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October 13, 2011

New(ish) Books: Hera: The Goddess and Her Glory

I wrote my very first post on this blog about the first two volumes in George O'Connor's Olympians series of graphic novels about the ancient Greek gods, so I'm a little ashmaed that it took me this long to get around to the third installment. (I mean, the fourth is just around the corner.) I spent much of that previous post marveling over O'Connor's ability to create compelling, action-packed, illustration-driven narratives while remaining remarkably true to both the letter and the tone of the ancient mythology. And if anything, he trumps himself in Hera: The Goddess and Her Glory.

As the author points out himself in the book's end notes, the queen of Olympus is a tricky subject, portrayed in most of the best-known myths as a shrewish wife and a vindictive punisher of both the various mortal women who are seduced by her husband, Zeus, and their progeny by him. Yet O'Connor has found a way to add a feminist slant to Hera's story—one that doesn't feel the least bit forced—by smartly mining some of the lesser-known variants on these stories, particularly the ones surrounding Herakles. (His very name—which translates as "the glory of Hera"—gives an author a lot to work with, and as his subtitle indicates, O'Connor doesn't disappoint.). This may be the former classics major in me speaking here, but I'm blown away by the extent of the author's research, and even more by what he's able to do with it.

Mind you, Hera is also every bit the engrossing page-turner that O'Connor's previous two Olympians books were; our six-year-old was difficult to separate from Zeus: King of the Gods and Athena: Grey-Eyed Goddess for the better part of a year, and this situation looks no different. (If anyone doubts my word, here's some direct-source backup for Hera's immense kid appeal.) All the Olympians books are in classic comic-book style (by which I mean the comic-book style of my childhood, naturally!), and it once again suits these tales perfectly. While I believe I have seen the labors-of-Herakles/Hercules stories executed in a comic-book format before somewhere or other before, the difference here is that O'Connor's is a really good graphic novel, one you—I mean, a kid—can read happily alongside the top entries in the genre. There's a reason these myths have had such staying power through the millennia—and O'Connor has captured it in these pages.

Can't wait for Hades....

P.S.: I just discovered that O'Connor also has a truly awesome Olympians website as well, with background on the mythology and the cast of characters, activities for kids, even resources for teachers! It will clearly be a challenge to keep Dash off the computer this month.

[Cover image courtesy of First Second Books.]

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