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Rick Riordan meets Robert Graves in 'The Greek Myths'

May 10, 2012 |  3:07 pm

"The Greek Myths"When it comes to Penguin Classics’ reissue of Robert Graves’ “The Greek Myths,” I have as many reactions as the hellhound Cerberus has heads (three, depending on what source you’re reading).

Head No. 1 says: I love the Penguin packaging. Like other books in the publisher's deluxe editions line -- personal favorites include "Cold Comfort Farm" and "The Call of Cthulhu" -- the cover is dazzling, clever, funny. Designed by Ross MacDonald, you find the ancient heroes and gods rendered as characters fresh from D.C. or Marvel Comics.

Head No. 2 says: I agree!  And what also makes this edition “new” -- aside from the packaging -- is the addition of a preface by Rick Riordan of the “Percy Jackson” YA series. He encountered this book of myths by the maestro of Majorca quite late, as an adult already teaching Greek myths to students.

The person who really first opened the door of mythology for Riordan was his eighth-grade English teacher, Mrs. Pabst: "Mrs. Pabst took me from where I was nurtured my interests, and planted the seeds for a lifelong love of literature. All heroes' quests have to start somewhere. That year, Mrs. Pabst was my Chiron. I felt kinship with Theseus, strapping on my sandals and heading down the metaphorical road to Athens to find my destiny."

Head No. 3 says: Both of you are right. This is a vibrant, playful-looking new edition! But a word of caution for parents: Graves didn’t write this book for kidlings – crack open the book, and you find a glorious, idiosyncratic chronicle based on his years of research and life in the Mediterranean.  The book contains stories that are definitely not YA fare (Pasiphae's passion for a bull, for instance, or Medea's murder of her own children). Dressing it up to look like a comic book with a preface by a popular YA author is slightly misleading.

If you’re at the bookstore and your child really wants it, of course he/she should have it. Everybody should have this wonderful Graves book –- along with “The White Goddess” and “Hercules, My Shipmate” -- somewhere in the house.  But just be forewarned that, like that innocent-looking swan that nuzzled up to Leda, it’s not exactly what it appears to be.


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--Nick Owchar

Photo: Cover of "The Greek Myths" by Robert Graves. Credit: Ross MacDonald / Penguin Classics