Review Blog

Nov 21 2012

The Odyssey retold by Gillian Cross

cover image

Ill. by Neil Packer. Walker Books, 2012. ISBN 9781406303674.
(Age: 9+) Recommended. Greek myths. Reading a new edition of The Odyssey is like meeting an old friend. The stories are the same, although the rendering of them slightly different, the illustrations new and unusual, but at its heart it is familiar and evokes comfort. So the tale of Odysseus trying to return home after ten long years at war with Troy, is full of the stories of Cyclops and Circe, the Sirens, Penelope rejecting her unwanted suitors, Poseidon's winds, Calypso and more, while at its heart it tells of man's battle against the whim of the Gods and his own frailties.
If Odysseus had not taunted Cyclops after escaping his island, perhaps his father Poseidon, would not have called the winds to cast the boat upon the seas, perhaps if Odysseus' men had not been suspicious and opened the bag of winds then nine years of sailing the seas would not have been wasted, perhaps if they had not upset the Gods, then the men on his boat would have been able to sail safely home. Reading these again, I was struck again by the frailty of men, the fragility of their existence, their dependence on cunning and guile to get them through, the strength of character usually shown by Odysseus, and that of his wife Penelope, in rejecting the suitors crowding at her door. And this retelling flows beautifully.
In illustrating these beautiful old stories, Packer has used a variety of techniques, rendering the pictures accompanying the tales with a mixture of collage, line drawings, sometimes emulating the Greek vases and their drawings, shadow pictures and outlines, or using black with great effect. Whatever technique is used the illustrations give details which reflect the story well. I love the illustrations giving a family tree, outlining the Gods and their relationships with each other as they appear on the scene, and the map showing the seas traversed by Odysseus and his men, as well as the illustrations on the front and back of the slip cover on this impressively produced hard cover book. The thicker pages are durable and strong, allowing for lots of little and big hands to open and read, for teachers to read aloud, for people to borrow and read at home, marvelling at the sepia tones presented on each page. reminding us all over again that this is an old story, one passed down through the ages, told and read over millenia, and here tantalisingly re-offered.
Fran Knight

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