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Tanglewood Tales

Nathaniel Hawthorne

Illustrated by Virginia Frances Sterrett

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    In addition to Hawthorne's subtly creepy tales, infused with the horrors of the Salem witch hunts (of which his ancestor was a persecutor), he is also known for his collections of children's stories, in which classic myths are retold in a manner to make them less gruesome and more appealing to young children, while often conveying a message of moral fortitude. This collection, published in 1853, is a sequel to A Wonder Book for Boys and Girls.
    In the first collection, a fictional character, Eustace Bright, is home on break from Williams College to Tanglewood, a cottage the Hawthornes rented in the Berkshires (Massachusetts). According to Wikipedia, it was later renamed Tanglewood in honor of the author.
    Rather than being simply a collection of tales, it is a continuous story, with Eustace taking the children on hikes and picnics and other various adventures, while he gathers them around to tell a tale.
    In Tanglewood Tales, the stories are just stories, without the additional setting. Both contain six tales. There's a couple important points here I want to mention:
    First, the beautiful edition I have from Project Gutenberg contains the gorgeous Art Deco illustrations of Virginia Frances Sterrett, published in 1921. You may also purchase this hardbound book in a (very expensive) Calla edition from Dover Publications. I personally prefer free to $40, and the eBook is free. One thing it lacks, however, is the explanatory Introductory, called "The Wayside," after the house in Concord where thre Hawthornes lived from 1852 until his death, at least according to the above Wikipedia article, although I have doubts about its accuracy. One of the inaccurate points made in this article is that Eustace has come home from college and requests the author (Hawthorne) to write another set. The author of the Wikipedia article makes it seem as if Eustace was a real person. To my knowledge, he is purely fictional—most likely Hawthorne wrote the stories to tell his own children, who were born in 1844, 45, and 46. Incidentally, the children whom "Eustace" provided the entertainment all bore such names as Periwinkle, Squash-Blossom, Huckleberry, Milkweed, and Dandelion (and more—a large group of children!). Furthermore, it is "Eustace" who has written the stories, and he has come to Hawthorne for his opinion.
    Incidentally, even though this particular edition does not contain the Introductory "The Wayside," Project Gutenberg offers another free eBook with both A Wonder Book and Tanglewood Tales which does include "The Wayside." In addition, this one contains the equally exquisite artwork by Maxfield Parrish, one of my favorite illustrators. Of course both of these may be read online, and are available for both Kindle and other eReaders.
    In both this Wikipedia article and the related one for A Wonder Book, each story is linked to the standard myth or myths from which the story has been arranged, which I found helpful, because Hawthorne did make quite a few alterations. Some of the stories are bits and pieces of myths, with additions from Hawthorne's own imagination. Here is a brief synopsis of each of the stories.

The Minotaur
    This story is about Theseus and his mother Æthra, who dwelt in Trœzene, where his grandfather was King Pittheus. He had never met his father, King Ægeus of Athens, but his mother told him many stories about his great father, the most important being that there was a huge rock where the two often sat, and under that rock, his father had hidden special gifts for his son, but the rock was very heavy and sunk into the ground. On the day when he had grew strong enough to move it, he would be ready to travel to see his father.
    After Theseus deals with the King's evil wife, Medea, and his equally wicked cousins, Ægeus recognizes Theseus as his son, and the two rule together in harmony. But the terrible day has arrived when, according to a deal with King Minos. of Crete, Athens must send, once a year, seven young maids and seven young men to be devoured by the hideous Minotaur, a "pet" belonging to King Minos.
    Needless to say, Theseus volunteers to go, and slays the miserable monster.
    In classical mythology, of course there are different versions of the story, and a number of stories combined, about the life and adventures of Theseus.
Below: Theseus and the Minotaur.

Theseus and the Minotaur

The Pygmies
    This one takes place in Northern Africa, where dwelt the giant Antæus, who lived in harmony with all the little Pygmies who also dwelt there. But one day, their delightful relationship is brought to an end. Another giant, Hercules, needs to cross the land, and Antæus will not allow him, so they must fight. The problem is, every time Antæus touches the earth, he gets stronger, so Hercules lifts him off the ground, and strangles him. The Pygmies are angry and saddened, but Hercules gets a laugh. Kind of nasty of him, huh?
     In the original story, the other giant is either Hercules or Heracles, but I could not find any mention of Pygmies.

The Dragon's Teeth
    In this story, the children of King Agenor: Cadmus, Phœnix and Cilix are out playing with their little sister Europa. The boys were making flower necklaces for their sister when a beautiful butterfly came along, and they chase it. Soon a white bull approaches the little girl. She is frightened at first, but he is friendly, and she begins to trust it. The bull invites her to ride, but then takes off into the sea. The boys have seen her on the bull, but are unable to stop it. They return, but their father, the King, throws them out, telling them to never return until they find Europa. Queen Telaphassa and a friend, Thasus, join them.
    This is one of those wandering for years and years tales, where, one by one, each stops because they can go no farther. Each of the princes stops and sets up a home, which grows into a kingdom, including Thasus. The Queen dies, but Cadmus continues. He consults the Oracle at Delphi, who tells him to follow a cow. It is an enchanted cow, or course. He slays a dragon, then plants its teeth which sprout into fierce warriors, who slay each other, except for a few, which remain and are faithful to Cadmus. He founds a kingdom and marries Harmonia.
    Please note here, that many of these stories are based on real people, and are an explanation of how real cities were founded. Though not mentioned by Hawthorne, it is the city of Thebes which he founds. Europa is never recovered, but in the original myth, she is not a little girl but a woman, and is abducted by Zeus. According to Wikipedia, she was the mother of King Minos or Crete (the one with the nasty pet described above). Europe was named after her. Lotus also made a really cool sports car named after her, too, back in the '70s, but that's probably irrelevant.

Circe's Palace
    This is a tale from the wanderings of the famous King Ulysses after the siege of Troy, attempting to return to Ithaca. He is possibly best known from Homer's Odyssey. Here, he and his men are starving, when they see an island and land upon it. Not knowing who is there, or if they are safe, all they know for sure is that they are starving and smell food. Half the men are elected to go with their leader, Eurylochus, while Ulysses remains with the other half. Eurylochus senses something is wrong when they enter the palace, but the other men are only thinking of their stomachs. They are treated well and stuff themselves to the hilt. but they are pigs, and that is what the enchantress, Circe, to whom the palace belongs, turns them into. Eurylochus returns and tells Ulysses what has happened. Ulysses himself then goes to rescue the men, and with the help of a little magic, conquers Circe.

The Pomegranate Seeds
    This one is really a watered down version of the abduction (rape) of Proserpina by Pluto (Hades). depending on whether the version is Greek or Roman, Proserpina was the daughter of Ceres (Roman) or Persephone, the daughter of Demeter (Greek), she is taken to the underworld while her mother, the goddess of crops is out making everything grow. In Hawthorne's story, she is a little child, and refuses to eat or drink while in the underworld, thus she will not be tied to that place. But just before she is rescued by Quicksilver (Mercury), she has been given a pomegranate from the earth, and puts six seeds in her mouth. Therefore, she is destined to have to spend six months out of the year with Pluto. It is one of the many myths throughout the ages, that give an explanation for the changing of the fertile season to the barren one, and back again. Remember, to these ancient people, growing food meant survival, so the gods and goddesses that protected the crops were of utmost importance.

Jason and the Golden Fleece
    This one is probably best known of all these stories, since TV series and movies have been made about this ancient Greek hero and his crew of Argonauts. His goal is to dethrone King Pelias of Iolchos, his father's kingdom, and reign in his stead. With the help of some magic, an old woman, a missing sandal and a talking tree, he has a boat made with fifty oars, and sets out for the Golden Fleece, hanging in Colchis. The king, Æetes doesn't want to part with it, of course, so Jason has to perform some additional tasks, and he succeeds with the help of the king's daughter Medea, whom Jason isn't sure he trusts, but it all works out.
    However, as expected, in the original myth, things don't go quite as smoothly.
    And there are the six stories that appear in this collection. Recommended for children, although maybe a little older ones than would enjoy A Wonder Book.
Below: John William Waterhouse: Jason and Medea, 1907

Jason and Medea

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