The Cup of Mari Anu.
Yvonne Owens. Illustrated by Kevan Lane Miller.
Victoria, BC, Horned Owl Publishing, 1995. 36pp, paper, $12.95.
Grades 4 - 7 / Ages 9 - 12.
Review by Maryleah Otto.
She learned that there are many chalices in the world like the Cup of Mari Anu and the Holy Grail of the Isle of Women, and that they are a sacred trust of all women. They represent the actual essence of women as the symbols of women's sacred nature. The Cups mean many things to different people. They signify the cauldron of the belly, the womb, and creativity. They are symbols of nurture and of life itself. Lu Sin learned that the Cups exist wherever this awareness exists . . . And she learned that wherever this awareness is not, the Cup of Life exists not, for treasures can be lost or stolen or disappear. Rivers, lakes and the entire oceans can become poisoned and die.
Yvonne Owens draws on her lifelong study of mythology, adding elements from folklore, shamanism, and magic, to tell the story of Lu Sin and the wild dog, a story in the pattern of the Holy Grail myth.
Lu Sin is a five-year-old girl, mute since birth, sent with an elderly wise-woman to become a priestess in the Temple where the sacred Cup of Mari Anu (goddess of Lu Sin's people) is lovingly guarded. This cup is linked to the community's well-being and prosperity. When they begin to neglect the Temple, the cup mysteriously vanishes and hard times befall everyone.
Lu Sin, accompanied by a wild jackal that she has tamed, sets out with most of her tribe to journey westward in search of the magic cup that will restore life and health to their people. After seven years of wandering, Lu Sin goes on alone to a holy mountain where she spends a month in a cave, during which time she is given special powers by a shaman who comes to her in a dream. She is also transformed from a mute child into a young woman with normal speech.
On her return, she leads her people southward through Phoenicia, where they settle in a village they call Ugarit. From here she again goes on alone, this time to sea -- dressed as a boy in order to gain passage on the Golden Hind, a trading vessel bound for the Misty Isles in the westernmost ocean. The ship goes down when it is attacked by Berber Pirates. Lu Sin, who has been given the power to survive in water, saves a small child from drowning and both are carried to shore by a dolphin.
The child, whom Lu Sin call Mara, speaks a different language but she and Lu Sin communicate by thought transference. They spend many months until they are rescued by a Briton ship. Mara recognizes the ship as belonging to her own people and soon she is reunited with them on their island home in the westernmost sea. Lu Sin is taken to the Holy Isle of Women where priestesses teach her celestial navigation, music, dance, and the art of prophesy. After four years, she is given a magic cup, similar to the lost Cup of Mari Anu, to take home so that her people may prosper once again.
This is a book for those who love mythology in which women play the central roles. Many of the events in the plot are familiar elements from myth, legend, and fairy tale. The Cup of Mari Anu is a good yarn, graphically told with lots of action and derring-do. All the elements of the genre are there: innocence rewarded, vengeful gods, rites of passage, magic, quests, and humanity's endless search for Eden.
The style and language come close to that of classical mythology but I'd have liked a much less direct moral at the end, when Owens's voice comes through loud and clear, warning the reader about despoiling Mother Nature. Kevan Lane Miller's large, colourful painterly illustrations capture the essence of the narrative perfectly. They are a most valuable adjunct to the text. The book is printed on heavy paper and is well bound, with clear type and an attractive layout.
The publisher plans to bring out more volumes in this series of legendary and magic tales. It will be interesting to see if they will also be such strong statements of the author's point of view.
The Cup of Mari Anu will be welcome on the children's mythology shelf. It could also be used as background reading for feminist studies in higher grades.
Maryleah Otto is a former children's librarian in Toronto and London, Ontario. She has had four books for children published since 1985.
The Cup of Mari Anu was reviewed by classes across Canada as part of the Collaborative Book Review Project. You can read the students' reviews at the Collaborative Book Review Project site.
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