Sprawled on a great lawn in the Berkshires of western Massachusetts years ago, listening to classical music. Exploring ancient ruins last November in pursuit of the Greek gods. What links these memories besides sunshine and delight?
Nathaniel Hawthorne lived in a cottage on what are now the grounds of the Tanglewood Summer Music Festival when he wrote A Wonder-Book for Girls and Boys (1851), retelling six Greek myths. He frames them as loose adaptations by college student Eustace Bright to entertain younger cousins at a Berkshire country house named Tanglewood. Tanglewood Tales (1853) tells six more.
If you grew up on King Midas’s touch or Pandora’s box, a children’s book of such tales may seem like no big deal. In Hawthorne’s day it was remarkable. Greek mythology—full of sex, violence, and dubious morality—was for classical scholars, not for children. Hawthorne’s delightful retellings opened a new world to young and old. On holiday from college libraries and classrooms, Eustace Bright exhibits a lively imagination his professors would doubtless disapprove.
I'm a historian who writes novels and literary nonfiction. My home base is Madison, Wisconsin.