Book Reviews: The Iliad and The Odyssey Graphic Novels

Image from Amazon.com

I do intend to read a translation of Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey one day. I actually believe I already read The Odyssey in high school. But this is where I am right now. I have stumbled upon the graphic novels of Gareth Hinds in my obsession with coming up with things that my middle school boy will read. I have now purchased The Iliad, The Odyssey, and Beowulf for our home school shelves. While teaching mythology to a small classroom of approximately-ninth-graders this year, I decided to have a looky-loo at these graphic novel versions of the Trojan War and Odysseus stories.

In case you somehow don’t know, The Iliad and The Odyssey are ancient Greek, epic poems. They are some of the oldest works of literature in the world and are based on a combination of history (perhaps) and Greek mythology. We don’t actually know too much about Homer and “he” might have been a number of people or not really Homer at all. The important thing is that The Iliad and The Odyssey were recorded (from an amalgam of oral tradition, basically) and have had an enormous impact on the thinking, literature, and story-telling of the World, especially the Western World. You can currently read either of these classics in any of a huge number of translations and adaptations, including annotated versions, picture books, and movies.

Image from Amazon.com

The Iliad covers the end of the legendary Trojan War. A ten-year war between the people of Troy (Turkish, basically) and an alliance of Greeks (but at the gates of Troy) erupted pretty much over Helen, the stolen wife of a Greek King. Of course the gods also had something to do with it because they are mischief makers. The war just went on and on and on, and, like I said, The Iliad picks up in its final year. There’s a tiff between two of the Greek leaders over another woman, there are great disagreements happening on Olympus, lots of back and forth and miraculous interference, a sorta lame Trojan prince, and of course the Trojan Horse. The Odyssey then picks up the story of one of the Greek heroes of the Trojan War, Odysseus, as he journeys home from the war. It takes him ten years. The story itself isn’t chronological, but shifts around from his now-grown son and his still-longing wife trying ineffectually to protect themselves and the estate from hundreds of raucous suitors, Odysseus stuck for seven years on an island with Calypso the nymph, and Odysseus telling about the three years before those seven when he was having some ill-fated adventures with his even-more-ill-fated crew.

In the graphic novel versions, Hinds attempts to cover everything in the epics, but paring things down enough to move it way faster and fit all those illustrations in a readable format. I think he mostly accomplishes this. The battles, true, were a little confusing and his “marking” each character didn’t really help me. Then again, I was mostly like I don’t care which guy does what thing but I still was able to remember the important bits. Occasionally the narrative got lost and I thought I was missing a page or something because it does move so fast, from one thing to the next to the next. You might have to do some flipping back and forth and double-checking. But I also have issues in general with reading graphic novels. My ADHD has difficulty with the flow of pictures and words on the pages. It’s so flashy, I don’t know where to settle. This is clearly my issue, not Hinds’. The illustrations are colorful, clear, well-drawn, though not exactly artistic in a way that I would vote for. They get the job done and they do it well without any stylistic nonsense. There’s a little sex and a lot of gore, but it is about as tasteful as one could make Greek mythology.

To be honest, I’m not sure how much I’m going to like reading Homer when I get around to the unabridged translations, one day. I don’t exactly dig war epics. So while the Odyssey had some real intrigue and adventure to interest me, The Iliad was more of a stretch. Still a classic, though, and I find reading and studying Greek and Roman mythology to be, in general, both enjoyable and curiosity-sating. And waking to the imagination. I would say that Gareth Hinds’ versions of The Iliad and The Odyssey are excellent books for young readers to introduce them to the epics and are great companions to a unit in mythology or ancient literature. Even if you’re not so young, they’re a perhaps lighter and more flashy—and shorter—way to learn about Achilles and Odysseus and all those other heroes, gods and goddesses, and monsters.

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