________________ CM . . . . Volume XIII Number 4 . . . . October 13, 2006


Greek Legends. (Twisted Tales).

Terry Deary. Illustrated by Michael Tickner.
Toronto, ON: Scholastic Canada, 1993/2006.
191 pp., pbk., $6.99.
ISBN 0-439-94940-8.

Subject Headings:
Mythology, Greek-Juvenile fiction.
Greece-Juvenile fiction.
Children’s stories, English.

Grades 4-7 / Ages 9-12.

Review by Laura Dodwell-Groves.

**** /4


The Sphinx ate people. It ate travellers on the road to Thebes. This was the gods’ way of punishing Laios for kidnapping a boy. You may think this is a bit unfair. Imagine being one of those travellers on the road to Thebes. The sphinx stops you and asks you the riddle. You get it wrong… the Sphinx wraps her serpent’s tail around your neck and begins to strangle you.

“Aaaacccch!” you splutter. “What have I done to deserve this?”

“This is the gods’ way of punishing Laios!” the Sphinx explains as it chokes the last drop of air out of you.

“So why don’t you strangle Laios?” you gasp. These are the last words you ever say. The last words you ever hear are the Sphinx’s as she mutters, “Good question that. Jolly good question!”

The gods, the heroes and the villains of Greek legend came up with a lot of different ways of torturing or killing their victims. Some of them are truly terrible…


Greek Legends is not really a hard sell: lots of people dying in creative and gruesome ways; lots of monstrous creatures and mischievous gods. It all makes wonderfully digestible reading. It’s been done before. It will be done again, but rarely will it be done as well as it is here.

     Terry Deary is synonymous with gore and history. His “Horrible Histories” have delighted many a generation, and this book is no exception. His sense of descriptive ease and playfulness both in text and format make his almost 200 pages exhilarating to even the most reluctant readers. Because the Greek legends have the advantage of being incredibly gruesome all on their own, Deary does not have to look for too long to find blood and guts. As such, he is able to devote time and attention to creatively retelling what has been told for over two thousand years. Even readers who know the myths by heart before finding this book will be delighted with the retellings. For example, Perseus’ tale is told in diary form (complete with doodles), the story of Oedipus is recounted in a police report, Medea’s account is in the form of a letter to an agony aunt and (my personal favourite) the labours of Hercules are graded in the form of report cards.

     As much fun as the reader has, I think illustrator Michael Tickner had a phenomenally good time. His delight and sense of humour are apparent in every line he draws. He manages the unfortunately rare task of wholly supporting the text and yet allowing the illustrations to have their own independent plots and intrigues.

     You can feel the research and the energy in every page and syllable. The editors must have had a busy time with this one. I am sure there are hundreds of wonderful and deserving factoids, jokes and even whole tales that got consigned to the dustbins. It is with this in mind that I wonder at an omission. In the tale of  Medea and Jason, there is no mention of the rather significant detail that Medea kills her own children. Was it by omission or design? Deary does not seem afraid to meet with controversy, and so I hope it was the former.

     Deary is probably the most borrowed author of children’s nonfiction in the UK, and deservedly so. His retelling of the Greek Legends shows all the marvelous madness and mayhem of the stories without preaching or moralizing. I set the age range on this book at 9-12 years, but I defy many an 80 year old not to enjoy it too.

     I really only have one criticism. This book was published in the UK in 1998. Very cheeky of Scholastic Canada to make us wait so long.

Highly Recommended.

Laura Dodwell-Groves is a Master of Children’s Literature student at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, BC.


To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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