Showing posts with label Greek Mythology. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Greek Mythology. Show all posts

12.01.2010

Medusa (2000)

Retold and illustrated by Deborah Nourse Lattimore

Typography by Alicia Milkes

Joanna Cotler Books

One thing I appreciate about stories based on Greek Mythology is how contrary they run to what one would narratively expect. In doing so, they make me realize just how conditioned I've become.
.
Take Medusa. I knew the end of the story, wherein the hideous gorgon is slain by the young hero, Perseus - very classic monster-movie stuff - but I was unfamiliar with the beginnings of the tale, which Lattimore goes into in lush, grotesque detail.
.
...there lived in the muddy depths of the ocean a sea witch. She was one part poisonous eel, one part giant water snake, and a third part woman - in such a hideous combination that all creatures who looked at her froze in terror and could barely swim away. The only thing more frightening than this sea witch were her many children. They clung to her with their long, scaly bodies, bent fins, and gaping teeth.
.
I love the way Lattimore writes, and I love her illustrations. She loves using bright, bold colors which instantly fool my eyes into thinking they're gazing at something beautiful, when in reality, a second glance reveals its grotesqueness. The mother of Medusa is a terrible sight: a witchy, evil creature with long teeth and a black tongue, a body that trails off into long, bloody tentacles. And around her, squirm her children who resemble dragons from some alien ocean.
.
Yet strangely, from the loins of this creature comes a woman more beautiful than beautiful, the lovely Medusa, who resembles a starry-eyes Barbie. As her brothers and sisters squirm and writhe, Medusa spends her days sitting upon the craggy rocks, watching the waves crash, her long, blond hair billowing in the breeze. All who see her fall in love with her, including the King of the Ocean, Poseidon.
.
"I am just like a goddess!" muses Medusa to herself. "I am even more beautiful than Athena herself. And when I marry Poseidon, I will be Queen of all the Oceans!"
.
Aha. Not smart, Medusa. No sooner do those words come from her beautiful, lush lips, than Athena herself rises from the foam of the ocean and casts her curse:
.
"You are no goddess, but the bragging daughter of a mud toad! You came from the sea and to the sea you will return. But only after you live out your days in such ugliness that anyone who looks at you will turn to stone. One day a boy from the sea will come to kill you. This is my curse!"
.
Suddenly, Medusa doubles over in agony, her hair turning into twisting, terrible serpents. She has been turned ugly! And anyone who looks at her will turn to stone! Egads!
.
Meanwhile...
.
A fisherman rescues a beautiful woman and her young son from a wooden chest which has just washed ashore. The grateful woman tells a fantastic tale of how Zeus magically impregnated her with golden dust, and her father cast her and her son out to perish. The woman is Danae and her son is Perseus.
.
It is Perseus who is fated to fulfill Athena's prophecy. For when his mother is held captive by the evil Polydectes, Athena whispers her plan to him.
.
"Danae!" he announces, "I have decided to make you my queen. And your son, Perseus, will bring us a wedding gift - the head of Medusa! If you defy me, and if Perseus fails, then it will be death for you both!"
.
And so everything is going according to plan, so far as Athena is concerned. She successfully turned the beautiful Medusa into a hideous monster, and she has now secured a young man who will kill her. Athena - with the help of Hermes - helps Perseus on his quest, leading him to the gray sisters - whom Lattimore illustrates as mangled, dirty angels with bloody, empty eye sockets and whithered mouths. They lead him to the sea nymphs, who in turn lead him to the Isle of Hyperboreans, where Medusa lives, but not before outfitting him with golden sandals, a leather pouch and the Cap of Darkness. All the meanwhile, it is Athena who is pulling the strings.
.
It should be clear to anyone reading this story that it is Athena who is the true villain here. After all, Medusa is not truly a monster, but only a beautiful young woman horribly and unjustly disfigured. Does it not seem that the narrative should logically take a twist here, and somehow the good, brave Perseus realizes he's been tricked, finds a way to reverse Athena's curse, and the story should end with he and the now-returned-to-her-former-beauty Medusa marrying and living happily ever after?
.
Well, that doesn't happen.
.
Click here for more Greek Mythology!

11.19.2010

Theseus and the Minotaur (1988)

Theseus and the Minotaur by Lenoard Everett FisherRetold and Illustrated by Leonard Everett Fisher


Fisher begins with a map of the part of the world in which our story unfolds. Ancient Greece is the locale, and we very clearly shown the passage from Athens to Crete, from Crete to Naxos, and lastly, the tragic final voyage from Naxos back to Athens.

My criticism of Hutton's version of the story was that I felt he spent too much time explaining the entire circumstances behind the existence of the minotaur and the nature of the tribute, and not enough time wandering through the bowels of the labyrinth in search of monstrous prey. Fisher exacerbates this, but also manages to give a more satisfying end battle sequence.

We begin with the birth of Theseus, and are told that, "at the moment of his birth, his father, King Ageus of Athens, buried his favorite gold-hilted sword and sandals under a great rock."

When Theseus is big and strong enough to move the rock, my sword and my sandals will be his. Then and only then will Theseus be my heir and successor!

I tried doing something similar to this when Arlo was born, but Melinda didn't go for it.

At first glance, this set-up appears to be a direct precursor to the Sword in the Stone from the King Arthur legends. On the next page, Theseus has indeed grown to such a stature that he is easily able to lift the rock and retrieve the hidden items. Now he must travel to find his father, who has since remarried and had another child. Along the way, Theseus must battle a giant named Procrustes and two robbers named Scinis and Sciron. Word of his battles spreads and he is able to return to his father's court, a hero!

But the joyous reunion is short lived. His father tells him of tale of the King Minos, of his labyrinth, and of the beast that lives there. "Its dark passages are endless and confusing. No one escapes the labyrinth, not even the Minotaur. Soon I must send the fourteen. Pity them, and pity us to have to bear such burdens."

Theseus knows what he must do.

I like the way Fisher paints the interior of the labyrinth. Very dark, very foreboding. Though there are no forking paths, it appears to be only one singular and gloomy passageway. It only gets one painting, too, for with a turn of the page later, Theseus has found his prey. I know the whole conceit of Ariadne's ball of thread is that he does not have to get lost, but can find the Minotaur straight away, but still, the child in me lusts after a truly terrifying sequence of a man lost in the bowels of the maze. Isn't that what you think of when you imagine the labyrinth?

Fisher's minotaur resembles a tall, strong man wearing an oversized bull mask, but he does manage to make him look terrifyingly enraged, and I love the description of their battle:

Quickly he backed away from the beast, holding his sword straight out before him. Again the snorting Minotaur attacked. It lowered its head and charged, hoping to pin Theseus to one of its great horns. But Theseus dodged the attack and came up behind the huge beast, chopping a blow that drew blood from the Minotaur's shoulder.

It goes on for several more sentences, in this way, and I could really imagine the fight the two of them must have had.

Finally, since this is the story of Theseus and the Minotaur, we know that things can not end happily. Ariadne and the rest of the prisoners are rescued, but that night the god Dionysus appears to Theseus in a dream, and commands him to leave Ariadne behind on Naxos so that he can marry her. Theseus does as he is told, which is slightly different than how Hutton interpreted the tale. Fisher's Theseus seems to be a real hero when it comes to giants and beasts, but at the first call of the gods, he cowers and asks no questions. His cowardice then indirectly results in the death of his father, who runs to the edge of the cliff and throws himself into the sea at the sight of the black sail on the returning vessel.

11.05.2010

Theseus and the Minotaur (1989)

Theseus and the Minotaur Retold and Illustrated by Warwick Hutton

Margaret K. McElderry

This is one of the most downbeat of adventures, and Hutton doesn't do much to up-play it. He has a very dry, straightforward way of telling a story, which can comes across as unemotional. "Every nine years," he begins, "the people of Athens had to make a dreadful payment in tribute to Minos, king of Crete, because one of his sons had been killed in Athens." And that's the narrative tone for the story.

I was disappointed that the labyrinth gets such short shrift. I love seeing how different artists portray it, and love imagining victims lost within its passages. Instead, we spend most of the story watching Theseus journey across the seas and falling in love with the lovely Ariadne.

Finally, midway through, there are two pages of Theseus traversing the labyrinth. Thanks to Ariadne's ball of string, however, he has no problem finding the snoozing minotaur. The battle takes place in a single sentence: "Despite the thick stench and deep, wild roars, Theseus bravely cut and struck with the sword until the monster half-man lay dead."

A quick off-page rescue later, and Theseus, Ariadne and the other captives are racing to their boat. Hutton really enjoys these nautical sequences. I get the feeling he wishes the whole story could have just been comprised of people sailing in ships. So, Theseus has slain the beast, Ariadne is his forever, and everyone lives happily ever after!

No. Theseus strands Ariadne on the island of Naxos while she has fallen asleep. She awakens and realizes she has been abandoned. The sly Dionysus then appears out of nowhere and marries her in a brief ceremony.

Meanwhile, Theseus is still headed for Crete when he realizes, Wait! What happened to that beautiful woman I just rescued? Wasn't she just here a moment ago? He's so distraught that he forgets to hoist the white sail, like he told his father he would.

There was great joy and happiness among his companions when they landed on their own shore, but Theseus knew from the way people looked at him that something was wrong. "You said if you were safe you would hoist the white sail! Did you forget?" the people asked. "Your father, King Aegeus, watched and watched from the clifftop for your ship to come back. When at last he saw it far out in the distance with its black sail still up, he thought you must be dead. He stumbled, weeping, to his feet, and then fell from the cliff to the sea below. Theseus, you father is dead. You are now our king."

Way to go, Theseus!
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...