Ulysses for Eight-Year-Olds

My daughter read the cover of the book in which I had my nose.

Ulysses. What’s that book about?”

Ulysses at the court of Alcinous
Not this Ulysses (Ulysses at the court of Alcinous (Photo credit: Wikipedia))

This is a question she asks about every book I’m reading. Usually I’m able to find some age-appropriate way to describe the plot of the book to her. Sometimes it works and sometimes it carries unintended consequences. Like when I was reading MaddAddam, and I explained that it’s a look at what the world would be like if people kept harming the world and then lots of people died at once and left the world to try and heal itself. She put her hand on my arm, looked into my eyes, and said, “Mommy, I will do everything in my power to keep that from happening.” I had to work hard to keep from both laughing and crying at her display of youthful sincerity.

James Joyce’s Ulysses has me stymied, though. I could just say it’s a modern-day retelling of Homer’s Odyssey, but so far, I’m not seeing that very clearly in the book and it seems misleading to describe it that way. Plus, she loves Greek mythology, and I wouldn’t want her to get excited and try to read Ulysses. Leopold Bloom’s fantasy life is a little too mature for my eight-year-old. It’s likely she wouldn’t understand the book (at least I hope she wouldn’t because it’s largely beyond me and I would rather wait just a few years to learn that my kids are smarter than I am), but if she opened the book at random, who knows what words would pop out at her.

Last time she asked about Ulysses, I told her about the chapter I was on and said it was about a bunch of men who work at a newspaper and talk with each other about their work at the newspaper. She’s not asked me what the book’s about since.

Who needs censorship when you can just make a book sound really boring?


Have you read Ulysses? How would you describe it to an eight-year-old?

If you haven’t read it, would you care to join my sister and me in reading it this month? There’s still time to join the read-along! Check out the kick-off post and read with us!

8 Replies to “Ulysses for Eight-Year-Olds”

  1. Concerning some of those words: What the Budda taught wordlessly with the Flower Sermon ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flower_Sermon ) and Jesus taught with but a few words ( http://biblehub.com/matthew/5-15.htm ) Joyce strings out for “approximately 265,000 words in length, us[ing] a lexicon of 30,030 words” ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ulysses_(novel) ) including such whoppers as “honorificabilitudinitatibus” (IX.930) and “contransmagnificandjewbangtantiality” (III.50). Part of the fun of the novel is appreciating Joyce’s “rhetorical performance” (as noted by novel historian Steven Moore).

    Anent Aeolus, Gifford’s appendix “Rhetorical Figures in Aeolus” is alone worth the price of purchase (but ought to be available from a library). An eight-year-old might appreciate that Joyce’s novel makes fun of words and makes fun from words.


    1. I do appreciate the way Joyce uses and plays with words. I just finished reading “Cyclops,” and I loved the name of the German member of the “foreign delegation.” And that list of “Irish heroes and heroines of history” engraved on the row of seastones was fabulous. I’m enjoying the language even as I realize that many (most) of the references are flying right by me.


    1. I’m starting to think it’s not really the “explaining” kind of a book…


  2. Agreed. The Parable of the Plums is not suitable to be explained to an eight-year-old. See: http://tinyurl.com/ll7x4fg

    Has the reader considered Joyce’s ULYSSES to be simultaneously a retelling of Dante’s INFERNO as Joseph Campbell indicated?

    How might one describe ULYSSES to an eight-year-old: “lots of words, nothing really happens”: see http://tinyurl.com/2uf6whe for all an eight-year-old needs to know.

    (See Campbell, pgs. 190-191 http://tinyurl.com/jwk3ng3 “…There is no movement in this book. It is absolutely static….” for what an adult reader may want to consider. [IMHO, if the reader has not had a guide (e.g. has not read Campbell {and/or Gifford or Barger or Raleigh} — despite encouragements to do so) she may be wasting her first time through ULYSSES. Joyce intended reading ULYSSES to be a hell for such a reader, and she may be realizing exactly what Joyce intended for her: which is part of her fun when she is eventually lets herself in on Joyce’s joke.] Hope this helps.)


    1. Thanks for the suggestions, Wilson…and for the link to the animated summary of the book.


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