|US hardcover (sadly out of print)|
The Year 6 children of Fairholme School have just completed a wonderful project inspired by my novel I am the Great Horse and Paulo Veronese’s painting The Family of Darius before Alexander, part of the National Gallery’s Take One Picture initiative. This led them to produce and publish their own illustrated book “The Amazing Adventures of Bucephalus and Alexander”:
Since "I am the Great Horse" was responsible for some of the contents, their head teacher very kindly sent me copy. In its large and colourful pages are stories, poems, and illustrations by the children, mixed with famous pictures of Alexander and King Darius and film stills from Francis Ford Coppola’s "The Black Stallion" and the final cut of Oliver Stone’s "Alexander" (and if you haven't seen it yet, I highly recommend this film!)
Dare I say it, the children of Fairholme School have even improved on the orignal story. Their book opens with an imaginary chapter about Bucephalus being shipwrecked on an island in the Aegean with the boy Alexander. Here boy and horse form a bond so that years later, when Bucephalus is brought to Pella wild and unrideable, he recognises Prince Alexander and trusts him enough to allow him on his back.
The story then whisks us to Persepolis in Persia, where King Darius is celebrating Nowruz, the Persian new year. Delegates from all around the world bring him treasure, except for the Macedonians, who famously bring him nothing but a challenge from Alexander. There are several amusing accounts of this, including the Egyptian Times reporter Sophie Hogg who “always gets the juicy gossip she wants”. King Darius, furious, sends Alexander a bowl of sesame seeds and a bat and ball, telling him to count the seeds because they are the number of soldiers in his army, and to play with the ball because is acting like a child. But Alexander cleverly scatters the seeds on the steps of his palace, where the birds fly down and eat them all. “Those are my soldiers,” he tells the Persian envoy. “Eating King Darius’ army for breakfast.”
The battle of Gaugamela is next, with some colourful pictures of Persian soldiers losing to Alexander. Then comes the famous death of Darius, after which Alexander and Bucephalus fight strange creatures and huge poisonous flowers in a fantasy land inspired by the Greek Alexander Romance, when Alexander tries to get into Paradise but finds the gates firmly locked against him.
This is told in a powerful story "The Vanity of Ambition” where a wise man weighs Alexander’s fragment of a skull against an increasing quantity of gold, yet the skull is always the heaviest, representing the unending desire of man… only when the wise man covers up the skull’s eye socket with earth (representing death) do the scales tip the other way, since this finally puts an end to its lust and ambition.
Alexander should have learned a lesson from that, but fights one last battle against King Porus’ elephants in India, in which Bucephalus dies. Heartbroken, Alexander names a city after his brave horse, inspiring the children to write this touching poem:
I will always remember you.
Even though you have passed on
Our bond will always last
As to me you are forever young.
I am going to make you the biggest and best funeral pyre. Afterwards I am going to keep your ashes in a jar in my tent where I can see you.
Bucephalus, I hope you make it to Paradise!
And you'll be pleased to know that in the Fairholme book Bucephalus does make it into Paradise, where he bathes in the Waters of Eternity.
So even while the Great Horse gasps his last in printed form, if he has inspired just one class of children to create such wonderful work and discover along the way more about Alexander the Great, then my book was worth writing. Such is the power of historical novels (and films) that educate and inspire as well as entertain.
The rights to I am the Great Horse are reverting.