Monday , March 4 2024
A medieval Persian epic is brought vividly into the 21st century.

Comic Review: Rostam: Tales From The Shahnameh

I guess it's only fitting that as a guy who edits a site called Epic India Magazine that I'm fascinated by epic poems and stories. I can date it back to the first time I read a version of Beowulf when I was a kid, and I've been hooked on them ever since. After that it became a matter of simply discovering them in order to read them.

First of course was Homer and the Odyssey, and that was followed by reading Virgil's Aeniad (in Latin – not because of any great ambition but solely because I was taking Latin in high school as I had no other course options left if I wanted to collect enough credits to get into university without taking any math or science). Then there was Sir Gawain And The Green Knight, in translation, because Old English is pretty much indecipherable as far as I was concerned.

Of course there have been all the modern equivalents as well that started cropping up in the fantasy genre with The Lord Of The Rings and Narnia for openers and continues today with Steven Erikson's Malzan Books Of The Fallen and of course Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling. Just as I was starting to lose interest in the genre, there's only so many good versus evil Judeo/Christian-based myths you can take, I stepped outside the shelter of Western culture to discover another world.
In 2005 I began reading Ashok Banker's modern adaptation of Valmiki's 3,000-year-old epic poem The Ramayana that told the story of the great Indian hero Rama. Since then I've been keeping my ears open for word of other stories from other cultures that I could sink my teeth into. I've always been a firm believer in the theory that you can learn more about a people by reading their stories than through a history or other text book. So when the opportunity to read excerpts from the Persian epic The Shahnameh (The Epic Of Kings) by Hakim Abdol Qasem Ferdowsi Tousi (935 – 1020 CE) arose I was very interested.

Hyperwerks a newish graphic novel group, has just added to its titles listing Rostam: Tales From The Shahnameh. Since I knew next to nothing about the The Shahnameh I decided that before reading the adaptations that Hyperwerks were offering it would probably be a good idea to read some of the original poem to get a feel for the style and to understand the context which these excerpts were being taken from. There are plenty of good translations of The Shanameh on line and I read the chapters that preceded Rostam's entrance into the story at the link above and also at the Iran Chamber Society's website.

In the first four chapters the reader is introduced to Iran and how its leadership evolved, and the countries in the surrounding area. Once the kingdom is settled and established the reader is told of the coming of the first hero of Iran Zal – who will marry Rodabeh and father Rostam.

The first tale of Rostam that the Hyperwerks recounts is actually one that takes place a little latter on in his history, but is also one of the most tragic; the story of Rostam and Sohrab. To tell you any of the details from that story would be to spoil it, and I'm not going to do that. What I will say is that the people of Hyerwerks have done their best to remain faithful to the original story in both issues of Rostam: Tales From The Shahnameh that have been published so far. It's not just in content that they have taken care, but in the graphics as well, for they have carefully reproduced not only the style of dress and armour that was used by at that period in Persian history, but all visual aspects including architectural and decorative arts.

They have also done a good job of telling the story with both illustrations and dialogue, in fact one of the things I liked most about the two issues I've read is their willingness to just use images to tell the story in places. There's no reason to say something like "his sword shattered on his opponent's armour" when you can just as readily show it happening. That's the whole idea behind graphic novels anyway, to be able to tell the story with the pictures and to find the right balance of dialogue and narration to include so you don't detract from the flow of the story telling.

At the beginning you many find the dialogue a little stilted and overly formal. Yet it's pretty much lifted word for word from the stories these comics have been based on. I don't know if that's the way people would have talked in the days the stories are set in, or just because Farsi and Arabic don't translate well into English. Yet, I found myself growing accustomed to the sound of the dialogue as I read it as my reading progressed, so I have a feeling it's more a case of this is the way the language was used in the original. It's definitely how the language sounds in the two translations I've read.

Rostam: Tales From The Shahnameh is a well illustrated and well written comic/graphic story that will serve as a good introduction to the The Shahnameh. The people at Hyperwerks have done a great job in making sure they have stayed as faithful as they possibly can both visually and in the narration of the stories. These are fine examples of the great things that can be done with he comic book genre.

About Richard Marcus

Richard Marcus is the author of three books commissioned by Ulysses Press, "What Will Happen In Eragon IV?" (2009) and "The Unofficial Heroes Of Olympus Companion" and "Introduction to Greek Mythology For Kids". Aside from Blogcritics he contributes to and his work has appeared in the German edition of Rolling Stone Magazine and has been translated into numerous languages in multiple publications.

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