Greek myths have always fascinated children. The ageless ability to transmit various fragments of collected wisdom through the soft-power of the fable is indisputable. As Nathaniel Hawthorne alludes to in A Wonder Book for Boys and Girls, the prequel to these stories, and the book from whence the name Tanglewood derives, children often continue to mine ever-deeper aspects of reality present in some books when they are read to them over and over by someone they trust. The same can be said for adults when they meditate again and again on the demanding advice contained in a book or a piece of writing by someone they love and respect.
What Hawthorne uniquely adds to the millennia of retelling in his almost-matchless, simple and enchanting prose, is an ability to subtly draw-out for the reader the far-reaching consequences of being able to acquire virtue at an early age.
In the first tale recounted -the well-known adventure of Theseus slaying the half-man, half-bull Minotaur- we find in this hideous creature not only an evil to be conquered, but also the sad reminder of the isolation and dehumanisation that awaits those who fail to find true friends.
In the following myths we witness: the subtle connection between aggression (masked as patriotism) and excessive self-love; the joy that is the fruit of humble perseverance; the ugliness of gluttony; and the folly of exposing even well-brought-up children to unnecessary temptation.
The book closes with a wonderful retelling of Jason and his Argonaut’s search for the Golden Fleece. In the indispensable support of a ‘good enchantress,’ the author skilfully ties together the need for the young to confront and overcome concrete and challenging goals with the indispensable help of trusted advisors.
This is a superb read-aloud for preschool children.
David Breen is a teacher working in New Zealand.