Review Blog

Jan 14 2010

Shapeshifters: tales from Ovid's Metamorphoses retold by Adrian Mitchell

cover image

Ill. by Alan Lee. Frances Lincoln Children's Books, 2009.
(Age 11+)Metamorphoses has inspired writers through the ages. The Roman poet's tales about interaction between the gods and humans have been adapted as plays, poems, music and stories.
Shapeshifting, or metamorphosis, is a common theme in legends and folklore. Adrian Mitchell has used it as a metaphor for the inevitability of change, bookending his adaptations of ancient Greek myths with his thoughts about the subject of transformation. The result has a satisfying unity, beginning with the creation of order out of chaos and ending with the creation of art, represented by the work of the boastful weaver Arachne, who was changed into a spider.
Writing styles vary from prose poems and rhyming verse to conventional storytelling in prose. Readers can view the resulting anthology as a whole work or use the table of contents to dip into the tales of their choice. At times, the writing is evocative. At times, it disappoints. Occasional facetiousness and colloquial expressions seem out of place. Tense changes mar the storytelling. A glossary of the gods and a guide to the pronunciation of Greek names are welcome but a brief 'Note on Ovid' seems offhand at the end of a book which includes his name in the title. Readers are left to deduce the connection between the terms 'shapeshifters' and 'metamorphoses'.
Alan Lee's vivid watercolour illustrations wrap around the text on every page. The heroic, dreamlike images enhance this large print, quality hardcover publication.
Despite its unevenness, Shapeshifters is a visually arresting and effective retelling of some of the world's best known myths. The author's reflections about their meaning are sincere and thought-provoking.
Elizabeth Bor

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