Friday, March 27, 2009

Tanglewood Tales by Nathaniel Hawthorne

Tanglewood Tales by Nathaniel Hawthorne is a retelling of Greek myths (Part Two to his previous Wonder Book). I enjoy children’s lit and old-fashioned, poetic language, which could both be strikes against this book for the average adult reader. However, if you are looking for a pleasant way to improve your knowledge of Greek mythology, this is a good place to start. Hawthorne had a knack for turning the immoral escapades of the Greek gods and goddesses into moral tales for children. And he did it in beautiful language.

An example from “Theseus and the Minotaur”: Theseus could only guess what the creature intended to say, by his gestures rather than his words; for the Minotaur's horns were sharper than his wits, and of a great deal more service to him than his tongue.

An example of gallantry from “The Golden Fleece”: [Jason is delayed from his mission by an old woman’s appeal for help.]

"Good mother," replied Jason, "your business can hardly be so important as the pulling down a king from his throne. Besides, as you may see for yourself, the river is very boisterous; and if I should chance to stumble, it would sweep both of us away more easily than it has carried off yonder uprooted tree. I would gladly help you if I could; but I doubt whether I am strong enough to carry you across."

"Then," said she, very scornfully, "neither are you strong enough to pull King Pelias off his throne. And, Jason, unless you will help an old woman at her need, you ought not to be a king. What are kings made for, save to succor the feeble and distressed? … Jason, by this time, had grown ashamed of his reluctance to help her. He felt that he could never forgive himself if this poor feeble creature should come to any harm in attempting to wrestle against the headlong current. The good Chiron had taught him that the noblest use of his strength was to assist the weak; and also that he must treat every young woman as if she were his sister, and every old one like a mother. Remembering these maxims, the vigorous and beautiful young man knelt down, and requested the good dame to mount upon his back.

Too didactic? Possibly. But I wish they still taught these things to little boys and girls. This book was occasionally tedious, often witty, and very satisfying in its grandfatherly tone. All in all, it was worth the effort. I enjoyed revisiting familiar myths and learning a few new ones as well.


Carrie said...

I've never heard of this before. Fascinating! THanks for the review.

Phyl/Bookishgal said...

I've heard of this book, but never read it. It sounds wonderful. It makes me wonder, again, if we are "dumbing down" kids' books way too much in this day & age. I've always agreed with C.S. Lewis in the opinion that we should give kids something to "reach up to." This sounds like a book like that.

Laura said...

I received this book for Christmas the year I was 12. I loved it, but I already loved myths, legends, and fairy tales, so maybe that helped. I haven't re-read it since then, but have given it to each of my children to read and each of them liked it, too.

Thanks for reviewing and reminding me of it!