Friday, May 04, 2007


Lester, Julius. 2007. Cupid.

Cupid reminded me of why Julius Lester is so incredible. I had almost forgotten after the torture of his last book, Time's Memory (2006). Just read his opening paragraphs and dare you not to be hooked:

A long time ago, when Time was still winding its watch and Sun was trying to figure out which was east and which was west, there was a king and queen. I don't know what country they were were king and queen of. That information was not in the story when it came down to me. Sometimes, stories don't understand; what may not be important to them is very important to us.
Now I'm sure there are people who can tell this particular story without having a name for the kingdom this king and queen ruled. Jupiter bless them. I guess I'm not that good of a storyteller, because I need a name for the kingdom. I asked the story if it would mind my giving the place a name. It didn't see any harm in it, so I am going to call it the Kingdom-by-the-Great-Blue-Sea.
The story also does not have names for the king and queen. I know they had names, but nobody would say to them, "What's up, Chuck?" or say, "Looky here, Liz," if those happened to be their names. I am in agreement with the story this time. If nobody could use their names, there is no need to have them in the story. As for what the king and queen called each other, they were probably like any other married couple and he called her "Honey" and "Sweetheart," and she called him "Good Lips" and things like that, which we don't need to pursue any further.
The king and queen had three daughters. I know what you are thinking: the daughters didn't have names, either. That is partly true. Two of the girls were name-naked. I'm not even into the story yet and already we have four people that the Internal Revenue Service could not send a letter to.

The lyrical storytelling continues as the narrator reveals the story's main focus: the king's third daughter, Psyche. (The one who was not name-naked.) I tried to write something that would give you an idea of how beautiful she was, but the letters of the alphabet got so confused and jumbled up trying to arrange themselves into words to describe someone for whom there were no words, they ended up crying in frustration. I hate trying to make words out of letters that have been crying and are so wet they can't stay on the page. Later on in the story, after the letters dry off, I'll try again to arrange them into enough words so you'll have some idea of what Psyche looked like. For now you'll just have to believe me when I say she was the most beautiful woman in the world (3). One problem of being the most beautiful woman in the world, besides loneliness, is jealousy. Who should be jealous of our young princess other than the great goddess of love herself, Venus.

Yes, Venus is jealous. She wants revenge. She wants it now. And who better to deliver it than her winged son, Cupid? Cupid's mission? To make Psyche fall in love with someone she shouldn't. Someone ridiculously ugly or inappropriate. Or some inanimate object, perhaps. Anything to bring shame on the mortal girl will do in Venus' opinion.

Cupid is the story of what happens when this "god of love" falls madly in love himself. Cupid did not understand what had happened to him. If you think about it, that's kind of funny. He was the god of love, but he had never been in love. Love had been a game to him, a game that he controlled with his bow and arrows. But after he saw Psyche, his life would never be again what it had been. (30) Like me and like you, Cupid accepted that it was not only possible but rational to love someone to whom he had not spoken--to love someone whose voice he had heard, whose face he had seen for, what? Five minutes? Ten? Certainly no more than that. Yet, this was all it took for him to feel as if he could lift mountains, polish stars, and hold the sun in his hands (35).

But love is never easy. Especially if it's true. One thing is clear. Cupid must choose between his mother and his new love. Who will he choose? What will he do to prove himself to his new love? After all, she doesn't know him. She doesn't love him. His love is a secret.

The power of love. The mystery of beauty. The wrath of gods and goddesses. Cupid is a great piece of storytelling. In the author's note, the readers learn Julius Lester's goal: to retell the story, but in the voice of a Southern black storyteller (193). This story was originally told by Lucius Apuleius in The Golden Ass.
Cupid and Psyche
Wikipedia Cupid and Psyche
(Yet another page about) Cupid and Psyche


Erin said...

Sounds like fun!

Ana S. said...

Oh my, I AM hooked! That sounds wonderful!

Cupid & Psyche is one of my very favourite stories, and I love fairy tales with a similar theme. This retelling sounds like something I absolutely cannot miss!

Marina said...

Great review! You gave just enough text to hear the flavor of writing, and I could certainly hear the teller's voice. This one's going on my "library" list.