By David Mckee
You cannot possibly consider the evolution of human civilization without discussing warfare and conflict. It has absolutely been an implicit part of the human experience. Unfortunately, warfare, and all the pain, terror and heartbreak which it brings, has been a common theme in the history of human civilization. It is also a very difficult and complex topic. That being said, can a 36 page picture book clearly bring into focus the true tragedy and various complexities of human conflict and warfare? Is that really possible? In his book, Six Men, this is exactly what the author David Mckee, sets out to do.
Essentially, the book begins with six men who travel the world to find a home where they may live and work in peace. Eventually, they discover just the place they are looking for and begin to work the land and prosper. However, as their riches grow they start to become paranoid that someone will come to steal their newly discovered wealth. As such, they hire “six strong soldiers’ who will stand guard over their riches. They soon find that nobody actually comes to steal anything from them and the soldiers become fat and lazy as they do not have anything to do. Unhappy with such a situation, the six men order the guards to capture a neighboring farm so that they can earn their keep. After discovering how easy it was to steal from others, the six men begin to enjoy their brand new power and capture more land from other farmers. Anyone who fought back were either killed, captured or escaped to the other side of the river. Fearing further attacks from the empire of the six men, the group of escapees across the river begin to form an army of their own. Soon their army is just as large and powerful as that of the six men. Eventually through mistake and miscalculation, the two armies fear an imminent attack from the other and begin a magnificent battle. At the end of the fight, only six men on each side are left alive. These men soon trudge off in seperate directions to search for a place to live and work in peace.
There are a number of secondary themes within this story. Human greed, lust for power, and the inherent dangers of simple misunderstandings can be identified throughout the tale. However, the overrriding theme is based upon the pure futility of war. This is shown quite capably in the book using a patterned and cyclical style of writing. The point is made in simple and repetitive language which is an obvious attempt to present extremely complicated and complex concepts in a rather straightforward way. As such, this book could be recommended as a children’s book all the way up to adult readers. There is much to discuss and analyze in regards to the story and its theme.
All picture books have a common element in them…pictures! This story is not very striking visually as it is essentially in all black and white. Also, the actual drawings are quite plain and facile. I do believe this is actually an attempt to support the theme of futility and show how simple it is for conflict and war to begin. While this is certainly a unique device to use, the actual story audience (mainly children), can be difficult to engage and I am not too sure that these illustrations will help in this regard.
At the outset of the review I asked whether a short picture book can really capture the tragedy and complexities of human conflict and warfare. I do believe that they can. However, while this particular book is a great introduction to this topic, I do not believe it fully captures the heart wrenching emotions of the topic. Great introduction…but that is where it ends.
3 Futile Stars for this one!