Daniel and the beast of Babylon

Daniel and the beast of Babylon

Roger McGough
Lion, 2004, £5.99, Pbk.; 32p.; ISBN 0745947530

In Daniel and the Beast of Babylon, Liverpool poet and children’s writer Roger McGough makes his first venture into re-telling a story for children from the Bible, or to be more exact, from the Apocryphal part of the Book of Daniel.

McGough’s story, suitably enhanced by Jill Newton’s colourwash illustrations, tells of a huge half-dragon half-snake beast, worshipped in the temple of Babylon, which according to the priests demands vast quantities of food every day from the townspeople. If it is not supplied it will eat the people starting with the juiciest children! By laying ashes on the floor to show up their footprints, Daniel demonstrates that this is all a trick of the priests, who come into the sanctuary by a secret door at night and eat the food themselves.

What McGough has actually done is combine elements of two stories about Daniel from the Apocryphal book Bel and the Dragon. In the first story Daniel proves that Bel is merely an idol and not a beast. In the second story Daniel slays the dragon, which is apparently real. Daniel’s discovery of the priests’ secret entrance by the trick of laying ashes on the floor is in the original, but the part about the beast threatening to eat the people, beginning with the children, if it is not provided with food, is McGough’s invention.

McGough re-tells the story in a style readily accessible to children: the reading level is about five to seven, while it could be read to younger children. The humour of the original is enhanced both in the re-telling and the illustrations. With this book Roger McGough is making public his Christian faith, and it will be interesting to see if he applies his distinctive style to further re-workings of Bible stories.

Contributed by Derek Jowett, BA, MCLIP, who works as a Library Assistant at Wycliffe College School, Gloucestershire.

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