Saturday, May 23, 2015

Release the Crochet...I Mean, the Kraken

On Friday, Elliot's school held its annual Literary Costume Day, when kids get dressed up as their favorite storybook characters.

The rules:
  • must be a children's book character
  • no masks
  • no pretend or real weapons
Mostly it's an excuse for the girls to get out their princess dresses, but Elliot asked if he could be Zeus.


I've been reading Elliot and Alice stories from "D'Aulaires' Book of Greek Myths" — the same copy I had when I was young — so I guess Zeus counts as a children's book character.

Kelly created the costume by crocheting a beard and turning one of my old T-shirts into a toga. Then she and Elliot made a lightning bolt out of cardboard. This raised a question: Would one of the most fearsome symbols of wrath known to Western Civilization be considered a weapon? (I think the school decided it was OK.)

I also quibbled with the beard. Zeus is immortal, but he has the body of a young man. I accused Kelly of making a Judeo-Christian white beard rather than a Greek god beard. But again, I don't think anyone in Elliot's first-grade class took issue with it.

Elliot has taken to Greek mythology with unexpected zeal. We devoured the D'Aulaires book, and I've overheard him making references to his mystified friends.
"You're bad. I'm throwing you in jail."
"Oh yeah? Well, I'm going to send you to Tartarus!"
The D'Aulaires, a husband and wife team, published the book in 1962. And even though it's written for (relatively) young readers, it doesn't hold back on the more disturbing elements of ancient Greek literature: incest, murder, kidnapping, Oedipus...it's all there.

A recurring theme: Fathers who decide to kill their sons because an oracle tells them their child will overthrow them. Hey, good daddy-son reading!

A typical passage:
His son, Pelops, was his greatest treasure, and, wanting to give the gods his best, Tantalus decided to sacrifice him. He made a stew of him and set the dish before the gods. But the Olympian gods detested human sacrifice. Outraged, they threw Tantalus to the punishing grounds in the underworld and brought Pelops back to life. But one of his shoulder bones was missing, and the gods replaced it with a piece of ivory. They all gave him rich gifts.
The Hercules in D'Aulaires is not the Disney version. He repeatedly goes crazy and kills everyone around him, including his own family.

Why is this appealing to a 6-year-old boy? I guess the material feels intriguingly dangerous.

The stories may be thousands of years old, but they're about as edgy as it gets.