Magic and Crime

I'm in the fifth grade and my older brother comes home and shows me a book that he had taken out of the school library.  Battered and smelling of moth balls, the book almost fell to pieces in my hand.  Practically every page was dog-eared and it exuded the musty smell of an old library.

But inside, it was magic. 

D'Aulaires' Book of Greek Myths was a compendium, a colorful catalog of Greek gods and heroes.  Illustrated by lithographs (a word I had only learned then) and a rainbow of colors, it opened up a world of fantasy that I really took to at the time.  The image of Zeus brandishing lightning bolts in his hand or of Athena emerging resplendent from her father's head,  the grotesque stories of heroes like Perseus and Theseus lopping off heads of gorgons and minotaurs, the Argonauts, the mischievous tales of Hermes--these were tales that I had never heard about and was immediately enthralled by.  To a young boy, the offered a world of possibility and art and heroism and adventure all rolled into one.  I read the book over and over again, absolutely relishing it.

It was through the book that I learned what a publisher like "Doubleday" did, and I hunted through every bookstore that I could find for it.  To no avail and without means of buying the book from overseas (I tried ordering the book from an uncle or aunt who would travel but they would always come back empty-handed), I took to literally copying the book. At night, I would trace the images of the book on paper.  I'd copy each of the drawings with colored pencils.  I'd even trace the letters of the book's text, word for word, as they appeared in this volume. Some of these tracings came out to my satisfaction, and I would go to bed at night laying both the original book and my drawings side by side.

Nothing matched the real thing, however.  One day, a compulsion took over me and I felt that I just had to have the book for myself.  I needed to own it without the looming need to return it to the library where, God forbid, some other boy would borrow it.  Returning it to the librarian and then secretly spiriting it away before it could be returned to the shelf (by cleverly tucking it between sheets of graphing paper we used in mathematics class), the book eventually became my own.  It was one of the earliest memories I have of a cherished position.

In time, my mother discovered my newfound life in crime.  She had after all begun to wonder about this book that I was constantly reading and why it seemed that its due date seemed to stretch forever into some uncertain future.  Confessing to my crime, I had to return the Book of Greek Myths to the library a few weeks later.

I remember the day that I returned the book.  I couldn't very well give it to the school librarian because that would mean admitting my theft.  So, during a break after lunch, I walked into the library with the book and sat in table stacked with different volumes.  I looked around me, nervous that someone would notice, and then casually left the book lying on the table, as if it was one of the original pile.  I walked out of the library that day, giving the Book of Greek Myths one final glance as I returned it to the world.

What did this book mean to young boy?  For me, it meant venturing into a world of fantasy, heroism and adventure so vastly different from my own real world circumstance.  But it also meant encountering a work so compelling that one needed to be engulfed by it and, more importantly, recreate its effect with the hopes of inspiring others as it did me.  To me, that was the magic of  D'Aulaires' Book of Greek Myths.

Years later, as an adult, I took it upon myself to buy a copy of the book.  It now sits proudly on one of my shelves, protected by plastic that I had wrapped around it myself.  I still go through the book from time to time.  I wait for the day that my son will be able to read so that I can show it to him and, hopefully, help him trace the images and imaginings of the book in his mind, if not on paper. 

And he wouldn't even have to steal it from the school library.
Montagar Montagar
36-40, M
1 Response Jul 26, 2007

This story is so engaging that I forgot I was reading something and I was just there in the library with you hoping not to get caught! This book tweaks at my heart too, since I read it over and over again to my son when he was young. I hope you will get to read it to your own son some day. Thanks for sharing this vivid account (and including the picture of the book which brings it all back!