The Shahnameh is a collection of traditional stories and myths from ancient Persia. As befits an heroic age, they are filled with heroes who undertake dangerous adventures; kings who must defend their kingdoms; spirited princesses; magical animals; and demons intent on destruction.
Most of the stories are new to me, though I had met the heroes Sohrab and Rustum in Matthew Arnold’s eponymous narrative poem from 1853 about Sohrab’s search for his unknown father. In Elizabeth Laird’s elegant retelling of the Shahnameh, we have Rustum’s earlier adventures on his courageous horse, Rakhsh, where he fights dragons, a sorceress and the White Demon.
There are other legends, too: the Persian story of the beginning of time; the wicked King Zahhak; the Champion, Sam, and his white-haired son, Zal, and other tales of travel and adventure.
This beautifully-presented book has lively illustrations by Shirin Adl. Unfortunately, their spell was broken for me by several double-page spreads of fighting horses with their back legs bending the wrong way. The ancient Persian world of the Shahnameh was predicated on magnificent horsemanship; Sohrab and Rustum would have been appalled by such an elementary mistake. A quick look at George Stubbs magnificent 1762 equestrian portrait of Whistlejacket in the National Gallery would have put her right. For children of ten plus.