Thursday, June 01, 2017

The Encyclopedia of Early Earth

I can't believe I waited so long to read this book.  I've checked it out of the library several times, but even after I read the author's One Hundred Nights of Hero and loved it, I didn't think I could get into The Encyclopedia of Early Earth, by Isabel Greenberg.

After I pushed through the first part, and fell in love with the book, and read it through in an afternoon, I went back to try to figure out why the first few pages turned me off.  I think there were two related factors--one is that it reads, in many ways, like a creation myth, or a fairy tale.

The framing story is of a boy and a girl who meet and fall for each other, but for some reason can never touch each other.  Some force keeps them apart.  This has the simplicity of a story out of myth--and I am not a big fan of myths or fairy tales, actually.  I am too interested in character, and in cause and effect, which are often pretty nonlinear in stories like this.

The related problem is that the boy and girl fall in love in the first three pages, pretty much upon meeting each other. Within two panels of meeting, they are soulmates and getting married, which is a big turnoff to me. The story appears to revolve around the problem of solving their non-touching problem.

But it's not.  It's so much more than that.  Since they can't touch, they tell stories, and from the first story, the book unfolds into a delightful travelogue of a storyteller from the far North and his journey through all the lands of the world.

First, though, we begin with a story that also reads like a myth, but without the distance that troubles me about that kind of story.  Three sisters find a baby and ask the shaman to split him into three babies so they can each have one.  This is the beginning of a chain of events that leads to distant lands and, eventually, to the South Pole, and the marriage of two people who can never touch.

I love these stories.  Three sisters with different personalities could be summed up in a Brothers-Grimm-like sentence, but they're not--they're smart and human and they love each other and annoy each other and make mistakes and realize they're mistakes and try to fix them.  People screw up in this book, and they can be friendly to one person and cruel to another.  This book is full of such incredibly human characters that the fairy-tale elements of the story spring into three-dimensional life.  Even the gods here make sense in ways that they just don't when I read mythology.

I'm so glad I persevered here, and I want to thank Aarti so much for recommending this, and for loving it so hard that I couldn't help coming back, even when I had doubts.  I am won over, and I'm so glad I persevered!

1 comment:

Aarti said...

Hooray, hooray, hooray! I understand your concern with myths and folktales and fairy tales and the supreme lack of character development vs plot or vs moral/life lesson. I just read Marjane Satrapi's The Sigh and felt similarly. Though in general, I really enjoy folk tales. And I love nested stories, which Greenberg does so well! And her illustrations, too! I feel like I should buy these books, actually.

So glad you enjoyed them!!