As we approached the holidays and the end of 2012 I was working on some freelance projects and found myself working in libraries quite often. As is often the case, procrastination was a constant temptation. I would regularly browse book sections and check out whatever caught my eye. As it happened we were planning a trip to Northern Minnesota and needed things to do during the long car ride. And so it was that I stumbled upon Adventures of Achilles – an adapted version of the classic story the Iliad by Hugh Lupton and Daniel Morden with illustrations by Carole Henaff.
School Library Journal
Gr 6–8—While many kids might be familiar with the gods and heroes featured in the Iliad, they may not know how these characters relate to one another and, indeed, how the story actually plays out. To remedy that, two noted storytellers pair with an award-winning illustrator to adapt the story into 12 beautifully designed chapters and an epilogue. The focus is on the legendary warrior Achilles, beginning with his birth and childhood, his entry into the Trojan War, and his life as a soldier. Some chapters expertly cut away to introduce other players, like Paris and Helen, or Hector and Priam, and show how the machinations of the gods affect the story. Throughout, the writing style easily switches between florid prose and functional plot-driven narrative to capture the mood of the adventure at hand while making sure kids can follow what is happening and why. While the storytelling is simplified when necessary, the content is anything but: details of the violence of the Trojan War, as well as the sexual escapades of the gods are included, and underlying themes of the story, like the role of fate and luck, are presented again and again. Each chapter is heavily illustrated, giving at least a quarter of each page to dreamlike images that reinforce the mythological feel of the story. The images focus on characters depicted against scenes of nature, home, or war, all using acrylics to mimic the look of ancient Greek and Roman art, with rounded shapes, swirls, and muted colors that somehow brighten the page.
I had hoped to maybe read the story to the kids and/or listen to it on the car ride. As it turned out I wasn’t sure if it was a good fit for my kids (ages 5 & 7) and so read it myself but held off on listening to it in the car (we listened to Harry Potter which more about later).
And I really enjoyed this version of the Iliad.
The illustrations are sort of hit or miss to be honest. In some ways they are well done while in others they seem a little abstract and basic. Not sure whether I like the overall effect or not.
I did like the story, however, and at times found it even poetic (which is appropriate, right?). It contains a decent amount of violence so parents will need to decide if it is appropriate for their child or not. (As noted above, School Library Journal says grades 6-8, FYI).
It is a powerful story of love, lust, violence, loyalty and the ugliness of war. The story captures the ancient elements but relates it in a way modern readers can understand. It manages to introduce the characters, mortal and immortal, set up the plot and explain the motivations and emotions involved without slowing down the action or losing the power of the story. It also communicates something of the nature of war – the alternating violence and boredom, the emotion and shifting of momentum, etc. I think it is a great way to introduce readers to Greek mythology and storytelling.
I haven’t listened to the audio and so can’t comment on that but I recommend the book to readers young and old wanting an approachable adaption of the Iliad.