on 22 February 2012
This book presents an excellent choice of Greek Myths, and makes up a very comprehensive collection. From the plethora of Greek legends, not only the ones that are most loved and famous amongst the Greeks have been chosen, but also the ones that will make more sense to British children, because they feature things that kids will recognise from their everyday life (such how Arachne came to be a spider and how Echo the nymph became echo, etc.). Ancient Greeks more often than not used their myths to explain natural phenomena, which is a fact that comes across clearly in this brilliant book. Top marks for including the myth of Prometheus (and its resolution), who few British people have heard of, and who created (male) humans out of water and mud (remind you of anyone?). Then, Zeus went on to make the first woman, Pandora, who is going to be responsible for mankind's downfall (again, remind you of anyone?). Funny how the Bible sounds a bit too familiar, after reading this (and yes, these myths are much older that the Judeochristian religions).
All myths are comprehensively retold for the benefit of the very young: this is basically Greek Myths with all the sex taken out (and there is tones of sex in your average Greek myth, what with Zeus running around and all those pesky old cheaters Odysseus, Perseus and Theseus, who are always pretending to love women that they only mean to take advantage of; the Greeks weren't subtle, but this book is)! All saucy details are replaced with coy expressions and endearing comments, in a tongue-in-cheek fashion that will be like an in-joke to adults. See the retelling of Theseus and Ariadne's affair, for example, or that of Odysseus and Circe; Heracles and the Amazon queen Hippolyte's tale (the one with THAT belt) is masterfully bypassed, as anyone who knows this myth in its original form will realise. However, I think that if you really want your child to get familiar with the real thing, once they are over 11-12 years old, you should buy them books of the full myths and sagas. One should really give a 12 year old a good translation of the Iliad and the Odyssey to read, as these works are full of big ideas (the Iliad has an extremely forceful anti-war message and the Trojans are viewed with extreme symphathy). That sort of thing can never be presented in a summary. And if you are half Greek or can read the language, there is an excellent book on Heracles's labours and entire life (from birth to death), titled "Heracles". It is written by famous Greek author Menelaos Loudemis and anyone over 12 could read it. The retelling is excellent and the language of that book beautiful (but the life and labours of Heracles do retain their original explicit form, sometimes graphically expressed).
Many primary schools use the Orchard book for teaching, and as such it is a good tool. My daughter is reading it in Year 3 and loves it. One disappointing thing, for the people interested in classical studies, would be the fact that sometimes the Gods are not given their actual Greek names in this book! Even though Heracles is allowed to keep his Greek name and is not called Hercules, Aphrodite is called Venus and Hermes is in some stories called Hermes and in some by his later Roman name, Mercury, etc. This could cause confusion to children who mean to continue with Greek studies in secondary school.
There are also some vital (in my opinion) components missing from the retelling of the stories, with no good reason. For example, some of the labours of Heracles are missing and some of the places that Odysseus visited, which are very rich in symbolism (for example, Odysseus's visit to the island of the Lotus eaters is omitted, even though it wouldn't really take too long to mention). Of course, one can't include everything in such a book, which is meant to only be an introduction of the myths, but as this is the only contact some kids will ever have with Greek myths, I see no possible reason to exclude Scylla from the mythical beast duo "Scylla and Charybdis" in Odysseus's adventure, as these two are a pair and as such inseparable at what they do (one sucks your ship in, one spits it out).
In any event, absolutely top marks to this brilliant and entertaining book that will get your child hooked on to classics- can't wait for my daughter to do the Orchard one with the Roman myths!