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    Surprisingly Good

    June 10, 2010 by Brandy Vencel

    I‘ve been putting off reading A Wonder Book for Boys and Girls because {1} the cover of our copy is ugly and I am really that shallow, and {2} I’m not a huge Nathaniel Hawthorne fan, based upon a single reading of The Scarlet Letter in high school, which brings us full circle to how shallow I am.


    But after finishing up our previous read-aloud, I wanted something shorter, and so this was just the ticket.

    Wow. And again I say: wow. What a wonderful book thus far! We are loving it, and even my five-year-old is sitting on edge. Today, we read The Paradise of Children, which is Hawthorne’s own version of the story of Pandora and Epimetheus, and A. was driving me crazy: “Mommy, what’s in the box? Did she open the box? Does she want to open the box? What’s in the box?”

    If we celebrated Halloween, I’d totally dress her up as Pandora because she’s excellent at playing the part.

    So we finished the book, and I’m not well-read in mythology, but is Pandora and Epimetheus always such an obvious retelling of Adam and Eve’s fall? Or is this Hawthorne’s special touch? Someone enlighten me here.

    Either way, I wanted so badly for my son to “see” Adam and Eve in the story. But I didn’t want to feed it to him.

    Thankfully, I found our short but sweet Socratic conversation to be completely satisfying:

    “Who do Epimetheus and Pandora remind you of? Anyone?”

    Long pause, and then: “Adam and Eve.”

    “What does the box remind you of?”

    “I don’t want to talk about the box, but the face on the box reminds me of the serpent in the Garden.”

    “Then what does the box remind you of?”

    “The fruit.”

    “Did Eve eat it?”

    “Yes! And Pandora opened the box!”

    “What was the last thing out of the box?”

    “The fairy Hope.”

    “That remind you of anything?”


    And then we talked about God’s promises for a short while.

    My apologies to Mr. Hawthorne for prejudging him.

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  • Reply Brandy Afterthoughts June 17, 2010 at 10:40 pm

    Please don’t EVER EVER apologize for long comments…especially long comments like that one. I ate up everything you said and it makes me excited to read more mythology in the near future. 🙂

  • Reply The BadgerMum June 17, 2010 at 6:02 pm

    Sorry! Didn’t mean to write a novel in your comments!

  • Reply The BadgerMum June 17, 2010 at 6:02 pm

    I just read Hawthorne’s version (I have the book on my shelf so I can read it to my kids soon — I’m doing AO year 2 right now, also), and it’s different from the traditional version in several ways. Do you know the story of Prometheus giving fire to Man? Pro. was Epi’s brother, and they were Titans who’d sided with the Gods during their great war. Epimetheus, whose name means (heh, no reflection on your or your blog!) “afterthought” in the sense of “hindsight.” Prometheus is “forethought” or “foresight.”

    Prometheus made the first man, and while he was at it Epimetheus was busy giving out all the gifts to the animals — speed and agility, fangs and claws, fur and feather and hide – so that by the time the consciencious Prometheus was finished with Man, there were no gifts left to give him and he was naked and vulnerable. Prometheus went to Olympus and stole fire to give the man, thus incurring the wrath of all the gods. For this and a couple other things, Prometheus was bound to a rock where a giant eagle would come every day and eat his liver, which regrew every night.

    As further punishment, Zeus had Hephaestus make a woman of clay, and all the gods and goddesses gave her gifts so that she was all that was charming and fascinating and desireable. She was also given a false tongue, and a jar — and was told never to open the jar. Then she was given to Epimetheus, who had been told by Prometheus never to accept gifts from the gods… and you know the rest of the story.

    Hawthorne’s story is well-told and it’s firmly in the tradition of adding to, and even altering, the early tales, so even though it’s pretty different, the fact of its difference isn’t a fault, so I don’t want to come across like I’m criticizing him for changing it.

    The only flaw I can find with Hawthorne’s version (if he was intentionally making it more like the Genesis story) is that Epimetheus was only “nearly as much in fault as she,” since it was, after all, HIS box.

  • Reply Brandy Afterthoughts June 17, 2010 at 4:56 pm


    I hadn’t thought about it that way! That makes me think that Hawthorne was embellishing a bit–thought I don’t know if it was to make it novel, or to make it Christian–but he definitely went out of his way to make Epimetheus equally at fault. Of course, that is not the same as saying wholly at fault, but it would definitely part ways with the traditional Pandora’s box. In Hawthorne’s version, the box belongs to Epimetheus.

  • Reply The BadgerMum June 17, 2010 at 4:48 pm

    I grew up reading a lot of Greek and Norse myths, and fairy tales, and yes, that really is the way the story of Pandora goes (as far as opening the box — other details vary depending who you’re reading, but that’s typical of the genre). Of course it isn’t true in one important way … we know that it was through Adam that sin entered the world — yes, Eve ate the fruit first but apparantly her action didn’t bring sin to the entire human race. Most every other culture puts the blame on the woman.

  • Reply Brandy Afterthoughts June 16, 2010 at 3:23 pm

    Hi Meredith!

    I was wondering the same thing: was Hawthorne writing these to parallel Christian OT stories? Or was that the way of the original myths? I did a little searching around, and I found an article from Answers in Genesis that seems to say that the Greek stories were (purposely?) rewritten OT stories, but written in such a way as to eliminate God.

    You can read it here: Athena and Eve.

    I haven’t read The Scarlet Letter in years, as you know, but I will say that it didn’t come across as completely anti-Christian in the way that books written today often do. I remember thinking when I read it that he more disapproved of the way the religious system was working itself out in the culture, rather than Christianity per se. But those were my thoughts as a teen. I wonder what I would think today!

  • Reply Anonymous June 16, 2010 at 3:00 pm

    Okay, so I’ve got The Scarlet Letter sitting on my bookshelf. It is even slated for me to read this term in our Tapestry of Grace studies… Perhaps I should stop reading blogs so I can get to it ;o)

    Just out of curiosity, Brandy, does Mr Hawthorne seem to have a bit of a Christian slant on things in this book, or, if there is anything, does it just seem to flow out of the predominantly Christian worldview of his time? I guess that I thought that he would be anti-Christian.

    In Him


  • Reply Brandy Afterthoughts June 10, 2010 at 9:42 pm

    Willa, After I wrote this, it crossed my mind that I should reread The Scarlet Letter! It wouldn’t be the first time that I appreciated a work upon rereading it when I was older.

    I have never read anything else by Hawthorne, but I think I might try and remedy that come winter. 🙂

  • Reply Willa June 10, 2010 at 7:27 pm

    I really liked that book too, and it is a favorite of one of my boys — he has read it over and over.

    I’d like to reread The Scarlet Letter sometime. My oldest son really liked House of Seven Gables.

  • Reply Brandy Afterthoughts June 10, 2010 at 6:24 pm

    You’re welcome!

    The book really is sooo good.

  • Reply Phyllis June 10, 2010 at 12:09 pm

    This is wonderful. Thanks for taking the time to share this with us.

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