Maia (Teresa) Wojciechowska Saul Maloff - Essay

Saul Maloff

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Knowing perfectly well that only the certifiably insane believe it, I am all for instilling in legal infants the tragic sense of life, ideas of radical evil, existential decision, the intolerable certainty of death—though I would not, of course, deny them healthy play and sufficient sunlight. I have the lunatic, indefensible conviction that it is good for them—morally and aesthetically. I realize, by some monstrous irony of history and human perversity, that the great "children's books" are among the most unbearable of all books. Take the Brothers Grimm, and [Lemuel] Gulliver, and Huck [Finn], and [Robinson] Crusoe. Like any other great work of art, they tell the truth, they tell it pitilessly; and the truths they tell are often ugly, sometimes very nearly insupportable—which is simply to say that they tell the truth. (pp. 321-22)

We have so many ways of lying, so few of telling the truth. And lying is of the very essence of bad art. Lies are always prettier than the truth. They come in soft pastels and they smell nice. They seem more suitable—certainly for children. We tell ourselves they're not ready for the truths we know. After enough feedings, lies become the only truths they know….

The 1964 winner [of the Newbery Award] is Maia Wojciechowska's Shadow of a Bull, a book which seems to me to be a case in point. Although it contains some drawings, it is no picture book for tots. It is a short novel intended for kids who can read a sustained narrative of a certain complexity all by themselves, with no one breathing down their necks.

Shadow is a harmless little book, sweet in its way, and instructive. Among other things, it is a guide to bullfighting, its technique and mystique, both, tricked out with a glossary of terms in Spanish and English, a how-to manual, and rather vivid descriptions of the balletic moves. The small protagonist, Manolo Olivar,… is the only son of the great Juan Olivar …—the superlative numero uno, killed in the ring. All Arcangel—his Andalusian town—lives for the time when Manolo will redeem all Spain by becoming his father's even greater successor. Like a primitive people awaiting the advent of a rain-king, all Spain awaits the "birth of a bullfighter." That will be the meaning of his life, and theirs.


(The entire section is 963 words.)