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Post-Patriarchal Pandoras for Very Young Readers

Rebecca Resinski

Hendrix College

This paper examines the presentation of Pandora in Be Patient, Pandora!, a boardbook by Joan Holub and Leslie Patricelli (2014), and Pandora, a picturebook by Victoria Turnbull (2017). These adaptations reverse the ancient tale of the first woman in a number of transformative ways. In Be Patient, Pandora! A girl is told by her mother not to open a wrapped box. Left alone and obviously intrigued by the container, Pandora touches it and sits on it. She does not outright open it, but when she jumps on it, cupcakes spring out spectacularly. One cupcake remains inside: decorated with a heart, it becomes a symbol of the mother’s abiding love for her daughter. Turnbull’s Pandora features an anthropomorphic girl-fox who lives alone amid post-apocalyptic heaps of trash. This posthuman Pandora collects and fixes broken things. When she finds an injured bluebird, she nurses it back to health.  As the bird grows stronger, it brings Pandora sprigs of plants. The shoots take root in a box, and though Pandora becomes depressed when the bird disappears, the plants grow. One day Pandora awakens to sunshine, greenery, and her returned bird-friend. The book closes with Pandora in a vibrant landscape of flourishing plants and creatures.

These texts participate in a recuperation of Pandora in children’s literature traceable back to Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Wonder-Book for Girls and Boys (1852). Conflating Pandora and Eve, Hawthorne tempers the misogyny and punitive edge of both traditional tales. Holub, Patricelli, and Turnbull push their reclamatory projects further. Holub and Patricelli make their Pandora playful, and her accidental opening of the box through misdirected exuberance does little lasting harm. Turnbull’s Pandora is a sweet soul whose tender care allows the bluebird to regain its strength and plants to thrive. While the Wonder Book re-identifies Hope with a Christian afterlife, Holub, Patricelli, and Turnbull positively transform the ambivalence of the Hesiodic Elpis into present, tangible forces: a mother-daughter bond and the vital interconnectedness of the natural world. Significantly, Holub, Patricelli, and Turnbull locate their stories largely outside patriarchy. There are no punishing father-figures or suffering husbands, no casting of females as lesser and culpable. These retellings of Pandora do not reinforce a founding narrative for gender-based hierarchy or antagonism.

Neither book presents Pandora as the first woman, but the books become firsts in their own right. Accessible to very young readers, they could be a child’s first encounter with Pandora. Like a hysteron-proteron with a political valence, each book displaces the primacy of the Greek Pandora. Be Patient, Pandora! Provides an afterword recounting the myth, but the ancient version gets framed as an imperfect precursor to a story finding its fulfillment in the boardbook’s celebration of curiosity, hope, and love. Pandora makes no explicit reference to Greek mythology but suggests that myth is yet another thing to be reclaimed and remade amidst the detritus of a disaster-ridden past. Illustrating their narratives with compelling images, these books use Pandora to posit the possibility of a hopeful future beyond patriarchy and even beyond humans.

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