Favorite Fictional Characters, #107: Hermes
As a youngster, I adored Greek mythology, devouring whatever versions I could get my hands on, including Barbara Picard's wonderful Oxford Classics translations of the Iliad and the Odyssey for children. Later, in college, I would study ancient Greek history under Gregory McMahon, and spend a good deal of time with Sappho, Pindar, Aeschylus, Sophocles, and the rest. But the most formative version of these cultural touchstones was the gorgeously illustrated version produced by the D'Aulaires. Their prose and pictures are still how I conceive of the gods and goddesses, heroes and monsters, of ancient Hellenic tradition.
Of all of the gods, my favorite was Hermes. The patron deity of travelers, thieves, liars, and politicians, he was the glib trickster of Olympus, the artful dodger, the storyteller, the messenger and guide. Maybe I identified with some of those qualities...some perhaps more than others. But the kid had style, right from the beginning, whether it was winkling Apollo out of cows as an infant, or talking the hundred-eyed Argus into permanent sleep, he used his wits rather than thunderbolts to get the better of his fellow immortals. Something in that spoke to me, and still does.
My favorite Hermes story involved him getting in trouble (as usual) for the above-mentioned boring to death of Argus. All the major and minor gods sat in judgment of that deed, and each had a pebble. If they found him innocent, they would cast the small stone at Hermes' feet. Hermes spoke so eloquently and skillfully in his own defense that he wound up buried under a mound of pebbles. Thus began the tradition of travelers building piles of rocks along trails or atop mountains, seeking the blessing of Hermes for their journeys.
I'm a big believer that children should continue to read Greek myths (and Norse, and whatever else they can get their hands on). These stories speak to universal truths, and convey a timeless connection to humanity, with all of our flaws and greatness. My own work draws heavily from Greek mythology, and in that I'm hardly alone. A grounding in these tales prepares young readers to better understand and appreciate most of what comes after. Plus, the stories themselves are fantastic.