Robert Byrd,
Finn MacCoul & His Fearless Wife
(Dutton, 1999)

The stories of Finn MacCoul (one of several anglicized versions of his name) and the Fianna are among my favorite tales of Irish lore. The fable about Finn and the Scottish giant Cucullin, however, has always bothered me a bit.

Full marks to Oonagh, Finn's wife, who handily outwits the fearsome Cucullin. But Finn, one of the great heroes of Ireland, comes across in this tale as a coward, lying and hiding to avoid confronting the Scotsman because he knows he'll be trounced if he does. Instead, he relies on his wife's trickery to defeat his foe and win the day.

Seems unfair. I keep wishing the hero didn't win by cheating.

Still, it's a tale that has endured, and Robert Byrd's colorful children's book is a great rendition of the brief Irish yarn. The pictures are big and bold, the colors vivid, and the story itself is told in fresh, easy-to-read prose. It's a great version of the legend, and I'm sure most kids will love it.

Still, it bugs me. On the last page, the author writes that Finn and his wife "overcame with wit and wisdom that which might never have been done by force." It still feels to me like cheating.

book review by
Tom Knapp

21 October 2017

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