Thursday, August 27, 2020

Reading Through History: The Winged Girl of Knossos by Erick Berry (1933)

Set on the island of Crete during the rule of King Minos, The Winged Girl of Knossos (of which Paul Dry books sent me a review copy quite some time ago) retells the popular myths of Theseus and of Icarus and Daedalus. Inas is the fearless bull-jumping daughter of Daidalos, an inventor of sorts who has been working on a pair of wings that allow Inas to fly. These wings must be kept secret lest the government accuse Daidalos of using magic and condemn him to death. Inas is also a close friend of the princess Ariadne, and when Ariadne desires to rescue a Greek prisoner called Theseus, she entrusts Inas with the task of leading him away from the labyrinthine halls of his prison by way of a long black thread. With danger encroaching from a variety of angles, Inas must do her best to save the life of herself and those she loves.

In many ways this book is to Ancient Crete what J.G. Fyson's books are to Ancient Mesopotamia. This story, which provides a plausible explanation behind centuries-old popular myths, immerses the reader in its setting so completely that it becomes easy to imagine the customs and daily living of these ancient people, and to believe that these legends actually have their basis in reality. 

Inas, especially, is an engaging heroine, but without becoming what I sometimes call an "anachronistically woke female." (I've seen some reviews labeling this book feminist. That's a buzzword that typically turns me off from wanting to read a book, and I would not apply it here). She is definitely not interested in domestic arts like the nearby citizens of Siceli, but neither is she incredulously wise beyond her station in life or the era in which she lives. She feels real, and therefore the reader is entirely invested in her fate throughout the story. The tone of the story, too, is surprisingly contemporary-feeling despite this book being 87 years old! It truly reads like a much newer middle grade historical fiction novel. 

I plan to assign this book to my kids during their fifth grade years, as they study the ancients for the second time around, during the logic stage of the classical trivium. I think it would also make an excellent read-aloud, possibly even for a first grader with a particular love for ancient history and the appropriate background knowledge. At any age, however, prior knowledge of the myths is needed to fully appreciate this fascinating tale. 

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