Gilgamesh, my son’s literary hero

My oldest son A. has the typical four-year-old male’s obsession with violence of any kind. Despite my admonishments and countless reminders that “guns aren’t nice” and “please don’t talk like that,” his fascination and desire with all things violent seems to be innate.

Every other mother I’ve spoken to verifies this fact, saying that no matter how hard they tried to ban toy weapons from the home, little boys always find a way to make them, whether it’s using twigs, paint sticks, or wooden spoons. I have faint memories of my Mennonite mother forbidding my little brothers from playing with any toy guns, but even her stubborn efforts were futile, and my very-non-Mennonite father ended up making wooden rifles for each of them.

Even if it’s innate, I still feel the need to challenge the concept of violence when it appears in play. I can’t let it go by without saying anything, and there are times it really upsets me. One day, I’d heard about horrific bombings in Syria on the news, and then a few hours later A. was pretending to bomb a Lego town. I almost broke down in tears, ranting at him that something like this wouldn’t be a fun game if his own home were being threatened by bombs.

Since we don’t have a TV, A. is forced to satisfy his curiosity through books. As a result, he’s completely addicted to The Epic of Gilgamesh. I’m not some kind of sadistic parent who inflicts ancient literature on my four-year-old, but ever since he discovered the trilogy of children’s adaptations that I own, he begs to read it almost daily. Then he recounts, in excruciating detail, the gruesome process of how Gilgamesh kills Humbaba the monster.

“He puts a big stick in Humbaba’s mouth to prop it open so he can’t bite him, then he cuts off his neck! There’s blood everywhere. Mommy, there are two scary parts in Gilgamesh — the scorpions in The Last Quest of Gilgamesh and killing Humbaba — but I really like them.”

Unsurprisingly, A. is most intrigued by the fact that Gilgamesh was once a real person. He tells me this over and over again, and I don’t have the heart to explain the difference between historical fact and legend. I know that Gilgamesh was a real Mesopotamian king of Uruk, and yes, it was about 5000 years ago, but I’m not yet ready to break the truth about Humbaba and the wild bull of heaven.

The image of Gilgamesh and Humbaba that has so captivated him
The image of Gilgamesh and Humbaba that has so captivated him

I cringe at his bloody descriptions, but I also think it’s wonderful that he’s so intrigued by a legend that’s been retold for, literally, millennia. I’d much prefer him to be knowledgeable about Gilgamesh than some random TV show drama that will be forgotten in a year’s time. Here’s to hoping that his love of ancient violence will segue into a lifelong love of ancient history, bloody monsters and all.

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3 thoughts on “Gilgamesh, my son’s literary hero

  1. Gilgamesh always makes me think of the time I lost a round of “What were you thinking?” with Gilgamesh. The task was to name 4 heroes. You get points by thinking of the most common answers. I had Gilgamesh on my list. I got one point. My friends all went with the tights and capes interpretation of hero…

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