“So much does Odysseus excel all others in cunning wiles; no human being can vie with him”

The Odyssey by Homerodyssey

The story

I’ve recently been told that nostos, from which we get the word ‘nostalgia’, means homecoming. This epic tale is all about nostos. After the Trojan war, a great hero (not the greatest, but pretty well-respected) Odysseus, somehow both favoured and cursed by the Gods, struggles to get home to his wife and his son. His journey will include ‘outwitting’ (or out-brutalising) monsters, avoiding seduction by beautiful women and denying the truth that he is an ageing man clinging to his inflated reputation. Basically, an Ancient Greek James Bond. Meanwhile, evil suitors have installed themselves in his kingdom (did I mention he’s a king?), eating his wife and son out of house and home.

Intrigued at all?

The blurb unsatisfactorily tells us:

Continue reading

What would you do if you were the luckiest man in the world?

The Story of the Grail (Perceval) by Chrétien de Troyesarthurian romances

The story

Don’t be intimidated by the fact that The Story of the Grail was originally a 12th century French poem. Let us focus on how there are many prosaic (and English) translations of the tale, making it very accessible. Don’t ignore that it is just one of many other Arthurian legends that can be enjoyed. And yes, they are very much about glory, codes of honour and pretty maidens.

What makes The Story of the Grail different then? For a start, it follows the parallel adventures of two knights – Perceval and Gawain; one a naïve country boy, and the other is a seasoned fighter. Perceval is still at the stage of hanging on his mother’s every word, and Gawain is apparently an expert in all he does.

Excited yet? Here’s the twist. It is not the story of the grail as you know it. Indeed, the grail isn’t really a grail. It’s a serving dish. It may or may not have been used by Jesus (probably not). Oh, and here’s the real shocker – King Arthur doesn’t go on a quest in order to own the grail.

The synopsis tells us:

Continue reading

Achilles and the Great Sulk

The Iliad by HomerThe Iliad

The story

It was the comic-style version of The Iliad by Marcia Williams that began my long acquaintance with the (probably) eighth century BC tale. If you click on the link above, you will see the book in question on Amazon. Such versions, from the 2004 film Troy to the influence exerted on the computer game Age of Mythology, show what an impact on popular culture this masterpiece has had. Even if you can’t read Ancient Greek, or even yet if you can’t quite manage the lengthy translation, you will somewhere harbour the knowledge of exactly what happens in The Iliad. At some time in your life, The Iliad has fired your imagination.

Oh my, who could forget the tale of fair Helen, the face that launched a thousand ships? However, if you ask a lot of people, they will tell you that this epic is the story of how the Greeks sacked Troy by using the Trojan horse trick. Close, but no. A more accurate assessment might be how King Agamemnon, leader of the Greeks, took the warrior Achilles’ slave girl, and so Achilles sulked for long enough to get a lot of people killed. He clearly forgot the saying that all’s fair in love and war.

The synopsis tells us:

Continue reading

When Victorians warn against drugs

The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde by Robert Louis StevensonDr Jekyll and Mr Hyde

My book

This has to be one of the more dramatic ways of warning people away from drugs such as opium.

I believe anyone would term this 1886 Victorian escapade a ‘novella’, or else ‘a very short book’. At 88 pages long, and with a larger font size than that of most Collins Classics, I challenge any average reader to take more than a day to read it, or some such transparent provocation to urge you to at least take a peek. The glossary at the back of the book would possibly equal the length of the story, if it were printed at the same size. For all that, let us not complain about how our adventure with Jekyll and Hyde does not last long. I recall reading an article that Stevenson threw his first draft of this famous book into a fire (talk about not taking criticism!), and he had to rewrite it all again. He did so, and reportedly in three days.

The story

The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde is a king for spin-offs. If you haven’t watched a series which is based on it, you will at least have heard the expression ‘a Jekyll and Hyde’ character. However, I’m a firm believer that there is always someone out there who is new to any overly famous object, and so I will not be providing the blurb, which casually summarises the entire story. I will instead give you my attempt at a synopsis, attempting to be at least a little purposefully misleading:

Continue reading

Mini knocks, gigantic box, floating rocks, furry frocks… culture shocks

Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swiftpi6e909e90c88b51eb@large

My book

You will almost certainly have some experience with Gulliver’s Travels film adaptations, whether you prefer the full heroic travels of the older era, or if you’re simply a fan of Jack Black. You might use phrases like “Lilliputian” in your everyday life. Even if you’re a fan of the more obscure entertainments such as anime, you have almost certainly heard of Laputa: Castle in the Sky.

Aside from the fact that I’m doing a project on travel in the Georgian era (and therefore this book really does seem ideal for study since it was published in 1726), the above are the reasons why I chose to read it. I have an endless pursuit to understand why world-famous canonical books belong to that esteemed class of classics.

Still, I recommend buying a better version than the Collins Classics even if it might cost a little extra. The writing is tiny. 292 pages of titchy writing? Buy a different copy; save your eyesight.

The story

The front cover displayed here might give you a clue. The title might too. The blurb gives this:

Continue reading

Give a little love, and it all comes back to you…

Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus by Mary Shelley

My book

You have to read this. You don’t necessarily have to buy the Collins Classics edition – even its summary of Mary Shelley’s life is stilted – but you really, sometime before you die, have to read Frankenstein. I’d call it an average length for a novel, at 202 pages, and the gap between its language and how books are written today isn’t that large, especially considering its publication in 1818. You really must read this though.

Like most people out there, I already knew the basics of Frankenstein before I even picked it up (such as the fact that Frankenstein is the name of the creator, not the ‘monster’). I even knew that, opposing what the movies tell us, the creature isn’t green, but yellow. However, don’t assume that you know all that goes on within just because you know of Frankenstein‘s legacy. The plot still holds the power to surprise you, I can surely guarantee.

Though the word ‘horror’, considering that this book is meant to be the world’s greatest gothic horror, might be pushing it, you don’t get much more classic than this. This here is a novel ingrained the national consciousness. However, I feel the need to point out that Frankenstein never stands in his laboratory as lightning crashes down shouting, “It’s alive! It’s alive!”

The story

Do I need to give a synopsis? The blurb gives us the ultimate in stereotyping:

Continue reading

What to expect if you’re every woman

The World’s Wife by Carol Ann Duffy

My book

I should know this book inside out. I had to take an AS level exam based on it. Realistically, The World’s Wife should actually be called ‘The Beginner’s Introduction to Poetry’, but I’ll elaborate on that later. This is really light reading at just 76 pages long, with 30 poems inside. It’s also fairly up to date, having been published 1999. Pretty cover – helps you to remember what sort of poems are inside. Once you know them, you can just sit back and try spotting which poems relate to the symbols on the front. That cover’s basically a book summary, right there.

The story

Believe it or not, this compilation of poems has a story. It really depends on how you want to see it. The first poem follows young Little Red-Cap (better known as Little Red Riding Hood) on a slightly twisted version of the famous tale. The last poem is by Demeter, a grown mother. We could see the same woman growing and changing through each poem until she herself becomes a mother.

Well, that’s a rather forced interpretation. While it is indeed very important, in my view, to treat each poem as part of the collection; of seeing the beliefs and attitudes of women through Duffy’s words, it is my opinion that each poem represents an individual within a society. The blurb states:

Continue reading

‘Bilbo Baggins and his boldly bumbling buddies’ would have been an accurate title too

The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien

My book

Who says I can’t be nice? The Hobbit is something that I bought at a charity shop. The fantastical cover really caught my eye, and I’d heard tell that it might be released as a film (which is definitely happening). It is the prequel to The Lord of the Rings series, yet I’ve watched those movies and I never liked them – too slow; thin plot. Therefore, you may ask why I had anything to do with this book. Nostalgia is the reason. I had a friend who loved the world of Middle Earth and who couldn’t recommend Tolkien enough to me. Years ago, I promised to read it. Now I have.

Oh, and plus the minor fact that when I was ten, I got confused between Tolstoy and Tolkien. But that’s a story for another time.

If you get the edition of the book pictured here, there are some very interesting extras. There’s a few pages on runic language, which is used in a very pretty map of Middle Earth provided, and you get a feel that the crafting of this book was taken very seriously. The runes though – I still don’t understand those.

The story

First, I should warn you that this is ultimately a children’s book. It’s far removed from the style of books for children that we come across these days, being published in 1937 and 272 pages long, and I realise that it probably has more adult fans than youngsters. However, it was written for a young audience and that is apparent in content as well as writing style.

My book doesn’t come with a blurb, and Amazon.com only has this to say: Continue reading

Look what I unearthed!

North Child by Edith Pattou

Note: This is a review that I wrote for my GCSEs. North Child was my favourite book, and partly still is. Though modern, fantasy and aimed at children and teenagers, I believe that it is a true classic.

A book which inspires a fresh new view of the Norwegian fairy tale ‘East of the Sun and West of the Moon’ but is certainly not just for the children!

We all like to curl up with a heart warming tale of adventure, fantasy and romance but we don’t want to be caught reading ‘Sleeping Beauty’, do we? With beautiful illustrations, titbits about ancient map making, seamanship, Scandinavian languages, Norse mythology and Arctic travel, the novel is both moving and highly informative. Ultimately, this is the perfect book for someone wanting to relax into a chair and begin a dangerous, exciting voyage into a world of fact and fantasy that will not only move you to tears but also set your heart stuttering in astonishment.

Set in Norway during a time when most of the world was still unknown, Rose is born to a superstitious but loving family. Destined to travel far until a death suffocated by ice and snow, her mother would do anything to shelter the unruly child but not even Rose’s family can do anything against her stubborn attitude once her sister falls ill. An ice bear appears at the door promising good health, prosperity and a life of comfort to the family if Continue reading