Flashback Fridays: A touch of gold . . .

You’re a king whose only love in the world is gold.  Or so you think.  You are discontent with the gold you have, always wanting more.  And then a stranger comes  and offers you a most unusual gift . . . the power of the golden touch.

Do you remember this version of the tale:

King Midas:A Golden Tale by John Warren Steig, paintings by Omar Rayyan (Holiday House, c1999)

There are many versions of the story of King Midas and the Golden Touch out there, all the way back to the original Greek myth-tales.  I enjoy many of them, and fondly remember the story versions of the past.  But this one, this escaped my notice until recently, and I decided it deserved its own Flashback post.  Stewig retells a mostly familiar Midas outline here.  We see a bit more of the grieving husband and the king who has lost his interest things other than gold becomes more human if you consider his mania a bit of an escape from the grief and sadness.  This Midas has a mysterious stranger appear in his counting chamber and offer him the golden touch.  That touch arrives with the dawn and Midas is giddy with delight . . . for a short time anyway.  Very quickly, Midas discovers that the golden touch comes with many downsides.  From his glasses turning to gold, to his books, to his food and drink. Finally, the dark moment is when he turns his own daughter to gold.  At that moment Midas realizes what a fool he’s been.  The mysterious stranger returns and nails home the lesson that Midas has now learned before giving the king a cure for the golden touch.  Midas brings everything back to it’s original form and from then on is a changed man who can’t stand the sight of gold, except the shine of his daughter’s hair, and later her children’s hair.

The telling is well done and detailed enough  without bogging the text down or making the story too much for younger listeners.  I enjoyed reading this version to my two kids and it builds in the theme in a way that makes it obvious to them.  “Be careful what you wish for.”   The message that gold and greed  for it can wreck the really valuable things worth having in life and that the taste of bread and water are, in the end, more important is pointed but not incredibly preachy. What makes this picture book retelling so spectacular is the art.  Omar Rayyan’s artwork draws the eye, and makes this into a visual feast.  The main story arcs alone are worth viewing in this book, but it’s the finer details–from the various creatures to the more modern visual jokes–that are tucked away throughout the full images that make this just so entertaining and worth looking over again and again.  The text of the story flows into the pictures themselves, making it one fluid whole, an almost organic feeling to the whole reading experience..

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Omar Rayyan uses a wide range of colors, switches from pale pastel backgrounds to super-vivid images in golds and reds.  The colors on these pages, and the patterns and details are a veritable feast for the eyes.  Rather than stick to simply reflecting what the text says, the pictures  develop Midas as a person.  Here he is slumped on his throne, ignoring the details around him, looking jaded and bored.  All sorts of mythical creatures and wildlife invade the story frame,  some literally climbing into view.   This is a busy retelling, and probably wouldn’t be as successful with a large audience as an intimate read-aloud.

Omar’s style feels vaguely romantic and magical, but Midas does not come off as kingly until the last page.  And even then, it’s a human sort of king fondly regarding his daughter and grandchildren.  Instead, Midas is treated in an over-the-top slapstick style.  All his emotions and reactions are painted clear across his face and in the way he moves his body.  It’s marvelously effective at demonstrating how silly Midas is while also providing the necessary drama for the critical moments later on.  Even  his daughter Marygold gets to have a turn at not looking quite so lovely.  In one of my favorite scenes, Midas is pouring water over her head to reverse the golden touch, and a very soaked Marygold is coming back to life. (I imagine it would be startling and unpleasant to suddenly wake up to being doused with river water).

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The author also adds in little humorous and anachronistic touches to the story.  While this wouldn’t work with every retelling, it’s a great touch here.  From the cereal box at Midas’s breakfast table labelled “Posidon Puffs”  to the bottom of his sandals that say “Apollo’s Feet 9/2”, there are little hidden bits of humor for the reader who likes to pore of the pictures and details.  I think I’ve caught them all at this point, though who knows?

The elegance with the slapstick, the humor with the dark drama of the whole story blends exceedingly well–if a little strange seeming.  If there’s one image that captured me though, it’s this one:

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The appearance of divine madness in the mysterious stranger (clearly Dionysus), foreshadowing the golden touch and it’s destructive edge.  The harpies screaming around the frame of the picture, indicating the hubris of Midas’s wish . . . the entire image is marvelous.

To see more of Omar Rayyan’s work and read about him and his many talents, check out his studio page here.

I love discovering retellings that give me some new way of seeing or thinking about a familiar story.  It’s rare to have an artist able to tap that so magnificently as he does here.  (Now I must return the book to my kids’ bookshelves as promised.  They were very upset when I took it away, even though I explained it was for mommy’s writing!)

What fairy tale or myth retelling is your favorite?

Comments welcome!

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About Stephanie Whelan

I'm a children's librarian with a life-long love of all things science fiction and fantasy.

Posted on July 25, 2015, in Flashback Fridays, General Posts and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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