Form and Content

(Survey of Young Adult Fiction)

In this Newbery Honor Book, Virginia Hamilton retells Creation stories from the oral traditions of cultures around the globe. Each story is about three-to-five pages long, with watercolor illustrations by Barry Moser on each facing page and usually within the text as well. At the end of each story, Hamilton includes a commentary explaining the source of the story, special thematic or narrative qualities, and its cultural context. She also includes a brief introductory “Note from the Author” explaining what Creation stories are and an afterword entitled “More About These Myths” in which she elaborates on the common features of the stories. In the Beginning concludes with a list of “Useful Sources,” a bibliography of some fifty items. Because of the simple layout and vivid, bright illustrations, the book is intellectually accessible and visually inviting to readers from adolescence onward.

Despite their variety in plot and origin, these Creation stories illustrate the common effort of early societies to explain the great questions of existence. All address universal human concerns about how life began, the relationship between humans and the gods, and the causes of suffering, evil, and death. The stories also address other fundamental questions, such as the relationship and sometimes the conflict between men and women, between humans and animals, and between the gods. The book includes familiar stories from the Western tradition, such as the Greek stories of Pandora, who opened a forbidden box and released despair and misery into the world; Prometheus, who gave fire to humans; and the Hebrew stories of Adam and Eve (“First Man, First Woman”) and the Creation story from the Book of Genesis (“Let There Be Light”). In the Beginning also includes many lesser-known myths as well, such as “Phan Ku,” a Chinese story of a giant born from the nothing that was and whose body eventually became the world; the Nigerian story of “Olorun the Creator,” who had the earth made so that he could send people there from heaven; and, from northeastern India, the story of “Sedi and Melo the Creators,” woman (the earth) and man (the sky) whose marriage threatened all those who lived between them.