GILGAMESH THE KING
Retold and illustrated by Ludmila Zeman
Volume 21 Number 1
The violent and lusty Mesopotamian epic of Gilgamesh is an unusual tale to choose to tell to young children, yet Ludmila Zeman recalls the story as a favourite from her childhood in Czechoslovakia. In Gilgamesh the King, Zeman has chosen to retell and illustrate the part of the epic surrounding the battle and friendship between Gilgamesh and Enkidu, the "wild man." The book's lavish and enticing illustrations are enough to attract readers and keep them turning the pages.
In retelling the story, Zeman simplifies and subdues the tale to make it appropriate for the five- to ten-year-old audience. She introduces Gilgamesh as a lonely, powerful and cruel king, who is forcing his people to create an impossibly high wall around his city of Uruk. To force Gilgamesh to stop, the goddess Aruru creates Enkidu, a horned and hairy wild man who knows only the language of the animals but who is a kind, worthy and equal opponent. Enticed by the singer Shamhat to the city, Enkidu does battle with Gilgamesh on the heights of the newly constructed wall. The fight continues until Gilgamesh steps on a loose stone and falls over the ramparts, only to be rescued and befriended by Enkidu.
The ochre, orange, and green illustrations encased in borders of cuneiform and mosaic tile evoke a time and culture long forgotten and overlooked. The paintings reflect the structure and colours of Mesopotamian art. Zeman has created horizontal panels of frieze-like illustrations encased in borders that create a feeling of spaciousness and power. The detailed, intricate borders add dimension, as though sculpted in relief. Tundra is known for their "art" books and this one is no exception.
Zeman is at work on the second in a proposed trilogy of illustrated stories about Gilgamesh, scheduled to be published in 1993. She has taught at the Emily Can-College in Vancouver and is the daughter of Karel Zeman, a Czechoslovakian filmmaker. Zeman and her husband, also a filmmaker, have plans to create a film of Gilgamesh one day. In the meantime, this book will fill a definite need in many library, art and museum collections.
Allison Haupt is Children's Coordinator for the North Vancouver District Public Library in North Vancouver, British Columbia, and currently teaches at the University of British Columbia.
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