Mythlopedia: All In the Family
I wouldn’t normally bother writing here about a book like this. It’s one of those light, funny, cartoon-illustrated reference books that Scholastic markets to junior high school students. A staple ingredient of any good classroom library, sure, but not exactly Literature.
This one, though, in its benignity, really meant something to me, and that something was this:
Narcissus falls in love with the best-looking guy around
The goddess Artemis vowed revenge on Narcissus for his cold-hearted treatment of Echo. She put a spell on the self-centered youth as he walked through the woods. When Narcissus stopped at a pond to get a drink, he saw his reflection in the water and thought it was another person- and a good-looking one, at that!
As Narcissus took a drink, the water rippled and the image disappeared. Narcissus waited patiently until the reflection reappeared in the water. When it did, Narcissus tried to embrace it, but the image didn’t move. Narcissus was so captivated by his own reflection that he neither drank nor ate, and he gradually wasted away. Artemis took pity on the youth and transformed him into the wildflower that bears his name, the narcissus.
Did you notice it? I noticed right away. It has long been a point of irritation to me that in every single retelling of the story of Narcissus for kids I’ve ever seen, he mistakes his reflection for a beautiful girl. Better to make the story not make very much sense that to let kids know that, in old Greece, boys sometimes fell in love with other boys.
But in this book, without making a fuss, the writer tells the story as a boy who falls in love with a boy.
It isn’t to make a point about gay people, it isn’t explained in detail, it’s just taken for granted- that’s the way the story goes.
And that is the way the story goes, but this is the first kids’ book I’ve ever seen tell it that way.
It made me feel like the world is getting better, if at least one writer at one important children’s publisher doesn’t think it’s worth the effort any more to try to hide from kids that sometimes, boys fall in love with other boys.
And then turn into flowers.