Saturday, November 15, 2014

Lugalbanda: The Boy Who Got Caught Up In A War

Author: Kathy Henderson
Illustrations: Ray Jane

Every once in a while you come across a book that takes your breath away. Kathy Henderson's tale of Lugalbanda, a brave eight year-old who lived many thousand years ago, is the clearly is one of those.

It could be because Henderson tells you a story that is one of the oldest in the world, set in that cradle of human civilization, the fertile land between the Tigris and the Euphrates rivers in ancient Sumer.

Or you might be astounded because this book contains a story that was lost for four and a half millennia. It was found just a century ago - in fragments of clay tablets, written in cuneiform script, and finally deciphered very recently thanks to the joint efforts of scholars in Germany, Turkey, France, Britain and the US. This book therefore contains for the first time, the story in print and paper form.

You could also be fascinated by the fact that the author came across these stories through her friend Fran Hazelton who is an oral storyteller of ancient Mesopotamian stories to English audiences. She found it just before the invasion of Iraq in 2003 and felt compelled to re-create it for children. She merged two separate story poems through academic line-by-line translations and despite certain omissions and interpretations she has had to make, stayed true to the original spirit.

Your remaining breath is taken away by Jane Ray’s sumptuous illustrations. She apparently spent many hours studying the Sumerian artifacts in the British Museum and thus was able to evoke the feel of the period in her work.

So who exactly was Lugalbanda and what did he do?

He was the eighth son of a powerful Sumerian ruler called Enmerkar who ruled from the city of Uruk. The king wanted to conquer and pillage Aratta, a city he had heard was more beautiful than his own. So off he went with his seven older sons to wage war and little Lugalbanda tagged along. The journey proved too tiring for him and he was left behind to recuperate. Lugalbanda prayed to several Sumerian gods, all of who helped him recover and acquire magical powers. He also managed to appease the War bird and eventually help his father and brothers win the battle, on the condition that they did not destroy the city they had conquered.

Lugalbanda eventually became a great ruler himself and is in fact believed to be the father of Gilgamesh.
Who is Gilgamesh you ask? That, dear reader, is another (very long) story!

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