sea take up about 80% of the two pages. Along the right-hand side of the right-hand page is a narrow green strip labeled, "Israel." To the left, a smaller golden landmass called Philistia, with the city of Gath pinpointed. And within Israel - right smack-dab between the 'R' and the 'A' - lies the Valley of Elah, where this most famous of all duels took place some thousands of years ago.

We begin the story with David tending his flock, gently putting them to sleep with the soothing tunes of his harp. "The music of David's harp filled all who heard it with joy." Such a gentle, nice boy. Not a mean bone in his body. Little do we suspect that within a handful of pages he will be holding aloft the decapitated head of his enemy, basking in the glory of his blood thirsty comrades!

But I get ahead of myself. One day David is summoned to King Saul, who - he has been told -- is filled with dark spirits. Indeed, we see him laying with his head on his fist, frowning and looking generally apathetic. It is only sweet David and his beautiful harp which can cheer the king up, and when he does so, Saul tells him, "I need you to stay so I can listen to the sound of your harp."

Then war comes, and armies come to clash and the fierce giant Goliath of Gath introduces himself to the Israelites. "Choose a man among you to fight me. If he wins, we are your slaves. If he loses, you are ours!" Fisher illustrates the giant as a fair-skinned relative of Frankenstein's monster, with a bit of a slow-look about the eyes. I was surprised to see that his Goliath wears no armor. I thought I had remembered that Goliath wore full battle dress, including a helmet which covered practically his entire head, and that his forehead was the only unprotected part of his body.

Sure enough, a quick read through my Barry-Moser-illustrated King James confirmed my memory as being accurate. I have to wonder why Fisher altered this detail.

Another discrepancy I thought I found was that in this story, David only hurtles one single stone at Goliath. I could have sworn that in the Bible, David hurtles three stones at the lumbering giant, and that it is only the third stone which hits its mark. Furthermore, I could have sworn that I've sat through Sunday School lessons in which the fact that David uses three stones was numerologically and cosmologically significant in some way. A glance through that wonderful King James with Barry Moser's magnificent woodcuts revealed me to be a liar. It was only one stone, and the battle was over before it began.

If you're going to take liberties with the text, however, I feel this would have been the place to do it. The battle could have been drawn out, made much more climactic. So much build-up... After page after page of boasting and praying, David hurtles his fateful stone and that's that. End of battle.

But maybe that's the point.

A turn of the page later, and there's Goliath's head, David's face twisted in rage. "Here is Goliath, our enemy!"

The final page shows David standing amongst his flock of sheep, having seemingly returned to his simple way of life, all killing and decapitations behind him. If only it were so.

David, the shepherd boy, had saved the land of the Israelites. One day he would be their king.
Click here for more Bible stories from the Old Testament!


Theseus and the Minotaur (1988)

Theseus and the Minotaur by Lenoard Everett FisherRetold and Illustrated by Leonard Everett Fisher

Fisher begins with a map of the part of the world in which our story unfolds. Ancient Greece is the locale, and we very clearly shown the passage from Athens to Crete, from Crete to Naxos, and lastly, the tragic final voyage from Naxos back to Athens.

My criticism of Hutton's version of the story was that I felt he spent too much time explaining the entire circumstances behind the existence of the minotaur and the nature of the tribute, and not enough time wandering through the bowels of the labyrinth in search of monstrous prey. Fisher exacerbates this, but also manages to give a more satisfying end battle sequence.

We begin with the birth of Theseus, and are told that, "at the moment of his birth, his father, King Ageus of Athens, buried his favorite gold-hilted sword and sandals under a great rock."

When Theseus is big and strong enough to move the rock, my sword and my sandals will be his. Then and only then will Theseus be my heir and successor!

I tried doing something similar to this when Arlo was born, but Melinda didn't go for it.

At first glance, this set-up appears to be a direct precursor to the Sword in the Stone from the King Arthur legends. On the next page, Theseus has indeed grown to such a stature that he is easily able to lift the rock and retrieve the hidden items. Now he must travel to find his father, who has since remarried and had another child. Along the way, Theseus must battle a giant named Procrustes and two robbers named Scinis and Sciron. Word of his battles spreads and he is able to return to his father's court, a hero!

But the joyous reunion is short lived. His father tells him of tale of the King Minos, of his labyrinth, and of the beast that lives there. "Its dark passages are endless and confusing. No one escapes the labyrinth, not even the Minotaur. Soon I must send the fourteen. Pity them, and pity us to have to bear such burdens."

Theseus knows what he must do.

I like the way Fisher paints the interior of the labyrinth. Very dark, very foreboding. Though there are no forking paths, it appears to be only one singular and gloomy passageway. It only gets one painting, too, for with a turn of the page later, Theseus has found his prey. I know the whole conceit of Ariadne's ball of thread is that he does not have to get lost, but can find the Minotaur straight away, but still, the child in me lusts after a truly terrifying sequence of a man lost in the bowels of the maze. Isn't that what you think of when you imagine the labyrinth?

Fisher's minotaur resembles a tall, strong man wearing an oversized bull mask, but he does manage to make him look terrifyingly enraged, and I love the description of their battle:

Quickly he backed away from the beast, holding his sword straight out before him. Again the snorting Minotaur attacked. It lowered its head and charged, hoping to pin Theseus to one of its great horns. But Theseus dodged the attack and came up behind the huge beast, chopping a blow that drew blood from the Minotaur's shoulder.

It goes on for several more sentences, in this way, and I could really imagine the fight the two of them must have had.

Finally, since this is the story of Theseus and the Minotaur, we know that things can not end happily. Ariadne and the rest of the prisoners are rescued, but that night the god Dionysus appears to Theseus in a dream, and commands him to leave Ariadne behind on Naxos so that he can marry her. Theseus does as he is told, which is slightly different than how Hutton interpreted the tale. Fisher's Theseus seems to be a real hero when it comes to giants and beasts, but at the first call of the gods, he cowers and asks no questions. His cowardice then indirectly results in the death of his father, who runs to the edge of the cliff and throws himself into the sea at the sight of the black sail on the returning vessel.

Part of the Greek Mythology series.

Links: Holiday House

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