Tag Archives: classics

Review: The Once and Future King

The Once and Future King (The Once and Future King #1-4)The Once and Future King by T.H. White
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Ugh. It pains me to mark one of the literary classics two stars, but I also have to admit to myself that I started reading this book in January and now it’s September and I haven’t finished it and really have no intention of ever actually getting around to doing so.

There are 639 pages in my book. I made it only 245 pages into it. It felt like much much more. (The typeface is tiny, I swear!) I stopped partway through “The Queen of Air and Darkness,” but did make it all the way through “The Sword in the Stone.”

Let’s just assess real quick: the cover of my book includes a quote from none other than Ursula K. LeGuin about how much she loves it. The subtitle of the book is “The World’s Greatest Fantasy Classic.” With that in mind, imagine my shock when I discovered the slapstick-heavy Disney movie The Sword in the Stone is actually completely accurate to the book.

This book–or at least the parts I managed to get through–is just ridiculously silly! It’s also very dense. And randomly episodic. And I just couldn’t bring myself to care about King Arthur among all the nonsense. I still feel that I really ought to just buckle down and finish the damn book so I can say I did, but then I’d be sucking 80% of the joy of reading right out of my life and I still wouldn’t finish it until at least next June.

So, adieu Merlin. Maybe some other time.

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Review: Eric

Eric (Discworld, #9)Eric by Terry Pratchett
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Goodreads doesn’t aptly display the cover of this book, so let me describe it. It has “Faust” written in normal typography, crossed out with fat red marker and “Eric” written in its place. And that perfectly well sets you up for this misguided teenager’s wish-fulfillment disaster.
As always, Pratchett is insightful and hilarious. This time he takes on Homer, which not enough authors are brave enough to do. This is the line that made me love the book: “He tried to remember what little he knew of classical history, but it was just a confusion of battles, one-eyed giants and women launching thousands of ships with their faces.”
Glorious!
Anyway, this short little jaunt is about a jerky prepubescent teenager, Eric, who manages to call up the hapless/cowardly/useless wizard Rincewind, convinced Rincewind is a demon who can grant wishes. Eric makes wishes–bad ones, of course, or rather traditional ones that come to bad ends–and much to his surprise, Rincewind hurtles him toward it. Or at least, seems to.
Goethe, Homer, and Dante all get a thorough Pratchett treatment, and it’s a delight. Plus it’s only about 200 pages, so it’s a quick read. You’ll be giggling right through bedtime.
That old blind classical guy doesn’t get teased enough, I say. Pratchett to the rescue!

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Deaths in The Iliad Infographic

For all your Classics class needs, someone made a great infographic on all the deaths in Homer’s The Iliad.

I just love this. I nearly minored in Classics in college (I had already double-minored, though, so that seemed a little excessive) but I just loved those classes. My favorite class of all time was a Classics/Archeology class where we watched famous movies and talked about how much they got wrong. For that class, I blazed through the entire Iliad in two weeks (on top of my other courseload) so…while I remember a lot of it, I forget a lot of this fine-detail stuff. And it must have taken so much data to get this one beautiful infographic! High-quality stuff, this.

(If you can’t read Greek, here’s a translation of the bottom portion:

  • Badass! Most kills in one book – Patroclus
  • Most Consistent – Achilles
  • Most Overlooked – Diomedes
  • Most Bloodthirsty – Agamemnon
  • Sneakiest – Teucer
  • Most Useless – Paris

Poor, poor useless Paris. He can’t help that all he can do is lob some arrows.)

Oh, and if you like this, I *highly* recommend you go read The Song of Achilles. It’s just so much fun; the best modern take on the genre I’ve read.
Brb, gonna go rewatch Troy for the thousandth time.

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Review: The Penelopiad

The PenelopiadThe Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

After reading The Song of Achilles, I has a ken for more. I came to the right place with The Penelopiad by the outstanding Margaret Atwood.

Much like The Song of Achilles, the Penelopiad is a retelling of a classic tale from a new perspective. The Penelopiad, you might say, is the companion book to The Odyssey: the story told by Queen Penelope to match Odysseus’ epic.

In The Odyssey, just in case you’ve forgotten, the hero Odysseus is just trying to get home after 10 hard years in the Trojan War. But he’s pissed off Poseidon, making water travel difficult, and he gets into one scrape after another for 10 whole years. When he finally gets home, his wife and kingdom are beset by “suitors” after his money, so he tricks the suitors then defeats them with his skill with the bow that only he can string. Then, because he’s pissed, he kills all the suitors: all 110 of them or so.

A mere footnote in the story, however, is the death of 12 maids: they are accused of having been raped by the suitors (or having had sex with, depending on your view) and are forced to clean the hall of their spilled blood. Then, Odysseus and his son Telemauchus hang the maids. Odysseus retakes his throne and lives out his life.

The Penelopiad turns everything on its head. All of Odysseus’ grand achievements are thrown into question, and the 12 hanged maids form a Fury chorus to chant and sing out the story. Penelope is given shape beyond her “loyalty,” and is finally rewarded for her cleverness, her patience, her skill in running a kingdom all alone for 20 years and fending off the suitors.

This book was an eye-opener for me. I’d read the Odyssey, of course, but I don’t think I even noticed the maids, much less worried about the absolute unfairness of their plight. While I did think of Penelope a bit more, I didn’t reach beyond the story I was told: I took her loyalty at face-value as it was presented.

Until The Penelopiad threw off the covers. There was so much MORE to find in this story! The 12 maids, mere teenagers at best, were punished for something they had no control over: slaves can’t tell a prince “no.” Of all the people Odysseus killed, only the maids hadn’t really done anything to deserve it. They are literal pawns in this story.

Penelope is barely more, yet Atwood saw how much potential was in Penelope, and her relationship with Helen, the most beautiful–and most bitchy–woman in the ancient world. Penelope is there, plodding along in Helen’s shadow, trying to get by and having to work three times as hard, while Helen prances about and starts wars with the toss of her pretty little head. No wonder Atwood’s Penelope has some bite to her!

I got to meet Margaret Atwood, actually, and had her sign this book for me. Even though this was not the first of her books I discovered, this was the one that most rocked my world. During her presentation, she talked about this book, and how the injustice of the maids really stood out to her.  From snippets and bare mentions in the original text, she crafted this whole lush, emoting world for these women: it’s remarkable.

This book is a delight. Classics fans will get more out of it than someone new to the tale, but the story structure is enchanting regardless. It’s a lesson in deft storytelling and a joy to read. I only wish it were longer.

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