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Twelve labors of Heracles illustrated.

Graphic Book Review: Legend: The Labors of Heracles by Ryan Foley, illustrated by Sankha Banerjee

Greek Mythology, indeed mythology in general, offers some fine reading material for the younger reader. The stories are exciting and filled with adventure. They are filled with the kind of information crucial to the understanding of many of the masterpieces of Western civilization. It is never too early to be enchanted by these tales, whether it is Odysseus tricking the Cyclops on his long journey home from the Trojan War or Paris forced to judge a beauty contest between the heavenly goddesses. It is, however, also true that many of these legends contain material that many parents may rather their children meet when they are more mature. Mythology must be presented to children with care.

With this in mind reading Campfire’s graphic retelling of the famous Greek myth of Heracles, Legend: The Labors of Heracles, after some of their other graphic novels and biographies is something of a disappointment. Campfire’s books are intended for the younger audience; exactly how young is left to the purchaser. Author Ryan Foley’s version of the legend is probably more suitable for the older child. Some parents may find some of the subject matter objectionable, even for older children. The successful machinations of Zeus to seduce the hero’s mother and Heracles’ behavior among the Amazons may not be appropriate for youngsters. There is also a good deal of violence in most of the labors, but especially Heracles’ slaughter of his family, mistaken though it be, may well be strong for the younger children.

There are some other problems. For the child reading alone, the names — Eurystheus, Phiobe, Peloponnesus, Hephedon, just to name a few — might well be difficult. Of course these are names inherent to the story, and the writer is stuck with them; nonetheless, parents had best be prepared to help the child out with them. Indeed, they’d better be prepared to help out with the content of the story as well. Motives of the Greek gods, who behave more like children than superior beings, might well call for some explanation. Hera’s jealousy and hatred of Heracles even as a baby is something that could call for discussion. In fact, the behavior of all the Gods may need some explaining. Parents may well want to dip into their Bulfinch before their children dip into Heracles.

The story is being told to a young boy, Prenditus, by his teacher, a woman named Demiarties. And while she could be used as a device to deal with some of these problems in the text, she never really interrupts the narrative to do so. Moreover, I wonder if boys in ancient Greece as old as Prenditus appears to be would be placed under the tutelage of a woman. Events speak for themselves, and while the story of these labors are certainly exciting and have captured the imagination of children for ages — and adults as well — it might have made more sense to tone them down a bit for the young reader.

Sankha Banerjee’s illustrations are for the most part well done. Heroes have the bulging muscles one expects from super humans. Villains and monsters — and there are plenty of them — are sufficiently terrifying. I do have one problem: after defining a hind, when Heracles is ordered to capture one of Artemis’s hinds, as a female red deer, the artist draws the hind that is captured with antlers. Somebody needs to do a little more research.

About Jack Goodstein

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