Book Review – Latin America: In The Kingdom of Mescal: An Adult Fairy-Tale for Adults

In The Kingdom of Mescal: An Adult Fairy-Tale for Adults
A Book Review
by Mark D. Walker
September 2017

 Hardcover: 38 pages
 Publisher: Galeria Panajachel, Guatemala; 1st edition (1977)
 Language: English
 Package Dimensions: 12 x 8.3 x 0.4 inches
 Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces

Although this book begins with the typical “Once upon a time” and is based on a legend from the Mayan Indians of Guatemala, it is far from traditional. In true Joseph Campbell fashion, this myth describes the different stages of an epic journey of an Indian boy named Blackhair who eventually gains a greater understanding of himself and the world around him. Blackhair desires to see beyond the surface of the world and gets his wish when a local medicine man gives him a potion that, when imbibed in a vast forest lit by a full moon, promises to take Blackhair to the Kingdom of Mescal, where all his queries will be answered. That night Blackhair does as the medicine man advises, and as the landscape around him begins to dance, his fears dissolve, his feet grow massively large, and he vomits up a talking serpent. The snake identifies itself as Time and starts Blackhair on his quest.

That quest involves a trip through the sky inside a raindrop, a malevolent emperor who rides a donkey with a hundred legs, trees that bow and talk, a palace with a thousand doors, and the awesome Lord of Mescal, who takes Blackhair on an interplanetary voyage before imparting some timeless wisdom. Along the way Blackhair is stopped by a giant guard decked out in feathers who lifts him towards his mouth which is full of sharp teeth and warns him that the journey through the “kingdom of thoughts” will be dangerous. The giant reminds him of a golden robe he’d sent Blackhair and warned him that his servants will try to tempt him in order to lead him astray but, if he escaped them, the Kingdom of Mescal would open before him. Blackhair proceeds by ignoring a series of offers to facilitate his journey which included being chased by a horrid reptile which raised its heads and hissed threateningly. Blackhair escapes and Lord of Mescal grants him “the key to men’s hearts,” which is loving kindness and the clarity of mind that will help them find the right way. Upon his return Blackhair possesses nothing, but his people come to regard him as “the richest of men” and a great seer.

The author’s rendering of this supernatural tale, told in simple, unadorned language, makes little distinction between fantasy and reality. This part of the fairy tale includes Nan Cuz’s full-page illustrations drawn in a colorful style reminiscent of Indian art and weaving.

In effect, In the Kingdom of Mescal is a “psychedelic myth” as well as an exotic work of art rooted in native culture. One edition of the book includes a notable forward by Guatemalan novelist and Nobel Prize winner Miguel Angel Asturius, who met Schaefer in Paris when Asturius was the Guatemalan Ambassador to France. Many more twists and turns remain to be discovered. Although my research continues into this book and the lives of the author and artist, I highly recommend this fascinating tale for all my Boomer friends—and their children.

Mark D. Walker was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Guatemala and spent fifteen years helping disadvantaged people in Guatemala, Colombia and Sierra Leone. Walker has written and made presentations in both English and Spanish on fundraising at a number of international conferences around the world. He serves on the International Development Committee of the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP) and is the Past President of the Planned Giving Roundtable of Arizona. Walker came to Scottsdale with Food for the Hungry and went on to work with MAP International, Make A Wish Foundation International and was the CEO of Hagar USA, which works with survivors of human trafficking. His honors include the “Service Above Self” award from Rotary International. His book, “Different Latitudes: My Life in the Peace Corps and Beyond” was published by the Peace Corps Writers Group and is available at all book outlets. His wife, a Spanish teacher, and their three children were born in Guatemala.

Posted in All, Book Reviews: Latin America.