Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Of the ancient world

I do occasional surveys of children's literature.  Which is to say I read it now and again, even though I am nominally an adult.  As someone who writes, I want to read broadly, not just in the expected areas.  Also there's some stuff I like, nice surprises.

Recenttly I read Rosemary Harris' The Moon in the Cloud, which is something of a twice-told tale based on the story of Noah from Genesis.  I liked the talking animals.  Yes, it's the kind of book with talking animals.  And Harris makes a clever turn at the end.

Had to wonder, though.  The bad guy in the book is Noah's son Ham.  He comes off way too vile to be a Disney villain.  And Ham is the son whose offspring were supposed to have settled Africa and the adjacent parts of Asia.  Is there some agenda here?  Maybe an attempt to justify ultra-hawkish policies in the Middle East?  It sounds far-fetched, but Ancient Egypt is presented as barbaric and cruel, mostly.  Which it was, mostly, but so was the ancient world as a whole.  Also the Kingdom of Egypt is presented as existing in the form we think of it before the Flood, which is explained away realistically because the Flood was more local than the legend says.

So I'm not sure if my tentative political reading is fair.  Part of the reason it is tentative is that I'm leery of politicizing art prematurely, which can block out other readings.  I do wonder, though, if Ham has been getting a bad rap all these years.


susan said...

I've never heard of this book even though it appears to have been around for a while. Your take on Ham as being the villain of the piece sounds like a pretty fair assessment to me.

The fact there are ancient Flood stories the world over I've always found very interesting. The fact that the ice sheets covering the northern hemisphere all melted pretty fast after the last Ice Age ended nine thousand years ago definitely makes me wonder just how much truth there is to those myths. Even now great numbers of people do tend to live close to shorelines.

Ben said...

The book was written in the late sixties, or at least published then.

The Flood stories are significant, I think. I have a friend who's a skeptic about it, but the end of the Ice Age would cause some natural traumas, and people would take notice. Doesn't mean that the whole world was flooded, but it would seem that way to you if you'd never been more than a few miles from your village.

Of course now shorelines are moving inward.