Friday, April 4, 2014

How dare you!

Most of the comments I get are from people who have enjoyed the series and are pleased to see it re-interpreted for a new generation. Occasionally, though, I'll get a blast from someone who feels that changing the Odyssey is as blasphemous as changing the bible. (Never mind that there are at least fifty English language versions of the bible out there.) Consider this comment:
"How dare you? I bought your book for my son. I was going to introduce him to Greek mythology, but you broke it. I don't remember half that stuff in the Odyssey. Just glad I didn't buy the other two books."
 I could be jumping to conclusions, but I don't think he (or she) liked it very much. Actually, I'm glad to have gotten this email, because it gives me a chance to make a point: I haven't changed the Odyssey. Or at least, very little. Truth is, I've taken great pains not to change the stuff that's already there. And believe me, it wasn't easy! What I have done, cheerfully and without apology, is add new stuff woven around the original. Eurylochus, for example, who we know as Ury, is there in the original, but he's a drab sort of fellow, not at all the brute that he comes across as in OOAS (that's Odyssey of a Slave, but acronyms look way cooler). For that matter, in the original, Odysseus doesn't have a nickname. But then, the original is told by Odysseus, and he wouldn't use a nickname to talk about himself. (Only "The Donald" can do that.)
There are other, bigger differences, but if you think about them, they're not. For example, something bad happens to Elpenor in the second book. I won't say what, in case you haven't read that far. Well, something bad happens to him in the Odyssey, too, but it's slightly different. Isn't that a contradiction? Not really. The original story is told directly by Odysseus as he understands it to be. But what commander in history has ever known everything that's going on with his troops? So when Odysseus says, as he tells the story later, that "X happened to Elpenor, the youngest of our company," he's describing the story as he it has come to him. Alexi knows the truth, but has invented a different version to spare Elpenor's reputation.
Okay, so maybe there are a few bits that directly contradict the Odyssey. (Minor spoiler alert.) For example, when they encounter Scylla in the original, each of her six heads snatches up a sailor from the deck. In Cursed by the Sea God, she nabs five and is going for Odysseus, but Alexi jams an oar down her sixth throat. Similarly, when Odysseus finally makes it home to Ithaca, Athena disguises him as an old man so he can get into his castle as a beggar without alarming the horde of men who are hanging around hoping to marry his wife Penelope. That felt pretty lame, so I made him disguise himself with a beggar's cloak and hood, a long beard, and a pronounced old man's stoop, no gods need apply.
And, okay, there are bits where I take the crumbs that Homer has tossed us and try to bake a whole pie from them. For example, on the island of Helios, after they slaughter the cattle, Homer mentions the flesh "crawling on the spits". For whatever reason, this is enough to freak the Greeks out. I would've just figured it needed more time on the barbeque. Anyway, their reaction seemed a bit over the top for the stimulus, so I juiced the action up quite a bit. The flesh still crawls on the spits, but there's some other action too. Not contradicting the Odyssey, you understand ... just extending it.

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