When I was a child my father used to enthrall me with Bullfinch’s Mythology, a book that brought together all the Greek myths (among others) and became my night-time reading stories. Heroes and Gods abounded, romance and war filled the childish imagination and it was a delight to hear. What Lindsay Clarke has done is tantamount to the same thing. He has taken the Greek and Trojan legend of Troy and, in a more prosaic style, rewritten down Homer’s epic for a modern generation.
Simple, but genius and I can’t think why no one has done it before.
As such, whilst there is nothing new in the story other than to give us more detail of the protagonists heritage, it is retold with a flowing style that breathes the kind of life into these myths that Hollywood is doing with its current round of sword and sandals films.
We open with the parentage stories of the great Illiad heroes, of Peleus and Thetis, Telamon, Priam, Hesione et al. before moving swiftly into the infamous Paris contest, the Golden Apple and the three vainglorious Goddesses, Athena, Hera and Aphrodite. Here, over a small contest does a cursed man (who’s father Priam could not bear to see murdered on the prophecies of Cassandra) set in motion a chain of events that has resounded through history – the Trojan War.
Clarke breathes real life into the Argive Princes, Odysseus, Menelaus, Palamedes, Achilles, Patroclus, Ajax – all names that echo through history – giving the reader a palpable sense of empathy with each of them. In here we have Achilles overbearing contempt for his King, Agamemmnon, Odysseus’ cunning mind, Ajax’s heroic directness all of which are pitted against the Trojans. Paris, a devotee to Aphrodite is given a starring role (Hector is not – in direct contrast to the latest Brad Pitt effort) and Clarke spends much of his prose giving us a real sense of destiny and fate with his stealing of Helen and their eventual fateful despair as Troy falls and Menelaus ends up sitting at his wife’s bedside. The battles are majestic and epic in their scope, the intrigue crafted with skill, the characterization deliberate, painstakingly drawn and a credit to Homer and the story is retold in a manner that honours the craft of the original.
Lindsay Clarke has repainted The Illiad for a modern audience in a manner that is breathtaking at times, done with a touch of humility and in a grandiose style. In taking on a new rendition of one literature’s greatest texts, he has opened himself to failure against the highest standard and, whilst one cannot better the Iliad, he has not done himself and his audience a disservice in making the attempt.
Categories: Lindsay Clarke