Tales of love found and lost have been told for centuries in every culture around the world. Shakespeare doesn’t have a monopoly on tragic love stories as this tale from the Aztecs shows. Popocatepeltl and Iztaccihuatl love each other very much. But an overprotective father, who is also Emperor, and a jealous rival plot to keep the happy lovers apart. Will Popo be able to keep his promise to his beloved Izta to watch over her forever?
The Smoking Mountain: The Story of Popocatepeltl and Iztaccihuatl
By Dan Jolley and David Witt
Age Rating: 9-12
Graphic Universe, 2009, 978-1-58013-826-0
48 pgs, $8.95
The Smoking Mountain is a tale from the Aztecs, the last great empire to rule in what is now Mexico before the coming of Cortez and the Spaniards. It’s a tragic love story of an Aztec Warrior and Princess that in some ways is similar to Romeo and Juliet. The story is told by a traveler who comes across an American family on vacation who has stopped to look at two mountain peaks. The kids are bored of sight seeing, but the traveler’s offer to tell a tragic tale sparks their interest.
Iztaccihuatl is a beautiful princess and the favorite daughter of her father, the Emperor of the Aztecs. Popocatepeltl is well known and one of the Emperor’s best warriors. When Popo and Izta meet, it’s love at first sight. The Emperor, who only wants the best for his daughter, tells Popo that he may marry Izta if he can bring him the head of the King of an enemy tribe. Popo agrees, promising Izta that he will be back to watch over her always. But another warrior is jealous of Popo’s fame and love. While Popo is away, he has word sent back to Itza that Popo is dead. She dies of grief just as Popo returns, his quest complete. Grief stricken as well, Popo takes the body of Itza and places it on the top of one mountain peak and goes to the peak next to it, holding a torch and watches over her body. Soon, the two lovers become one with their mountains, with Itza’s snow covered peak in the shape of her reclined body, and the Popo’s billowing the smoke from his torch.
The drama of the tragic lovers story does more than just tug at one’s heart strings. It takes something as mundane as naming some mountains and gives them a deeper meaning. They aren’t just two mountains with different peaks. They become symbols of a love that will endure forever. The legend also helps to tell the history of the land, making it more interesting to learn. The American kids at the end of the story end up showing more interest in the landscape and wanting to learn more about it. This is of course part of the worth of myths. They can entertain as well educate.
The art is very well done and adds a lot to the authenticity of the story. The characters look like the Aztec people, not only in their costumes and facial features, but even the art style is similar to Aztec carvings. Artist David Witt has a minor in Mesoamerican art, and used both pictures of the landscape as well as Aztec art to create the authentic look of the book.
The Smoking Mountain is an excellent tale that shows another side of the Aztecs than is usually shown in history books. They weren’t just warriors, but also parents, sons, daughters, and sweethearts too. The book includes a further reading section that has resources about Mexico and the Aztecs that can be used in the classroom or just to satisfy one’s curiosity. The romance and drama of this story will appeal to tweens and teens as well as to fans of mythology and/or history.
This review is based on a complimentary copy supplied by Graphic Universe. All images copyright © Lerner Publishing Group.