New York: Macmillan/Atheneum, 1994. $15.95,
ISBN 0 689 31818 9.
Note: A picture book about the life of the Egyptian king, Tutankhamun, who came to the throne at a young age, after the short-lived religious revolution of his predecessor.
This is a children's story about the life of an Egyptian king, Tutankhamun, who came to the throne at a young age, after the short-lived religious revolution of his predecessor. The theme is that of a lonely young boy, puzzled and upset by the changes he lives through, who finds after his brother's death that his true purpose in life is to lead his people back to the traditional religion and to restore his country's greatness, a task which his youth and innocence makes possible. This is a delightful little book, with lots of clever illustrations to interest a small child in the history of Egypt. All the pages are very realistically printed to look like papyrus (ancient Egyptian paper), and the illustrations are done in blocks of color outlined in black like a stained-glass window. The author's two orange cats appear in each illustration (sometimes subtly, as part of jewelry, or simply the tip of a tail going over the wall), which would make it a great book to read to a child. The story deals with a very controversial period of Egyptian history, the reign of the pharaoh Akhenaton. Some scholars see Akhenaton as a heretic king who attacked the old religious traditions and lost the Egyptian empire because of his own psychological instability, while others argue that he was a great religious thinker and writer, the first true monotheist in history. This book clearly takes the former position, and concentrates on Akhenaton's destruction of monuments to the gods (vividly and realistically depicted), including those of his own father. Some of these issues, as well as the later life of Tutankhamun and an allusion to his spectacular tomb, are treated in an author's note following the text. The author also follows the interpretations of Cyril Aldred, in assuming that Akhenaton had a long co-regency with his father and a relatively short independent reign. Other scholars have argued that the co-regency was short, and that Akhenaton reigned alone for about 16 years, so that Tutankhamun would have been his son, rather than his younger brother. Another way of solving this dilemma has been suggested by recent reexamination of Tutankhamun's mummy, which has raised the possibility that he was older at his death than had previously been thought (as much as 27 years old, which would have made him 18 at his accession, rather than 9.) However, Aldred's interpretation is still a possibility. One slight improbability is the assumption that Tutankhamun walked home alone from school to the palace each day, which allowed him to observe the building of temples. In fact, school was almost certainly held in the palace, and in any case it would be unlikely that a son of pharaoh, however insignificant, would be allowed to walk and loiter unaccompanied. But it makes a good story. The conclusion that "Evil is best seen through the eyes of a child. Only the young can banish it and cause the truth to flower once more." strikes me as at least as an exaggeration, and quite questionable historically. In fact, during the early part of his reign at least, Tutankhamun was probably a puppet of various political factions controlling the throne, and as a result, he wasn't very well remembered by later generations (which is why his tomb survived almost intact). But it is a possibility. The illustrations are very well researched, with Egyptian art, architecture, landscape, plants and animals, and clothing styles accurately rendered. A fire drill found in Tutankhamun's tomb is even shown in one of the illustrations. The only real inaccuracy is the scene of the burial of the old king, Tutankhamun's father, which depicts a rather fanciful rendering of a non-royal tomb of a slightly later period as shown in the National Geographic "Daily Life in Ancient Egypt" series from the 1950s.
Reviewed by: Ann Macy Roth, Howard University
Subject: Egypt / Fiction / North Africa