Two books that retell well known myths and legends. Something beyond the ordinary.

How do you react when you hear “Once upon a time…”? I don’t know about you, but I tend to drop everything and flap my ears. A good story can stop me in my tracks. And the best ones are the old ones: mythology and folk tales from across the world. That leads us to Anthony Horowitz’s Legends series. Better known for the Alex Rider series, Horowitz brings his trademark action-packed style into these legends as well. The latest in the series are The Wrath of the Gods and Tricks and Transformations.

Before plunging into the stories, read the “unusually serious” Introduction, where Horowitz talks about the origin of the stories and why he’s chosen to retell them. The Wrath of the Gods, as the title indicates, are stories where humans are punished by the Gods. This book has five stories: three Greek, one Norse and one Inuit. The Greek stories are the most familiar: ‘Pandora’s Box’, ‘The Judgment of Paris’ (right up to the Trojan War) and ‘Narcissus’.

Tall tales

‘Pandora’s Box’ opens with Zeus’ war against the Titans and the punishment of Prometheus. Things move fast and soon the reader is at the point where Pandora’s ready to open the box. Now pay attention to the evils that, according to Horowtiz, flew out of the box. I’m not sure taxation, inflation, fanaticism, sexism, tabloid journalism etc., counted as evils in the earlier versions.

After the jealousies and plotting of ‘The Judgement of Paris’, ‘The Stolen Hammer of Thor’ (Norse) is a relief. A simple tale of the macho god of thunder Thor having to dress in drag to retrieve his hammer from the giants, it has its funny moments. The Inuit tale (‘The Ten Fingers of Sedna’) is truly spooky. After you read it, you echo what Horowitz says in his Introduction “I’m not sure what the story of Sedna is all about…” Before you toss the book aside, read the “How to Survive the Greek Gods”. A great end to the book

Tricks and Transformations is supposed to be about tricksters and pranks but at least two stories (both Greek as it turns out) could very well have found a place in The Wrath of the Gods. ‘The Hounds of Actaeon’ and ‘The Spinning Contest’ are both about transformations (Actaeon is turned into a deer and Arachne into a spider) as a result of a god’s anger. Of the six stories in this book, four are Greek; the other two being Japanese and Chinese. The other pieces also don’t quite fit the title; though there are transformations: Glaucus into a merman, Scylla into a monster with dogs sprouting from her waist; Syrinx into marsh reeds. The Japanese story (‘The First Eclipse’) is about how the other gods trick Amaterasu, the goddess of the sun, to come out of hiding. The Chinese story is a well known one: of the monkey who wanted to rule the world. This book ends with six of the worst transformations in Greek myth.

Action, pathos, fun… you’ll get all this and more in these volumes.

THE WRATH OF THE GODS and TRICKS AND TRANSFORMATIONS, Anthony Horowitz, Macmillan, £4.99

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Krithika ReddyMay 11, 2012