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THE GOLDEN ASS by T. Motley Kirkus Star


illustrated by T. Motley & adapted by M.D. Usher

Age Range: 11 - 14

Pub Date: Dec. 15th, 2011
ISBN: 978-1-56792-418-3
Publisher: Godine

A faithful (if relatively clean) version of the world’s oldest surviving complete novel, written “for librarians, teachers, scholars, and extremely intelligent children,” according to the afterword.

Usher (Wise Guy: The Life and Philosophy of Socrates, 2005) frames his adaptation as a tale within a tale in which the author meets two travelers on the road. He listens as one describes how he was transformed into an ass by reckless use of a stolen magical ointment, is mistreated in turn by robbers, “eunuch priests” (homosexual con men, in the original) and other rough handlers—then transformed at long last into a human boy by the goddess Isis. Though all of the sex and most of the dissolute behavior has been excised, the lad’s first transformation is milked throughout for double entendres—“Oh no!” gasps a witness. “You’ve made an ass of yourself!”—and there are plenty of silly incidents and names (silly in Latin, anyway, like a dopey Centurion dubbed Decius Verissimus Stultus) to lighten the overall tone. Motley’s elaborate illustrated initials and pen-and-ink drawings add satiric bite (“Eat roses from my bosom,” intones Isis mystically, floating over awed worshipers like a divine Vanna White) and further comic elements. So thoroughly reworked that even the original’s most famous imbedded story, “Cupid and Psyche,” is relegated to an appendix, this nonetheless conveys a clear sense of Apuleius’ plot, language and major themes.

An entertaining romp, even without the raunchy bits. (afterword) (Classic. 11-14)