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The Illiad

by Homer and adapted by Gareth Hinds
2019 / 272 pages

The Illiad is a Greek epic that depicts just a part of the siege of Troy. It begins with a helpful intro that shares how Helen was kidnapped by the Trojan’s Prince Paris, much to the dismay of her Greek husband, the Spartan King Menelaus, who rallied his allies to besiege Troy to get her back.

But there was no quick rescue to be had. Our story begins in the tenth year of the siege, and focuses on all sorts of subplots and subcharacters including many a Greek god. The gods squabble, picking favorites among the soldiers, and offer secret help to them – secret because Zeus also has his favorites and he doesn’t want any interference.

Two characters star: the Trojan’s Prince Hector, brother of Paris, and the Greek half-god Achilles, who seems capable of defeating armies almost by his ownsome, in large part because he is favored by Zeus. However, neither he, nor Hector, are fated to live long. The story ends with Hectors death, and the story really doesn’t feel all that complete, even as it is loyal to the original in this respect. For how the siege of Troy ends, we’d have to turn to Homer’s The Odyssey (Gareth Hinds has an adaptation of The Odyssey too, but it is marred by a few panels depicting naked women).

As a graphic novel adaptation, this is impressive. There is some gore – this is a war story after all – but any kid up for reading this would be old enough to deal with the not-overly graphic pictures of spear and sword wounds. The large size gives the author room to go quite deep (though it is still abridged some) and the visual format, along with key footnotes here and there, help make the story more accessible than it is in the original.

Now, why should Christians even care to read about Greek gods and myths? We don’t study much about Baal and Asherah after all, and they even make an appearance in the Bible. Well, whereas Baal is almost entirely forgotten, the Greek gods, and the mythos around them, continues to make appearances in today’s culture, whether in teen fiction (Percy Jackson), the comics and TV (Hercules), or on the silver screen (Zeus, the Amazons, etc.) References to Achilles’ heel, and the Trojan Horse are still in use too. Many of us may not have the time or inclination to study the book, but this comic adaptation allows a reader to quickly get a passing acquaintance with one of Western Civilization’s key epics. That seems a very good tradeoff for the minimal time required.

So who’d enjoy this? Most kids will find it too tough, so it really is limited to anyone interested in delving into the classics. Even those who intend on reading the book should give this a look – I suspect it could make taking on The Illiad much easier. Two thumbs up for a very good adaptation.

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Book Reviews, Graphic novels, Teen fiction

Animal Farm: The Graphic Novel

by George Orwell (& Odyr) 2019 / 172 pages For those that don’t know the original, Orwell wrote his allegory in World War II to highlight the dangers of creeping totalitarianism. Instead of a country, his setting is that of a farm, and instead of an oppressive government, things are run by Mr. Jones, who treats Manor Farm’s “citizens” – the pigs, horses, sheep, chickens, and more – like they were animals! One night, Old Major, a pig respected by all, tells the others of his vision of a better world in which Man is overthrown and all the animals are free to benefit from their own labor. Two legs are the enemy, and all on four legs, or with wings, are treated as equal. The animals embrace his vision, and when the old pig dies peacefully in his sleep, three younger pigs take it upon themselves to develop and expand on Old Major’s vision. They craft “Animalism” and appoint themselves as leaders of the movement. When the animals rebel against Farmer Jones, they successively drive him off and take over the farm. The story that follows has clear parallels to that of the 1917 Russian Revolution, that began with noble-sounding aims – freedom from oppression, equality of all – but which quickly evolved into simply another form of totalitarianism. The animals find that, though they are free of the farmer, they aren’t free of having to follow orders. The pigs have them working harder than before, and they are fed no better. Their swine leaders are soon living in the farmer’s house and eating well. But they deserve it, right? After all, they need to be properly provided for, so they can provide direction! It soon becomes evident that while “all animals are equal…some animals are more equal than others.” CAUTIONS Because this is a graphic novel, there are a few pages of violent content depicted. But Odyr’s is a thin-line, smudged-pastel style, leaving the gory details mostly a blur. So while these pictures might be a bit much for a child, they are nothing that would disturb a teen. The only other caution I’ll offer concerns the lesson being learned. Orwell was no Christian, so even as he makes a case against the godless tyranny of totalitarian rulers the world over, he isn’t able to offer a better alternative…so it is fortunate he doesn’t even propose one. However, that means Christian readers will have to do that work for themselves. We can agree with Orwell about the problem: that man has a bent for tyranny and that larger the government the more they can insert themselves into our lives (1 Samuel 8:10-22). But we also know there is a proper, though limited, role for government, specifically to punish evil (Romans 13:1-7). CONCLUSION This is a brilliant adaptation of Orwell’s classic work, with a mix of colorful and also stark images that will grab any reader’s attention. Odyr has made Animal Farm accessible to age groups and casual readers that might otherwise never read it. While I highly recommend this as a gift for teens, it would be a waste to hand it off to your son or daughter and then leave it at that. Unless an adult helps them understand that message behind the story, they aren’t likely to see the real-world application, and will completely miss Orwell’s warning about the dangers of big governments of all sorts. If you liked this, you may enjoy the 1954 animated film of the same name. It's better than the 1999 live action version in two ways: it doesn't take God's name in vain, and because it is animated and consequently less realistic, it comes off more clearly as the metaphor it is meant to be - there's no mistaking it for real life. Find my review here. ...