Last week I reviewed two illustrated versions of the Iliad. Today, we take up the tale with adaptations for kids of the Odyssey. Although with the earlier epic highlighted the control of the gods, the takeaway for this week is self-control. Once again, we explore internal vs. external locus of control.
Again, we have the masterful Rosemary Sutcliff at work with The Wanderings of Odysseus. As many adapters of the story do, she rearranges the events into a chronological narrative. (The original is full of flashbacks and intercut with “meanwhile, in Ithaca” scenes.) Sutcliff moves Odysseus briskly from the smoldering ruins of Troy to the island of the Cyclops, where they are captured by the bloodthirsty Polyphemus. From the extreme external locus of control found in the Iliad, we now have an interior locus of control. “The Greeks were near despair. But there was a plan forming in Odysseus’ head, by which he might save at least some of them.” In Homer (I have the Fitzgerald translation) Odysseus says, “And now I pondered how to hurt him worst, if but Athena granted what I prayed for. Here are the means I thought would serve my turn.” Odysseus gets credit now for the plan; you may recall Athena was responsible for putting the thought of the Trojan Horse into his mind. So we have moved to an interior locus of control in this narrative – and it will be much to the regret of Odysseus, for as they escape from the blinded Cyclops, the cunning man gloats and mocks: “If anyone asks who blinded you, tell them it was Odysseus, son of Laertes and Lord of Ithaca, Odysseus the Sacker of Cities!” It is this moment of foolish braggadocio that costs Odysseus so dearly, for Polyphemus cries out to his father, Poseidon, god of the sea, to take revenge. Oops.
A beautifully illustrated version of the story, The Adventures of Odysseus by Hugh Lupton and Daniel Morden, although shorter and with fewer episodes, follows the structure of the original more closely. We have a quick prologue about the Trojan War and then “Nine long years had passed since that great and terrible victory.” The retellers give us a quick update on Penelope besieged by suitors on Ithaca, and then show us Odysseus washed up on the shores of King Alcinous’ island. Brought in as a nameless guest, Odysseus begins to cry as a bard sings of the Trojan War. Here, the tale begins in his voice, as he relates the dangers and tragedies Poseidon has subjected him to. Here is Odysseus describing the events in the cave of the Cyclops. “One of my crew drew his sword and stepped forward, intending to plunge the blade through the Cyclops’ skin and kill him as he slept. I had to restrain him. The Cyclops was our only means of escape.” In this version the plan for blinding Polyphemus is presented as more of a group effort. But then, at the escape, “I had to gloat. ‘Polyphemus! It was not Nobody who blinded you! It was somebody! It was Odysseus! A ram among sheep! King of rocky Ithaca! Remember my name for the rest of your life of stumbling darkness!'”
With both books we have the revenge of Poseidon which drags out Odysseus’ return for ten weary years. Ten years is a long time to repent of gloating and bragging! When Odysseus does finally reach Ithaca, his self-control is astonishing, for he does not run immediately to the wife he has been yearning for all these years. No, he has to lay his plans for ridding his palace of the destructive suitors and reclaiming his rights as king. In both versions, the destruction of the suitors is complete and merciless, meted out after careful, self-controlled planning. You may have qualms about this aspect of the story, but it is true to the original. And it does show an interior locus of control! Both adaptations are excellent, although the Lupton/Morden retelling is shorter. They are both great for older (10 or 11 and up) independent readers or for sharing aloud with them. As with the Iliad retellings, these may be picture books but they are not for young children. Not only is the violence quite gruesome, but the questions about responsibility and self-control are much more appropriate to tweens. For them, both books are highly recommended.