John Livecchi of Circulation Services shares this review:
Reading Homer’s Odyssey is something I do once or twice a year. I’m lucky enough to teach Homer’s classic tale for the Christopher Wren Association every fall, and I confess that re-reading it so frequently is a pleasure. Few stories engage my imagination at such depth and fewer still hold up under such close scrutiny.
Actually, the “Homer bug” bit me early. This will date me, but when I was 10 and 11, I got fifty cents as a weekly allowance. Ten cents of that almost always went for the latest “Superman,” but one week a cover from a new series called “Classics Illustrated” caught my eye. It pictured a monster with a single eye standing on a mountain hurling huge boulders at a ship in the harbor. A man on that ship faced the monster fearlessly, shaking his fist in righteous rage. Even though the new series had a steeper fifteen cents cost (5 cents was a whole Hershey bar!), I just had to have it. It didn’t disappoint. More than fifty years later, I must confess that Homer’s Odyssey is still better than chocolate itself.
Over the years I re-visited Homer in several college classes, but an early teaching assignment brought me a Homeric question I never expected. How could I communicate my enthusiasm to students convinced that if Homer is that old, he must be dull? I wish I had had this Gareth Hinds version as part of my arsenal. It’s pure magic.
Hinds’s work has a pronounced cinematic quality. Not only does he give you a faithful retelling of Homer’s story by adhering to its structure, the illustrations often give the exact image we find in Homer’s text as a wordless illustration of the plot. There are many examples, but my favorite occurs at the end of Book 2 (don’t let the word scare you off, it’s the term “chapter” has in epic poetry), when Telemachos is about to set sail for news of his father. His parting from Mentor, the secret disclosed to the nurse Eurykleia, Athena disguised as Mentor assembling the crew, and launching the great boat are all told perfectly without one word!
This isn’t to say Hinds doesn’t value language. It is clear in following his work that he has a keen familiarity with the best translations available in English, because so many of the lines we hear the characters speak echo Lattimore, Fitzgerald, and Fagles. When he does so, we know we are at a critical point in the plot, and only Homer’s own cadence (albeit in translation) will do. In other sections, he gives the language wider latitude, though always he remains faithful to the stately tone the epic form demands.
One great pleasure in reading this graphic form is seeing firsthand the interaction between gods and men. In Homer, there are often subtle ways to interpret the actions of gods on mortals. Sometimes we know with certainty that the gods really acted; at other times the resulting action could have had another cause. For example, does Odysseus come up with a great strategy and then attribute his action to the goddess of wisdom, or is Athena telling him what to do? The graphic novel leaves no ambiguity for interpretation. We see Athena fly down from heaven to assume the shape of Mentes, holding a torch aloft to light the armory for Odysseus and his son and standing with them in battle against the suitors. We see and hear the counsel of gods deciding if Odysseus should return and how. We see Poseidon stalking through the sea intent on delaying Odysseus one more time. These visual elements underscore the important balance Homer himself uses in showing the interaction of the “deathless ones” with mere mortals.
Many of the Odyssey’s literary puzzles are present too. One of my favorites is Penelope’s questioning of the “stranger” in Book 19. We know the stranger is Odysseus in disguise, but Penelope is in the dark. He claims to have met Odysseus, but Penelope wants details—what was he wearing? While the “stranger” describes the hero’s outfit, we see in the first frame a close-up of the very brooch Penelope fastened on her husband as he left for the hard years at Troy. This detail gives Penelope the opening she needs for showing this stranger both her complete loyalty and her cunning. She lays out in detail how she will test her suitors to see which one she shall choose, but, in doing so, she also reveals to the stranger an artful strategy—she will be able to bring a weapon into the room without arousing suspicion. This begs the question—does she suspect the stranger is Odysseus? What other reason would she have to reveal such a detail to a stranger in rags? Happily, neither Homer nor Hinds provides a definitive answer. Keeping the mystery in literary puzzles is what keeps the work alive.
Of all the books in the Odyssey, the most moving, for me, has always been Book 11, Odysseus’s visit to the underworld. Here he meets the ghosts of many of his warrior companions from Troy and learns that his long absence caused his mother to die of a broken heart. Before he can speak to these shades, he must first find the seer Tiresias, because he alone knows what Odysseus must do to appease Poseidon. In short, after saving his own house, he will face another, even longer journey. He must travel to a place so far away from the sea that the folks there won’t be able to recognize what an oar is. Here, he must sacrifice to Poseidon and finally peace, and death, will overtake him. Ironically, before the encounter with Tiresias and the other spirits, the shade of one of his shipmates who died and was left unburied begs him to give him burial and to place the oar he pulled in life as a fitting memorial on his mound. It’s this touching image that Hinds chooses as a proper ending for Odysseus’ adventures.
Hinds’s Odyssey is a brilliant reworking of a classic story. It opens the book for first-time readers and gives veterans ample cause for reading pleasure too. I recommend the book wholeheartedly.
Check the WRL catalog for The Odyssey.
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