cover image Comus


John Milton. Holiday House, $16.95 (0pp) ISBN 978-0-8234-1146-7

Milton's ""A Mask. Presented at Ludlow Castle,"" itself based on the ancient English folktale ""Childe Roland,"" makes an odd choice for adaptation into a picture book, even on the heels of Hodges's and Hyman's collaborations St. George and the Dragon and The Kitchen Knight. In masques, after all, the characters stand around and declaim, briefly act or more likely dance, and then declaim again-the charms of which don't translate in this stiffly paced retelling. The protagonists, at least, are children, here named Alice, John and Thomas. Separated from her brothers in a dark wood, Alice is ensnared by Comus, a sorcerer who is the offspring of Circe and Bacchus. She resists his proffered drink-which would turn her into a half-beast like all his followers-and is rescued by her brothers, with the magic aid of a Good Spirit and the local river nymph. This deus ex machina plot, typical of masques, is cleansed of Milton's thematic obsession with Alice's virginity and possible loss of it, although a few of Hyman's paintings suggest the sexual undertones. Hyman compensates in part for the brittle narration by cleverly suggesting a stage with curtain-opening imps, also furnishing a deeply gloomy and haunted wood, a horrifically comic mob of monsters and the bright dawn of a happy ending. This volume may give a taste of 17th-century English pageantry and appeal to parents seeking adaptations of classic works, but it is probably too mannered to kindle much enthusiasm in young readers. Ages 5-8. (Mar.)