Sunday, April 15, 2012

Favorite Greek Myths

by Mary Pope Osborne

Osborne, the author of the Magic Tree House books, retells twelve stories of Greek myth in a very slim (75 not very dense at all pages) volume for children.  As in Enid Blyton’s collection, these are tales mostly well-known to Western culture, also mostly from Ovid’s Metamorphoses: Orpheus and Eurydice, Echo and Narcissus, Midas’ greedy wish, Persephone and Hades, the ill-starred love of Cupid and Psyche.  She also includes a few obscurities: Arcus, who shot his mother while hunting after she had been turned into a bear; the race of Atalanta and Hippomenes; and perhaps most obscure, the rather grim story of Ceyx and Alcyone, who turned into a kingfisher when her drowned husband washed ashore.

Osborne is a decent writer, and infuses the stories with fairy-tale timelessness while emphasizing their explanatory intent.  She’s less captivating than Blyton, however, and her retellings lack detail and the rich color than the master raconteurs (Blyton, the D’Aulaires) do.  She doesn’t for example, mention Midas turning his children to gold, which gives the tale its real pathos; nor in her story of Orpheus in the underworld is there any menace conveyed from Charon or Cerberus.  These tales are pleasant but thin and plain – and why revisit the classics if you’re not going to make them shine just a little brighter? 

three stars

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