The World of Greek Mythology
Written by: Young NZ author Ben Spies
The 2019 winner of the Moonbeam Children's Book Award bronze medal - Best Book by a Youth Author
Ever wondered what the Greek myths look like through the eyes of a child?
Eleven-year-old author, Ben Spies, writes his version of some of the most thrilling tales from Greek mythology.
From Titans to Olympians, The World of Greek Mythology delivers an action-packed retelling of the myths, from how the world was created to a personal take on some of the greatest and mightiest gods and goddesses.
Ben adds his quirky humour to each chapter as we follow the drama of the legendary Trojan War and the epic voyage of Odysseus. But be warned: the gruesome world of Greek mythology is not for the faint of heart… get ready for bloody battles and horrible deaths.
If you love Greek mythology, or you’re keen to learn more, this book is sure to delight and captivate your imagination.
(You can read some awesome reviews below the page)
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Ben’s passion for writing led him to become a published author at the young age of nine with his first book, Weirdo. The Magic Pencil followed soon after, at age ten. The World of Greek Mythology is Ben’s third book and he shows no signs of slowing down.
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Publication Date: November/2018
Category: Children’s Fiction/Middle Grade/Teenager/Junior Fiction/Young Adult/Kids Other
For ages: 10+
Publisher: Spies Publishing
Edited by Helen Vivienne Fletcher
Cover by Luke Kelly
Typesetting by Luke and Vida Kelly
Reviewed by Rachel Moore for the NZ Booksellers Association. Full review here.
This is an excellent introduction for anyone curious about Greek mythology. Here on the other side of the world, and eons away from their place of origin, many of the legends are still part of our collective cultural narrative. The stories of the Trojan war will be familiar to many in a sketchy, delivered-by-Hollywood way.
The difference between Spies’ book and other recent books on Greek mythology, such as Stephen Fry’s Mythos and Heroes, Pat Barker’s The Silence of the Girls and Madeline Miller’s Circe, is that Spies is writing specifically for children and young adults. This makes his retelling engaging and easy to understand (it’s a very complicated pantheon) without being dumbed-down, and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend The World of Greek Mythology to adults either.
Spies writes in a lively, fast-paced style, with lots of jokes and asides to his readers. He know his audience well, having written the book aged 11. He covers the Titans, some of the Olympians, the Trojan War, and the Odyssey in 228 action-packed pages. I enjoyed Spies’ frankness – he tells his readers in places how complicated some of the myths are, and that he doesn’t always understand the myths either. I wish I’d had this book as an intro when I studies Classics at high school, I might have found it a bit easier to follow!
There is the promise of another book on the subject to come, covering the other Olympians who couldn’t fit in this first volume. I’m really looking forward to it and am hoping that maybe Spies could put in a pronunciations guide for some of the trickier names and places. A map would also be great for readers who like to visualise where things are happening.
This book will appeal to readers from about 8 years up who enjoy action, fantasy and don’t mind a bit of blood and gore. It would be a great read-to book from about 8, depending on the reader’s own capabilities. I highly recommend it.
Reviewed by Wellington writer Alex Mitcalfe for the NZ Reviews of Books magazine
The World of Greek Mythology is Ben Spies’s first book of non-fiction. It surveys the Classical “greatest hits”, taking in the Greek myths of creation, the time of the titans and gods the coming of humans, The Trojan War and the Odyssey.
Spies was 12 years old when the book was released, and his passion for the subject is pure and generous. His writing is vivid, bringing the hot sun and wonder of the reek tales to life. Spies’s is an engaging, confident voice and he is a friendly and digressive a guide to the material as one could hope for. Crucially, he has a deft hand for data, whether the whakapapa of generations of gods, or
the histories and geographies of unfamiliar places, and he measures a fine balance between interesting, necessary detail and narrative propulsion.
The tone throughout is generally light, with a fair sparkling of humour. Spies tells jokes with far greater class than most adult writers for the upper-primary market. There is none of the Establishmentarian snarkiness of Horrible Histories, nor the desperate mateyness of the Treehouse Series. Where the myths are absurd, Spies finds humour, and he shares that humour with a natural delight that keeps the tales fresh. Thankfully not all the stories are told as comedies. As well as Odysseus and te cyclops, we have Poseidon and Caenis, a woman asking to be made a man so that the male gods will leave her alone.
These stories are nightmarishly unpleasant as they are fantastical, presenting serious challenges in interpreting them for children. Over and over again Zeus coerces, harasses and abuses, while Hera throws a baby out of the window, and atrocities multiply. The horror of these stories is a too-familiar one; their violence is timeless and exhausting brutality of insecure, fragile power.
I say these things because too often people ask whether these myths are relevant. The more important question is what relevance we give them in our telling. Spies handles the myths cruelty and extremity with the same demureness that I remember from the books of my childhood, wherein creepiness, even abuse, could be shaded as romance or ardour. I think we, as writers, as teachers, as adults, need to go further in naming the violence these myths contain. To be clear, though, I don’t fault a young person for doing no worse than millennia of adult writers who ought to have done better.
Shivers of inherent darkness aside, I found The World of Greek Mythology an absolute pleasure to read. It is a wonderfully approachable tool to start a discussion with young people about the ancient world, the mythic archetypes which inform our many literary cultures, and what it means that Hera
married Zeus to “take away the shame”. For me, Spies’s writing reforged the strangeness and magic of these stories, I’m excited to see where his passion takes him next.