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The Angry Aztecs

The Angry Aztecs

Terry Deary (illustrations by Martin Brown), Scholastic Children’s Books 1997

Very cheap and cheerful! Fun style, amusing text and cartoon illustrations - instantly appealing to youngsters

I think it’s fair to say that this book is positively riddled with distortions, exaggerations, factual errors and a persistent emphasis on everything negative; whilst none are unduly serious on their own, the combined effect is to demean and actively to demote Aztec civilisation to virtually the lowest ranking on any index of cultural achievement. “The Aztecs were the neighbours from Hell” just about sums up Deary’s view of them.

The six-page timeline could have been so much clearer (two columns labelled just Mexico and Yucatan are guaranteed to confuse); it does the Olmec civilisation - in fact Mexico’s mother culture - a gross injustice; it suggests the ancient Mexicans didn’t have wheels; and the arbitrary ending (in 1901) is poorly thought out.

Simple factual errors abound: the Maya were not from South America; self-mutilation involved (usually) the tongue, certainly not the elbows; Lake Texcoco did not “become polluted with chemicals used to make whitewash”; players of the ancient ball game were not “often killed” (“there were no rules to stop you killing an opponent, and losing often meant disgrace, which made killing the opposition a very good idea”); boys could not “marry as many girls as they like”; and there are dozens more ...

Deary deliberately paints a picture of Aztec life based on gore, mindless violence, pain, suffering, cruelty, savagery, ugliness, “cheating” and general debauchery. Not once does he attempt to place any Aztec ritual or tradition into meaningful context. As you can imagine he goes overboard with human sacrifices, talking of sacrificing 20,000 in “a single party”, “huge cannibal feasts”, the Aztecs would “enjoy the cruelty”, and so on and on. This may be music to the ears of gullible young children, but it pays a disgraceful lack of respect to the modern day Mexican descendants of a highly advanced Mesoamerican culture.

Tell your children to take this book with a gigantic pinch of salt!
Read our 2010 critique of ‘The Angry Aztecs’...