Greek Legends for the Mature

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Golden Shadow CoverThe Golden Shadow: A Recreation of the Greek Legends
Garfield  and Blishen
Illustrated by Keeping

Submitter: When I began working at my library, the Junior fiction section hadn’t been weeded in a good long while, so I had lots of work to do. When I first pulled this book off the shelf, the cover caught me off guard, but I flipped through the pages a little bit to see if it was something worth keeping. The story seemed a bit strange but then I came across the picture of the man and, well, after consensus from my assistant and several board members, we decided that it was indeed a male body part. And female body parts, young and old. And really disturbing, screaming images. And blood. And phallic snakes.

Did I mention this was in the JUNIOR fiction? The collection meant for 9 – 12 year olds? Oy. I’m pretty open and try not to be super conservative on books, but this one was a bit much even for me. It’s been in our collection since 1994 and hasn’t been checked out for at least the last 7 years. I’m confident that even adults wouldn’t read it if it was in the correct location so it’s moving on out.

Holly: This is a really strange choice for a youth fiction section! The language is not something children would be interested in or understand, for the most part. (There are always those Gifted Precious Snowflakes who love this kind of thing, or at least pretend to, God bless ’em.) It might get a look in an adult non-fiction section (398’s), but I think it is best off in a college or university library. The images are…interesting, but very intense. I agree with submitter that they are a bit much for a youth section. Serious studiers of Greek legends or maybe even art may find this fascinating and beautiful. Eight-year-olds may be forever scarred by things they don’t understand. Fair warning before you scroll down.

sketch of a man

screaming face with bloody hands

Person with bloody abdomen


sketches of bodies


The golden Shadow

Snakes in the nursery

Snakes in the nursery

Snakes in the Courtyard

The Golden Shadow



    The turbulent prose of Garfield & Blishen’s The God Beneath the Sea (KR, 1971) is now applied with little modification to the exploits of legendary Greek heroes, especially those of Heracles. If the men chronicled here inspire a shade less extravagant treatment than did the gods of the previous book, there remains an abundance of exclamation-marked howling, straining and panting, magnificent feats of strength and equally prodigious love making. As a result the mythic significance and resonance of the adventures are somehow overshadowed, while the oversized characterization seems to invite questions on a psychological or realistic level that would not otherwise matter (would the “”implacable”” Atalanta, for example, stoop during her decisive race to pick up the golden apples?) Then too, the attempts to vivify each event can verge on self-parody — witness Heracles’ begetting as “”Alcmena moaned deep in the royal bed”” while Zeus in Amphitryon’s form “”enjoyed her yet again.”” However, there is no question that the present authors inject an enormous amount of high-impact drama and immediacy into the familiar material — even including several of Heracles’ labors which are recounted here with renewing vigor and sophistication. And Keeping’s black and white drawings, both elegant and compelling, interact forcefully with the text, heightening such moments as Heracles’ horrified realization that he has killed his sons while reinforcing unstated themes as well.

  2. What an absolute classic! Do you have a YA section? It would surely fit there. Greek legends are gory, but – dare I say it – have more intrigue and excitement than most of the current gory zombie movies. If you have already cancelled it from your library, I hope you have a sale of books you weed, or pass them on to secondhand book sellers. These authors and illustrator have their own followings, and I’m sure it would quickly find a good home.

  3. I think this is another issue where whomever was doing the cataloging/labeling didn’t look at the item in question. They say “Greek Myths” and thought about how kids in elementary school are suppose to read them, and stuck it in there.

    I’ve seen this happen way too often. The Dresden Files stuck in YA simply because they’re magic even though they’re for adults. The movie version of Animal Farm ending up in children’s simply because it’s animated. A parenting book written by a woman who writes primary picture books (and illustrated the same) constantly in the kid’s room even though it says on the cover it’s for parents, not little kids.

    I know things get busy. I know people get in a hurry. But people should double check and triple check anyway.

    Course none of this beats the time that I found a book that was recipes for “soup in a jar” (getting all the dry ingredients together in a mason jar to use later so you just dump it into boiling water) in the math books.

    1. My mother took my whole class to see “Animal Farm” as part of my birthday party. I just looked up the movie and it came out in 1954, so even allowing a year or two for it to get to us, it must have been my third- or fourth-grade class. It was terrifying! I remember vividly how cruelly the animals treated each other. Apparently the CIA had a hand in how it was presented, I learned today. Shudder. As for the retold myths, I am not sure it really is suitable for YA audiences, but then, I was a YA a long time ago and in a more innocent era, I guess.

      1. There’s some seriously edited series of myth books that we were required to read in elementary school. Greek myths in 5th grade, Norse in 6th. It wasn’t until high school when I got my hands on some of the mythology books there that I realized how violent and dirty those myths actually were.

        This book is not for kids just looking at the illustrations alone.

    2. Jami wrote:

      > I think this is another issue where whomever was doing the cataloging/labeling didn’t look at the item in question.
      > They say “Greek Myths” and thought about how kids in elementary school are suppose to read them, and stuck it
      > in there.

      Too right. It happens all the time that people assume any illustrated book must be for children.

      My favourite misfiling is finding Maus (a holocaust memoir in comic form, grim as you could ask for) shelved in the humour section of a bookshop, right next to Garfield.

      1. Our library shelves any “adult graphic novel”, like Maus or The Rabbi’s Cat, in with the Art books, in the 700s…

  4. Oh I love Charles Keeping’s work – but agree it is pretty disturbing. YA certainly, not suitable for little ones! He did do some children’s picture books – I have one somewhere called The Spider’s Web which has two small and fearful children in next door gardens peering at each other through aforementioned web, very strange! In my Secondary School library I have his take on Alfred Noyes the Highwayman: no-one ever borrows it, but I often find kids looking at it in the library. He got one of his Kate Greenaway medals for that one.

  5. This reminds me of the book I found at the age of 10 or so in the Children’s Room of my hometown library — Balzac’s Droll Stories, with what could be described as interesting woodcuts. (Not the Dore version). I think it was misfiled because the endpapers were full of lords and ladies and smirking pages and whatnot, and so looked like fairy tales to our innocent-minded librarians. My, times have changed!

    I agree with Rebecca that Greek myths have a lot more going on than most people think — but I’m not sure I agree that they need purple prose and explicit illustration to appeal to a YA audience.

  6. Not for kids, definitely. Half wouldn’t even get the writing and the half that do get it would be probably more than a little weirded out. I have to say, I do like the artwork, although it appears that maybe the printing process muddied the originals a bit? That happens a lot when it comes to ink drawings when they’re rendered onto pulpy paper. Oh well. I have to say, though, the writing’s a bit stiff (make your own man-part pun here) for the stories. What it’s describing is engaging, but the writing….blah.

  7. The illustrations are interesting, and while some of us (both kids and adults) enjoy creepy illustrations, it’s not what you’d expect in a book about Greek myths. So, the kids who might like creepy stuff are probably going to skip this one anyway, and it might be too much for others that do pick it up.

  8. Oh please—the book won the Horn Fanfare best book in 1974! It’s not for Kindergarten, but eleven and twelve year olds can and should read content at this level and intensity. It’s sad that stuff like this gets purged from libraries, in favor of shelf-after-shelf of junk and pablum.

  9. Leon Garfield was thought to be a pretty good children’s/YA writer back in the day. I had ‘The God Beneath the Sea’ around the age of 12, but wasn’t particularly affected by it – wasn’t very keen on the pictures. The Holy Bible also contains a lot of adult material, but there are ways and means of keeping such stuff from innocent little ones. In fact all myths, legends and fairy tales seem to have a darker side which, as Freud, Jung & Co pointed out, we’re all gonna have to face up to one day…

    1. I would say the same thing about folk tales. My mother occasionally picked out books for me when I wasn’t at home to select them from the bookmobile on my own. I was probably in late grade school when she gave me a book of folk tales. What she didn’t know was how bawdy many of them were with stories such as priests finding ways to have sex with nuns even under the tight supervision of the abbess. I read the entire book before I told her that it perhaps wasn’t suitable even for a precocious lad like me.

  10. Creepy images, but not as brain melting as Stephen Gammell’s illustrations in Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, that that’s a bona fide children’s classic! 😉

  11. I’d say I’d have loved it as a moody teen( and I find it shocking how many people I meet who were never exposed even to the toned down versions of Greek myths as children)—but for 9-year-olds, yeah, probably a bit too much. Obviously a filing mistake. Hopefully you put it in a book sale so it can find someone who will appreciate it.

  12. Is there a male body part? i.e. that male body part? The first picture you give us (not counting the cover), the one with the hands, is somebody’s chin seen from below. “Adam’s apple” is visible between the little fingers. The pose is obviously odd, particularly the arm position, and there’s an outside chance that a male body part is gripped between the elbows, just out of shot. I have just tried to do that and it’s more trouble than it’s worth, but I can’t see any other reason either. I assume that the drippy black stuff all over the hands is blood. Maybe if you accidentally drop your bloody sword from your slippery bloody hand and it is going to fall on your male body part and this is the only way to catch it. The sword. Or maybe he didn’t catch it.
    The second picture has the same explanation. If there’s a male body part in the picture, it’s not attached to the usual place on the male body. Is that what you meant?
    I see male nipples but they don’t count. Maybe they count in an American public library. The female nipples in other pictures count, but without them you could hardly tell that the picture is supposed to be a human body at all, even in the see-through shirt.

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