Sunday, July 12, 2009

The Origins of Evil

The White Stag by Kate Seredy, winner of the 1938 Newbery Medal, retells the myth of the Huns' and Magyar’s search for their homeland in lyrical prose. The story itself reads like an epic poem, but the most fascinating part about The White Stag is that it leads into a historical event, the rise of Attila the Hun. According to the myth, Attila was destined to be a great leader who would find a home for his people. His mother, Alleeta, died in childbirth, which changed his father, Bendegus, forever – especially since his father had just challenged the gods, which as we all know, is a huge no-no. Attila was raised without “pity, tenderness, and love” and became the Red Eagle, the Scourge of God. The myth ends (of course) with the White Stag leading Attila to the chosen land of his people. This happily-ever-after ending does not take into account the price of their home, the stones and fields stained with the blood of thousands. As the release of the latest Harry Potter movie approaches (3 days and counting), I am reminded of another man who had a tragic origin story and used his power for evil. Voldemort’s origins are important but they aren’t everything. He was responsible for every choice he made, no matter his harsh upbringing. Similarly, Attila fits into a well-laid myth but is held accountable for his mass-murdering rampage. In the end, The White Stag disturbs me by almost justifying his behavior. Clearly, I need to reread Harry Potter to gain my sense of equilibrium and good and evil.

NOTE: Make sure to check out On the Banks of Plum Creek by Laura Ingalls Wilder, a Newbery Honor book for 1938, which I honestly think should have won the Medal.

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