THE GOLDEN SERPENT
Walter Dean Myers
If it's appropriate for a story about a kvetch "to have a Yiddish flavor" (see Chapman, above), it may be appropriate for a story of ineffable wisdom to be set in India; the problem is that it has no flavor. It starts out in fact, for all its atmospheric illustrations, as still another tale of a wise-man-on-a-mountain and his young helper, related in banal primer prose: "Ali would take the answers down the mountain. He would give them to the waiting people. Pundabi and All lived well this way, and the people loved them dearly." What happens is that the king gets wind of Pundabi's gifts, calls him to the palace, and asks him to solve a mystery--what mystery "is for you to discover!" So, while All quakes and shakes, Pundabi observantly walks around and discovers, he says, "the mystery of the Golden Serpent." The king of course didn't know he had one; and, searching, can't find it--the people are too crippled to steal anything, too poor to conceal anything. The king, disconcerted, pays Pundabi his promised golden coins to get rid of him, and Pundabi gives them to the poor folk just met. A "wise and generous solution," as All says; but what of Pundabi's promise to the king that, when he opens his eyes, he'll find the Golden Serpent. "No," he won't, Pundabi agrees; "Some people never do. But that is another mystery." However kids construe this, it has only Pundabi's wise stratagem to commend it: the telling has no lift, the pictures have a cliched, picturesque likeness to India but no conviction.