He stated that, "I mean printed works produced ostensibly to give children spontaneous pleasure and not primarily to teach them, nor solely to make them good, nor to keep them profitably quiet." (Darton 1932/1982:1) So here the quest is for the capture and promotion of children's imagination through stories and fables that please as well as enlighten. There is always the fallout that once a child learns to love to read he or she will read many more things with greater enthusiasm than before.
The children's literature genres developed in Mesopotamia and in Egypt over a roughly 1,500-year period - proverbs, fables, animal stories, debates, myths, instructions (wisdom literature), adventure and magic tales, school stories, hymns and poems - pass down to the Hebrews and the Greeks. The Old Testament owes much to both Mesopotamian and Egyptian literature (Adams 2004:230)
One can see that, as stated previously, children's literature is nothing new to both civilized and pre-civilized cultures, and certainly has relegated itself to a certain level of importance in all societies.
There is also a genre that is known as Wisdom Literature which includes these fables, stories and tales of mythology, but which should also include, as far as this writer is concerned, children's literature as well. By using different forms of allegorical representations of myths and legends, the stories told become lessons learned in the way of living life. This is another reason that the mythology of Mesopotamia is important since it conveys a larger array of creativity and mythology to choose from. In fact many scholars believe that the literature from this area is far more diverse. "Sumerian wisdom, which has come to be translated and understood only in recent times, contains far more genres than those found in Israel." (Murphy 1981:9)
Another important aspect to Children's literature is the area of Narrative. Since children's literature is intimately involved with storytelling, narrative is a key element. "Narrative theory is highly relevant to the study of children's literature. One of the profound characteristics of children's literature is the discrepancy between the cognitive level of the sender (adult) and the implied addressee (child)." (Nikolajeva 2004:166) In order for the child to absorb the story, the narrative must be compelling and imaginative, giving both pleasure and arousing curiosity of outcome.
Allegory is certainly another critical area of not only children's literature but of all literature-based mythologies. Allegory creates tales that have meaning on very deep and fundamental levels and is critical in expressing and adult concept in terms children can understand. Allegory represents, "… a separate philosophy or sequence of events, for the primary (though not exclusive) purpose of highlighting or inculcating a doctrine or system of belief. An abstract idea or conception organizes and determines the narrative." (Bell 2005: 13)
Some examples in throughout literature include Everyman, The Faerie Queen, and Pilgrim's Progress. In John Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress, the hero, named "Christian," has to travel through the danger of Vanity Fair and the Slough of Despond in order to get to the Celestial City. The allegorical symbolism is almost too representational and vergers on not being allegory at all.
Mesopotamian myth is especially rich in these allegories and is a relevant source for children's literature on many levels. As mentioned previously, it certainly has an archetypal relevance to many biblical stories and perhaps was the origin of many of them as well. This is especially true of the Epic of Gilgamesh, "…the twelve ancient Mesopotamian tablets that make up the epic of Gilgamesh, one of the world's most magnificent poems, among the oldest of writings, and the prototype literary creation that informed Biblical and ancient Greek literatures, among others. (Helbig and Perkins 1997:103) This creates a familiar relevance that children can relate to, as well as adults. Furthermore, the allegorical riches in Mesopotamian literature is ripe for the creation of children's stories. John Garnder, the writer of several Children's stories, spent eighteen months studying the Epic of Gilgamesh. He found that the myths were quite apt at setting the fate of the individual is inextricably links to the gods whose whims turn the universe. This is a central theme of "Mesopotamian psychology." (Morris 1982:39) This is especially relevant to a child whose entire universe is almost always under someone else's control, i.e.: parents, teachers, etc.
This transforms into the concept of luck as being sent down from the gods. IN fact there are four words for soul in the Mesopotamian language and, …they all have luck as an important shade of their range of meanings, and they all have some relationship to the world of demons and the dead. To experience a lucky stroke, to escape a danger, to have an easy and complete success, is expressed in Akkadian by saying that such a person has a "spirit" ( Oppenheim 1964: 200).
There are also many oracles and signs that have great allegorical relevance as well as play on the fancies of the imagination of the child.
THE GREAT FLOOD -- THROUGHOUT TIME
While in the Western culture most believe that the Great Flood story originated with Noah and the Ark, there have been literally countless version of it long before this one and many others that have sprung up independently across many various cultures and lands. The table below shows the various flood legends and compares them to each other and to the main p;oints of the biblical version:
As one can see from this analysis the Assyrian tradition has a 100% match-up with the biblical story. Most researchers now believe that all the flood myths of West Asia are Mesopotamian in origin. They appear at the end of eras, periodic creations and destructions of the world that occur in most culture's mythology. Hindu mythology has their Kalpas and Sumerian Mythology also have eras that last for 241,200 years. This periodic rebirth and destruction of civilization was also found in the Mayan civilization:
The first world was inhabited by dwarfs, the builders of the great ruined cities; in the second lived the dzolob, or 'offenders', an obscure race; the third world saw the Maya themselves; the present one peopled by a mixture of tribes will also end with a flood. This alternation of destruction and renewal is a reflection of the duality in Maya religion. Chac, the rain god, tended the new shoots of the tree, while the god of death, Ah Puch, sought to nip off the seed leaves. (Cotterell 1986:212)
The kings of these times are also reminiscent of the monarch that existed prior to the biblical deluge of Noah. There was also a version of the Gilgamesh flood that existed prior to that period as well, but has been largely lost to time:
According to the fragments preserved, when the gods decided to drown mankind, the water god Enki warned the pious and god-fearing Ziusudra, King of Sippar, who built a boat in order to escape the seven-day flood. Later Ziusudra acquired 'life like a god'. In Akkadian literature there are two versions of the flood story. (Cotterell 1986:39)
In the Gilgamesb Epic Utanapishtim is the hero, while in another myth the survivor of the flood is Atrahasis. In fact, during the seventh century BC Assyrian culture in Mesopotamia, the Atrahasis myth was used as an incantation at childbirth. This also translates into the Christian symbolism as allegory of the deliverance from the flood came to signify baptism and Noah's ark itself the symbol of the Church. (Cotterell 1986)
The Epic of Gilgamesh was only fairly recently rediscovered in 1876 when the famed Assyriologist George Smith successfully deciphered the Chaldean story of the Great Flood from a fragment among the huge number of the cuneiform tablets that were piling up in the British Museum's Kuyunjik Collection.
The epic was originally recorded on twelve large tablets of a total of 3,600 lines and stored in the great library of King Assurbanipal (ca. 668-627 B.C.) in Nineveh. Owing to the tablets' sometimes poor state of preservation only about a half of the whole story is known, although our understanding has been aided by various minor fragments found elsewhere. (Masako 1995: 241)
Over time these various fragments have taken on the shape of perhaps the original archetypal flood story.
However, while strikingly similar, there are also some striking differences that are worth noting. Obviously the names are certainly different, but the time frames are also quite different. The flood in the Gilgamesh epic lasts for only seven days while the flood of the bible last for forty days. There is also a sparrow put to the task of finding dry land as opposed to a dove. The most striking difference is that Noah Character of Utnapishtim in the Gilgamesh version becomes immortal along with his wife as a gift from the Gods for not allowing everything to perish in the flood. While Noah become the last of the long-lived race of ancestors, living over six hundred years, but does not live forever.