Saturday, May 18, 2013

Book Review: Theseus and the Minotaur by Nel Yomtov and Tod Smith

Theseus and the Minotaur written by Nel Yomtov and illustrated by Tod Smith

This graphic novel is part of a series on Greek mythology for younger readers, so it simplifies the story of Theseus in certain areas, though it covers all of the bases fairly well. The story begins with Aegeus, King of Athens, who goes to the Oracle of Delphi to find out when and if he will have a son. Naturally he's concerned about the next king. The Oracle is Medea, who tells him the next woman in his arms will bring forth his son. Before giving this good news, she extracts a promise that he will protect her if ever she needs shelter. While in Troezen, the local king's daughter falls into Aegeus's arms. The reader doesn't see anything untoward happen, but she does have a son, Theseus, long after Aegeus is gone. Aegeus left some tokens (sandals and a sword) under a huge rock so that any potential son could retrieve them and come claim the throne of Athens.

Fast forward eighteen years. Medea has fled to Athens, married Aegeus, and they have a young son called Medus. Theseus has grown to manhood in Troezen. Local giant Periphetes comes to terrorize the town. Theseus fights and kills him. His mom decides it's time for him to find out his true identity, lift the rock, and go meet his father. He does. On the journey, he fights many mythical creatures. In Athens, Medea tries to poison Theseus before he can reveal his identity. The king sees Theseus carrying his sword and stops the plot. Pretty soon, Theseus volunteers to go with the fourteen young Athenians to be sacrificed to the Minotaur on Crete. Theseus's plan is to kill the Minotaur and free Athens from this annual horror. The king asks Theseus to fly a white sail on his return to signal his success.

On Crete, Theseus catches the eye of the king's daughter, Ariadne. She helps him by giving him a ball of string so he can find his way back out of the labyrinth. He has a great big fight and slays the Minotaur. He promised to bring Ariadne with him back to Athens, which he realizes in hindsight is a mistake because he doesn't love her. So he leaves her at one of the stops along the way. She'd taken the white sail with her to clean it, so Theseus returns to Athens under the black sail. King Aegeus sees the black sail, despairs because he thinks his son is dead, and throws himself from the cliff. Theseus blames himself (as do the citizens) for his father's death. He rules as best he can to win back their hearts.

The book is a quick read and is very enjoyable. A lot of the more adult details of the story are left out (like why the Cretan queen gives birth to a half-man, half-bull), which is proper for a kid's book. The book also has some discussion questions and writing prompts at the end, along with a glossary and pronunciation guide. It's a good introduction to the story for younger readers. The art is fine, doing a good job conveying the emotions and the actions in the story.

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