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Showing posts with label queen esther. Show all posts
Showing posts with label queen esther. Show all posts

8.15.2011

Tales and Their Tellers 11: Queen Esther, Jewish Cinderella

Hi there. Not a review this time, just a plug. Please read my latest installment of Tales and Their Tellers at The Critical Masses.

Tales and Their Tellers 11: Queen Esther, Jewish Cinderella

"If there is any Biblical story from the Old Testament which lends itself as a direct antecedent of modern fairy tales and storytelling, it’s… I bet you thought I was going to say Noah’s Ark, didn’t you? That’s certainly the most well-represented Bible story in the children’s section of any bookstore or library. David and Goliath is always good for a laugh, Daniel in the Lion’s Den: classic. But no, it’s the story of young Haddasah and her transformation into Queen Esther – eventual savior of the Jewish people – which I find the most resonant..."
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Click here to read more!
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And click here for all of my Tales and Their Tellers columns!



7.19.2011

Esther's Story (1996)

Retold by Diane Wolkstein

Illustrated by Juan Wijngaard

Gouache on paper.

Text set in 14.5 Gody Old Style BT

Morrow Junior Books

This is a very full retelling of the story of Esther, which I've been piecing together from various picture book versions in my previous entries. This one is by far the most beautiful and expansive version I've read yet.
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"Esther's Story is woven together from the biblical Book of Esther, oral legends, and my own musings," writes Wolkstein. "Other legends were told to me by my own rabbi, Shlomo Carlebach."
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Right away, I could tell I was going to dig this one. I can tell she has her priorities straight. Not a mere retelling, but a conflation of different sources and personal acquaintances.
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Esther is eleven years old when the story opens, and named Hadassah. She is writing in a diary given to her by her Uncle Mordecai, on a night wherein he has left her by herself and attended the King's banquet. The whole of the book is written in the first person, with Esther's voice.
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When Mordecai returns home, he comes bearing news:
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"Tonight Queen Vashti, the queen of all Persia, refused to go to the king when he called for her, so she has been banished. Tomorrow a search for a new queen begins throughout the one hundred and twenty-seven lands of Persia."
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We follow Esther through her adolescence, growing into a young woman. Wijngaard has done wonderful work showing not just the key players, but the entire world in which they live: fully realized with innumerable details. I love the lattice work and her triple braids as she stands looking out at the evening sky.
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In Persia, Esther is the goddess Ishtar, who is the goddess of love and war. She is also the first planet to appear every night in the sky. I often watch for her in the evening. I think it is very brave of her to appear all alone when it is dark.
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What?! Polytheism in a Bible story?!
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I dig it.
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When Esther is a bit older (thank God) she is selected to live in the palace with other beautiful, young women from the kingdom. Presumably, this is part of the bride-choosing process. It is only when she happens across the king in the hall and they share a laugh that he asks her to marry him.
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This was the only version I've read in which some genuine emotion went between them, and we feel that they truly are in love, that it is because of her good-natured, child-like quality that she is able to warm the sad king's heart. Not just because, you know, she's hot. In fact, I think it works greatly toward this story's overall message that Esther is not necessarily the most beautiful.
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There are many other details which I loved. Esther does not merely enter the King's throne  room, but she "..walked through the first, the second, and the third gates. At the fourth gate, my legs began to tremble. I walked more slowly. I passed through the fifth and sixth gates. As I came to the seventh gate, I wondered if these were my last moments to live. Then I heard the sound of the shofar, and pushed the last gate open." In a medium in which minimalism seems to be the name of the game, I love lengthy descriptions like this all the more.
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The story will pass from one to another. I think that is how it was meant to be. Once it was my story. Now it belongs to each of us.
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Indeed.
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For more stories about Queen Esther, click here!
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For more stories from the Old Testament, click here!
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For Jewish Folktales, click here!

7.14.2011

Queen Esther (1986)

Retold and Illustrated by Tomie dePaola
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Harper and Row
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Continuing my trip through the tale of Queen Esther, I picked up this small volume by the great Tomie dePaola. I thought it would be interesting to refrain from reading the actual text of the Biblical account, and instead stick with picture book representations.

The artwork is distinctly dePaola - he has such a unique style - very simple, very stylized. Usually I think of his characters as possessing an abundance of rosy cheeks and pleasant dispositions. Not so, in this book. A quick flip-through reveals a plethora of dour complexions which occasionally give way to fear, angst and some wrath. Even at the very beginning, as King Ahasuerus sits upon his throne and has all of the beautiful, young women in his kingdom brought before him so that he can select a wife - he doesn't look too happy about it.

King Ahasuerus admired Esther more than all the others. So he chose Esther to be his queen.
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And there he stands, at the left-hand side of the page, holding his royal scepter. There stands Esther, on the right, eyes shut, hand on breast, bowing formally. I would expect this degree of formality with an arranged marriage, but the King has basically let his lust do all the choosing for him! Ah well.

Something this book does which the previous version did not is that it explains what 'purim' is - lots, like dice. We see the wicked Haman - cloaked all in red - casting them to help him determine the best month and the perfect day to kill all the Jews.

Once the purim have spoken, Haman tells the king the Jews must be slaughtered. DePaola very specifically writes, "King Ahasuerus listened and then he ordered the Jews to be killed." [emphasis mine]

I thought that was telling, because in the other version, it was not clear if Ahasuerus was to blame or not. The text left it a bit muddled - for obvious reasons, I think. As I read this line, however, I suddenly became interested in how dePaola was going to resolve the story, now that he has so plainly outed Ahasuerus as the villain.

I did not have long to wait. During the climactic feast - and after touching the royal scepter (?) - Esther says, "If it pleases your Majesty, my wish is that I may live, and that my people may live. We are about to be killed."

"Who dares to do such a thing?" asks Ahasuerus. Really, you have to ask? Or perhaps we are meant to think that his apparent  outrage is an act, in order to cast suspicions off himself? It must have come as a great relief, then, when Esther says, "Our enemy in this cruel man, Haman."

Phew! And to cover his tracks completely: "Hang Haman himself on those gallows!"

So King Ahasuerus stops the Jews from being killed, and...  Er, wait. No, he actually doesn't stop the Jews from being killed. The book says that the King decreed the Jews could "defend themselves against the people who came to destroy them." Come again?

It would be like Hitler having a massive change of heart during the Holocaust: "You know, we're still going to try to exterminate you, but from now on, feel free to try to stop us from exterminating you!"

My hope is that other versions of the story will make this clearer for me!
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Click here for other versions of the story of Queen Esther!
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Click here for more Biblical tales!
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Click here for Jewish Folktales!

7.07.2011

The Story of Queen Esther (2009)

Retold by Jenny Koralek

Illustrated by Grizelda Holderness

Pastels

Text set in Angie

Eerdmans Books for Young Readers

After I indexed Raisel's Riddle last week, which uses the Festival of Purim as its backdrop, I thought it would be a great idea to refresh myself with the story of Esther.

It's a story which seems the inversion of most other tales, as it begins with the typical Happily Ever After part and then unravels from there. A rich and powerful king named Ahasuerus chooses for himself the most beautiful woman in his kingdom to be his wife. Her name is Esther, and Grizelda has indeed made her very beautiful. Her hair is long and black, inexplicably filled with the stars and the moon. She seems very happy, with no misgivings, and spends her time being bathed and prepared for the wedding. All is well and good, except... she's a Jew! D'oh!

I love how Grizelda illustrates the story, with many pages containing several scenes happening concurrently. In one spread of the king's castle, we see men snickering and plotting murderously in an upper window of the tower. In two other windows, Mordecai and Esther communicate by carrier pigeon, while on the castle roof, the King hands his servant Haman his royal ring of command.

It is a strange scene, I think, when Haman suggests to the King, "Your Majesty, the Jews do not obey some of your laws. Why don't you get rid of them?"

"Do what you like with them," is the King's lackadaisical response.

Later, we are meant to side with the King when, learning of the plot to kill the Jews, says with feigned innocence, "By whose order? Who would do such a terrible thing?"

Give me a break, King Ahasuerus. What exactly did you think was going to happen when you agreed with Haman in getting rid of the Jews? It's an irony which the story does not explore. All that matters is that Haman is executed while his weeping wife watches, Esther is one beautiful lady and, "to this day, a noisy, happy feast, the Feast of Purim, is held every year to remember how Queen Esther saved the lives of her people."

I've read some other reviews of this book, and they all agree that it is pretty liberal with its interpretation of the actual Biblical story, oversimplifying and changing several details. Ah well, I guess I'll have to find and read other versions!
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Click here for more versions of the Queen Esther story!
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Click here for more Biblical Stories from the Old Testament!
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Click here for Jewish folktales!

6.28.2011

Raisel's Riddle (1999)

By Erica Silverman

Illustrated by Susan Gaber

Farrar, Strauss and Giroux

This is a Jewish version of the Cinderella story. It does not appear to be based on an actual Jewish folktale, but is an invention of the author, Erica Silverman. However, it does incorporate aspects of the story of Esther and of the Purim celebration.

Indeed, it is the celebration of Purim which serves as the stand-in for the fancy-dress ball. The "prince" in this tale is the son of the village rabbi and the Fairy godmother is a Polish beggar woman.

That is not to suggest that Silverman merely filled in the blanks of the Cinderella tale with Jewish icons to arrive at this telling. There is plenty to distinguish this story on its own terms. First and foremost, the eponymous "riddle" from the title. During the Purim meal (beet soup, roast duck, potato pancakes, noodle pudding) a bevy of young Jewish maidens flirt with the rabbi's son by telling him riddles.

"What has a face but no mouth?"

"Now what is that over my head but under my hat?"

Surely, this is the way to a young man's heart, and Raisel - working in the rabbi's kitchen whilst dressed in rags - also knows a riddle, though she doesn't get the chance to tell it until later that night, after she has helped an old beggar woman who turns out to magic, wishes for a Purim costume and a horse-drawn wagon, and finds herself at the celebration where the young son of the rabbi states with bold impertinence bordering on the scandalous, "In that costume, you are the loveliest Queen Esther here."

She asks:

What's more precious than rubies, more lasting then gold?
What can never be traded, stolen or sold?
What comes with great effort and takes time, but then -
Once yours, will serve you again and again.


Then, the striking of the chimes, midnight apparent. The young Raisel disappears and the Rabbi's son is left with the task - not of trying to fit a solitary slipper upon the foot of some lucky woman - but of discovering the woman who knows the riddle.
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Click here to read my conversation with Erica Silverman!
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Click here to read about the story of Queen Esther and the Festival of Purim!
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Click here for other Jewish Folktales!
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Click here for other Cinderella stories!
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