One of my favorite parts of being a parent is reading books with my kid. How glorious to be able to revisit old favorites and discover unknown delicacies. And I love reading aloud. Someday someone is going to hire me to narrate audiobooks. Until such time, I happily read to my child.
And yet, some of the books, they baffle me, and today’s pick is one of those head scratchers. That’s the book pictured above: Jason and the Golden Fleece, a 1990 book by Leonard Everett Fisher that I checked out of the library recently because Liam loves Greek mythology.
Do all children love Greek myths? (At least, all of them who grow up in a culture that cares about it?) I suspect so, and I have a theory about why: it’s a great metaphor for their own life. The gods (their parents) rule with the utmost arbitrariness. If you don’t thank them for every blasted thing — if you don’t fall in line — you will be torn apart by storms, transformed into lions, forced to wander aimlessly for a decade, frozen to stone by your mother’s deathly glare.
So like life.
We have read nearly every conceivable book of Greek myths, so I was delighted recently to find one we hadn’t read. The book went along pleasantly enough at first: the illustrations are somehow spare and lush at the same time; the story vividly told.
There’s a moment in the middle that gives one pause: Heracles’ servant falls off the Argo (their ship) into the sea, and Heracles (in a fit of noblesse oblige) jumps in to save him. Jason’s all like, “Hey, we’ve gotta get a move on, Heracles. Can you hurry this up?” And when Heracles’ servant insists on sinking to the bottom, Jason’s all: “Yeah, I gotta go,” and leaves them both stranded in the middle of the Black Sea.
I may have misquoted the text a little, but you get the idea. What exactly is the reader supposed to think about this act by our hero? We are left to wonder for ourselves, which I suppose is fine.
But the most startling moment comes at the end. In the final paragraph — in a spare, matter-of-fact few sentences — we are told that Medea (Jason’s wife) kills their kids, then tries to kill Jason, commits suicide, and then Jason wanders the earth for the rest of his life alone and homeless.
The end. Yes, just that abruptly.
OK, now perhaps this is a sign of my deprived high school education that I have never read Medea. A better-read person would have already known how this story ends.
But let’s just presume for the moment that not everyone knows/recalls that the Jason story is a tragedy. Could the author maybe, just perhaps, think about giving a teensy-weensy heads up to the unsuspecting parent reading dust jackets at the library or bookstore?
Something like this: “WARNING: In case, you have forgotten, Greek myths are seriously messed up. People die in all kinds of horrible ways, and in the end, there’s no good way to sugar-coat that for your precious, precious buttercup of a child. So make your choice now: are you up for discussing full-on gore and existential pain with your kid? Or should you just move on to the Diary of a Wimpy Kid shelves?”
You have been warned.