Monday, March 1, 2010

The Golden Fleece and the Heroes who Lived before Achilles, by Padraic Colum

I was not one of those kids who had a fascination with mythology, so I have to admit that I approached this one with a little dread. However, I was pleasantly surprised. The book tells the tale of Jason and the Argonauts, which I had been completely unfamiliar with. It starts with his birth and upbringing by the centaur Chiron, and continues as he assembles his crew and boards the Argo on a mission to steal the fabled golden fleece from Colchis. He is frequently waylaid by natural barriers, gods, and mythical creatures.

Throughout the story, the members of the crew and the people they encounter often tell stories of the gods, and under ordinary circumstances I'd find these frequent stories-within-a-story distracting. But in this book, they actually worked. Despite all the foreign names in the text, I didn't have a problem remembering who the main cast members were and what they were up to at the end of their storytelling. And although there are a lot of characters, they are introduced in a reasonably slow and orderly manner which reduced confusion for me. The storytelling is also simple and doesn't get weighed down in lengthy description, so I found it a light and easy read despite the length (289 pages in my library's edition).

The copy we have in our library is the 21st edition of this book from 1960, and it speaks well for the writing that the same book was being reprinted and enjoyed so long after its original publication date ( lists a 2004 paperback edition).

So, on Melanie's ratings scale, it's a perfect choice for those kids who love mythology or are curious and would like an introduction. Instead of being a volume of short myth summaries, it combines them all well into a great story.

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