Sunday, February 23, 2014

King Midas: A Golden Tale Retold by John Warren Stewig (Paintings by Omar Rayyan)

Published in 1999
Folktales / Fairytales

John Warren Stewig's modern-day retelling of King Midas: A Golden Tale would be a great book to read to children of all ages. Most adults and adolescents are familiar with the story of King Midas, the Phrygian king, whose greed almost destroys his life because everything he touches turns to gold. I remember reading this myth as a child, and I would read it over and over again. I also remember reading it to my children when they were young; my three sons loved it!

Stewig's version begins, "Once upon a time there lived a king of Phyrgia. His name was Midas. He was fonder of gold than of anything in the world, except for his daughter Marygold." It is important to note that Phrygia, the
Map of Phrygia, Modern-Day Turkey
setting of this story, was located in what is now known as modern-day Turkey. This is important because the Phrygians are best known for their Greek mythology, and there was an actual King Midas who reigned around 725 B.C. The fact that this king was so wealthy probably attributed to the rising of the myth of the king's "golden touch." Unfortunately, the real King Midas committed suicide because of a nomadic invasion. His story didn't have such a happy ending. Archaeological evidence continues to separate fact from fiction regarding the myth of King Midas and his actual reign.

Stewig's retelling of this story follows the same plot of a king whose greed utlimately leads to regret. The queen has died, and he is left to raise his daughter Marygold alone, whom he loves very much. The king has more gold than he knows what to do with, but he is still not satisfied. One day a "stranger" appears who grants the king his wish. At first the king is thrilled that his wish has come true, but then he becomes despondent and more depressed as time goes by when he realizes his wish will cost him everything he loves and will eventually cost him his life.

Sadly, King Midas' daughter turns to gold when he kisses her forehead, and he regrets that he ever 
made the wish in the first place. The "stranger" appears throughout the story asking questions like, "Well, Midas . . . how do you enjoy the Golden Touch?" Midas responds, "I am miserable." The stranger tells the king that he is "wiser now than yesterday" and directs him to "plunge into the River Pactolus which glides past [his] garden." He is told to take a large vase, fill it with water, and sprinkle the water over any object he wishes to "change into its former condition." The king bows low to the stranger, but by the time he lifts his head, the stranger is gone.
Of course, there is a "happily ever after" to the story, and everything is turned back into its former condition, including his beloved daughter Marygold. In a humorous scene, the king takes the vase and pours water over Marygold's head. As she is transformed into her former self, she has no idea what has happened to her and wonders why she is dripping wet.

The moral of the story is, be careful what you wish for; it might come true. Greed can destroy a person's life. King Midas will never forget what has happened, and "[f]or as long as King Midas lived, two things reminded him of the Golden Touch: the sand of the River Pactolus sparked like gold and Marygold's hair retained a golden tinge he had never noticed before. When Midas grew old, he delighted in telling Marygold's children this story. Stroking their hair, which was also a rich shade of gold, he would declare, 'Ever since that morning, I cannot stand the sight of gold, except in your hair.'"

The illustrations are really what make the retelling of this classic tale interesting; however, I enjoyed the text as well. The paintings by Omar Rayyan are absolutely incredible. Filled with images of Greek mythology, the illustrations are representative of a classic mythical tale. Every time you turn a page, you will see something new in the paintings that you haven't seen before.

There are also humorous images in the illustrations that would be familiar to modern-day readers, especially older readers, and these images might be recognized by some children. On the very first page, the king is sitting on his throne, and by his foot is a bowl for his pet leopard with the name "Spot" inscribed on it. Next to the bowl, is a bag that reads "Leopard Chow," a play on today's Purina Cat or Dog Chow. There is a bright, yellow rubber duck floating in one of the water fountains, and in another illustration, there is a box of "Plato Poseidon Puffs" on the table. However, the king can't eat the cereal because everything he touches turns to gold. In this illustration, he is holding a cup that has already turned to gold in his hand, and the look on his face is one of absolute horror.

I highly recommend that you take a look at this book to see if it would be appropriate for the students in your classroom or for your own children.
Nathaniel Hawthorne's Version
of King Midas & his daughter

               Learn More About John Warren Stewig
               Greek Myths for Children Website
               Archaeological Institute of America
               King Midas Commits Suicide
               Other Images for King Midas by Stewig
               Image Source for King Midas
               Source for Nathaniel Hawthorne's Image

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