Book Review: Hit the Road, Helen!

Let me preface this review by admitting that I am biased. My undergraduate degree was in Classical Civilizations, which, for those who don’t know what that means, means that I studied history and literature, with a focus on the Greeks and Romans. Thus, I have a soft spot for Greek and Roman mythology, but I am also annoyed by poor and/or boring representations of those myths.

Having said that, today I will be discussing Kate McMullan’s Hit the Road, Helen! This book will be available in September 2013, and is a re-telling of the Trojan War, written with a younger audience in mind. I requested this book expecting to be disappointed, but hoping to find an adaptation that my son might like when he’s a bit older.

hit the road, helen

To be honest, I was disappointed.

But, I appreciate what the author is trying to do.

McMullan re-wrote the story using more modern lingo, without the lists, without the graphic description, without the poetry. She wrote it trying to appeal to kids.d maybe it will appeal to kids more than some of the translations already in existence. I’m not sure.

I am sure, as the parent of a ten-month old who will need to read aloud to her child for some time, that I feel like an idiot reading this book out loud (And I can read the Seussian Mr. Brown Can Moo, Can You? with no problem).

Yet I don’t have a problem with the fact that McMullan altered some of the myths, etc. For the most part, rather than alteration of the mythology, her novel really feels more like an alteration of tone. The gods may be fickle, but the classical Greeks believed in them, at least somewhat, and there is an air of respect for them that is missing from this plebeian version.

I actually kind of like, in general, however, the idea of interpreting the mythology in new ways, thereby creating new myths. After all, there is no “correct” myth. The word “mythology” refers to stories that are malleable, not stagnant. Myths have notably been borrowed from other cultures, altered as time passes, etc.

Euripides’ Medea, for example, while an excellent play, utilized a version of the Jason & Medea myth which scholars commonly believe to have been very infrequently told. It is much more likely that, after Medea killed her husband’s new wife and father, the local townspeople were so upset, they killed her children. This latter version seems particularly likely since the Corinthian citizens burnt a sacrifice to Medea’s children every year – as if they had something for which they needed to atone.

Yet Euripides’ version has withstood the test of time very well, partially because it is so dark and disturbing, and partially because the careful reader cannot help but empathize, to a degree, with Medea. She perpetrated a horrible act, but did so in the belief that it was the only way she could truly punish her husband for his complete abandonment.

The Trojan War is surrounded with mythology. Much of it is told in the Iliad and the Odyssey, of course, but you cannot get the complete story without reading the Homeric Hymns that write down what most Greek citizens knew well enough that the most famous two poems could begin in the middle of the story.

An aspect of Hit the Road, Helen! which I enjoyed is that it compiles all of the Trojan war information into a slim, handy volume.

Overall, I would recommend avoiding Hit the Road, Helen! The irreverent tone of the narrator is annoying, and the myths are dumbed down to an undesirable degree. But maybe that’s just me being a Classics snob.