22 May 2008

"The Story of Mankind" - Jesus makes an appearance

In an interesting move, van Loon somehow avoids Virgil and The Aeneid:

"Their own accounts of the foundation of Rome (written 800 years later when the little city had become the centre of an Empire) are fairy stories and do not belong in a history...." (p 91, van Loon 1922).

Fairy stories, huh? I seem to recall that the Greek creation myth got a paragraph as well extensive descriptions of Greek home and city life. Homer gets several mentions as well as a number of Greek playwrights; strangely, van Loon will refer to "new forms" of something (either literature, theatre, government, etc) but not go into any detail about either the old or the new idea.

Jesus puts in an appearance in a chapter titled "Joshua of Nazareth: The Story of Joshua of Nazareth, Whom the Greeks Called Jesus" and this chapter is narrated entirely by two letters between an uncle (a physician) and a nephew (a Roman soldier stationed near Jerusalem). There are no references listed in the book (only a "historical" reading list for children) so my suspicion is that the letters and their writers are fictional. The uncle describes treating a man named Paul (who most probably is meant to be St. Paul the Apostle) and asks his nephew to ask around about Paul and the rumours about the Messiah (apparently the slaves are getting restless). The nephew writes back with a narrative that runs through the events leading up to Holy Week (he visited a Joseph, noted to have been a personal friend of the Messiah, so probably Joseph of Arimathea); the slant is decidedly Roman/Christian and very much cribbed from the Gospels. I really want to get my hands on the new edition because I would really like to see how these sections play out or if there are actual references.

Which brings up a thought: should history be "fictionalized" to make it more interesting to children, instead of just a series of places, people, and dates? I don't think it should be that terribly dry but I think children should be introduced to citations and references as soon as possible. I don't fault van Loon his writing style - it flows very well - but looking back at an eighty-year-old children's history book I think there should be a little more fact and a little less doctrine.

Current book-in-progress: The Story of Mankind and Songs for the Missing
Current knitted item: Gray neckwarmer, two buttonholes down (this thing is kind of ugly)
Current movie obsession: Little Miss Sunshine
Current iTunes loop: Sarah Brightman La Luna

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