I’m going to be up front here: this book is one of my favorites from my childhood. In fact, I just had to buy a new copy for rereading purposes. The old one was paperback and had sadly crumpled covers and some squished pages. Such is the price a book pays for being so well-loved by a kid. It meets the storytelling needs of more than just children. The illustrations are wonderful. It provides a wonderful, approachable base for those who are interested in Greek mythology. And it’s just plain fun to share; I’ve given copies to friends before.
One of the nice things about this book is that it is divided into two sections: the gods and the heroes. The god section, for the most part, focuses on the origin stories and on getting the reader familiar with the personalities and characteristics of the major gods and goddesses. The stories are memorable; I was the only one in a college history class to be able to answer questions about Greek mythology, and I think it’s in large part to the excellently-written stories in this book.
The heroes section is about notable humans — members of the human race who managed inhuman feats of strength and cunning. The nice thing about the Greek myths is that it rewards both physical and mental agility; that was a valuable lesson to me when I was young, seeing as I wasn’t the most athletic of children.
The illustrations are great. They have a noticeable Greek flair, which adds to the setting of the stories. They’re colorful and vibrant, and, at least to me, are very hard to date. I thought it was a contemporary book when I was young, which would have been in the late eighties and early nineties. Imagine my surprise when I learned it was first published in 1962.
If there is one shortcoming of this book, it’s that it has ruined me for other tellings and versions of a lot of the Greek myths. I hear other versions, and I say to myself, No, that’s not the story! It takes a little practice to let others have their variations, but I think that’s a personal failing, not one of the book itself.
I am, by the way, keeping my old copy. The new one is nice, but the old one is part of me.