The Adventures of Odysseus
by Hugh Lupton and Daniel Morden; illustrated by Christina Balit
I've had a tough time with this new version of the Odyssey, truth to tell, and even now I'm only halfway through. I blame it on my high school English teacher who fed us abridged snippets, all plot points and travelogue. Adventure on the high seas! Travel to exotic lands! Meet sea creatures and monsters! 'Cuz y'know them crazy kids, you gotta keep 'em innerested, right?
So I was wholly and mutely unprepared for the abject pathos in this retelling that hit me square between the eyes. You'd think after writing so many essays on quest stories and journeys-as-metaphors and blah blah blah that I'd know this was the granddaddy of them all, no?
Add this to the list of teachers I've wanted to go back in time and throttle.
Odysseus' long and fraught return from Troy is sorrowful in a profound and relentless way, with each new misstep, each foreseeable and preventable error, inspiring an ache that wells up in your throat until you want at every turn to comfort him, to find him a shortcut to the fragrant shores of his beloved Ithaca.
Lupton and Morden are oral storytellers, which shows in this pared-down version of the Greek classic that moves at a brisk clip without losing its epic sweep. Their Odysseus is a broken, haggard figure, deeply conscious of what his quarrel with Poseidon has cost him in human lives, wasted years and lost glory.
Their prose doesn't merely soar, it glides, it arcs up and around anything I've read since I started this blog. This is their description of the Sirens' song:
In the song I heard so many sounds: the beating of a swan's wing, the hiss and drag of the sea on sand, the moan of the wind as it blows across the broad face of the world, the rhythm of the passage of the seasons, my wife singing--and all the sounds I heard were in harmony. For those few moments I heard the Song of the Spheres. Ever since then, all music has been clatter to me; the sound of a shield as it falls on a cobblestone floor.
Balit's illustrations echo the Greek's own portrayals of themselves, often in sideview or with the picture plain fragmented like a mosaic, and borrows heavily from the bright, aqua- and marine-hued palette we know the Greeks favored, tinged with gold.
Her Circe smolders, her Odysseus bursts with vigor at the peak of manliness, her seas threaten and storm, pummel then recede, each wave or fish or sea monster as clearly articulated as any character.
I rarely tell people to go out and buy a particular book. Until your child is old enough to read a fuller translation, this one is a must-have.