Successful retelling introduces children to Gibran’s Wise Man of Orfaleze

★★★★
Tiny Fischer and Khalil Gibran
The prophet. Told for children
Illustrations Pyhai
Publisher Samsara; 160 pages, €18.90

Bas Roetman

The book

Next year will be a hundred years ago The prophet The worldwide bestseller by the Lebanese-American writer and artist Khalil Gibran (1883-1931). That book was sold nine million times in the US alone, and Gibran is also on many bookshelves in the Netherlands. It is one of the most famous spiritual books of all time.

For the first time, there is now a Dutch translation especially for children, and for adults who want to read the book in a more accessible version. Author is Tiny Fisscher (1958). She wrote more than fifty children’s books and made children’s versions of classics such as Alone in the world.

The original

In The Prophet, Gibran tells the story of the wise man Almustafa. He is about to return home by ship after living in exile in the city of Orfaleze for twelve years. Just before he leaves, the citizens of Orfaleze ask him to share his wisdom with them. Almustafa agrees and talks about love, marriage, grief, religion, crime and punishment.

He gives concise, profound life lessons that have a mystical and sometimes biblical feel. “Joy is unmasked sadness,” writes Gibran. Joy and sorrow are inseparable, ‘they come with you, and when one sits at table with you, remember that the other sleeps in your bed.’ About marriage he writes: ‘Let the winds of heaven dance between you. Love one another, but do not bind love: rather let it be a rolling sea between the shores of your souls.”

The approach

How do you make a book that is sometimes difficult for adults to understand accessible to children? First of all, Fisscher pours the individual life lessons of the prophet Almustafa into an ongoing story. The sage does not address his words to the adults, but to their children on the dock. The children not only listen, they also ask the prophet questions, and it is enlightening.

Concepts that do not fit well with the perception of children have been changed: the chapter title ‘Marriage’ becomes ‘building a nest’. Fisscher freely uses new metaphors to clarify Almustafa’s words. From ‘Building a Nest’: ‘See your love for each other like the waves of the sea – now high, now low’.

most beautiful sentence

“‘(Learn to) see that nothing is ever permanent, that everything is always changing, just as in nature.” At the last sentence the girl seemed to lose some of her sadness. ‘In other words’, Almustafa concluded, ‘marvel at all your feelings, not just the nice ones. Think of them as guests who blow into the inn but also leave after a while.’”

Reasons to read the book

Fisscher knows what she is doing, her writing style is pleasant. She complements Gibran where necessary without seeming contrived. The visual language is carefully chosen: simple, but entirely in the spirit of Gibran. The drawings by illustrator Pyhai are delicate. A funny element of the story is the adults who occasionally mumble and groan in disapproval when the prophet undermines their authority. For example, if Almustafa says that a boy who has bullied someone and who regrets it no longer needs to be punished.

Reason not to read the book

The power of the original version of The Prophet is that Gibran touches on eternal truths with just a handful of words. Extra fuss inevitably detracts from this, as is the case with this children’s version. But Fisscher can hardly be blamed for that. In any case, after reading this children’s version, do not forget to pick up or buy the original again. To introduce more people to Gibran’s genius, let that now also be Fisscher’s goal.

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