Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Don't Make Me Hurl These Thunderbolts! Oh My Gods!: A Look-It-Up Guide to the Gods by Megan E. Bryant

Are you ready to get your myth on? Then you've come to the right place: MYTHLOPEDIA, your one-stop shop for everything you need to know about the stars of Greek mythology. From gods and monsters to goddesses and heroes, the myths that rocked the ancient world are ready to rock yours!

Given the runaway success of Rick Riordan's Percy Jackson and the Olympians, readers who have become hooked on the the soap-opera drama of the classical gods certainly need a guide through the maze of interpersonal (or interdeital?) relationships of the titans, Olympians, demigods and demigoddesses, heroes, monsters, nymphs, and mere mortals. While professors of classical studies must be salivating at the promise of future undergraduates crowding their classes, kids whose primary point of entry to the pantheon is Perseus (Percy) Jackson need help right now, and that's the promise of Megan Bryant's Oh My Gods!: A Look-it-Up Guide to the Gods of Mythology (Mythlopedia) (Scholastic, 2009).

There's a "classical" form underlying this volume: Bryant succinctly defines mythology and myth, explains their ancient purpose, and briefly points out the many points of reference for the classics in modern life--Cupid on Valentines, Nike on sneakers, Apollo spacecraft on the moon--and then launches into a classical scholarly and alphabetical presentation, from Apollo to Zeus, of the biggies of Mt. Olympus. Not that Bryant is exactly egalitarian: some gods seem to have more, er, karisma, than others, so Apollo gets three double-page spreads while his bad-boy brother Ares rates only two.

But each deity does draw the same design--a sidebar "Profile," featuring Greek and Roman names and aliases (with pronunciation guide), generation check boxes (Titan, Olympian, and the ubiquitous Other), "Divine Powers" and "Attributes", and "Top 10 Things to Know about Me." A "bottom bar" deals with those messy "Family, Flings, Friends, and Foes" issues, and the remaining regular text delves into all the tales, gossip, connections, and vocabulary spinoffs surrounding the character. Catchy boxes pass on useful knowledge, for example, Asclepius's caduceus, the symbol of medicine, and his health-oriented daughters Hygieia and Panacea, who also lent their names to modern practice. An additional sidebar, titled "Don't Dis Death" recounts Asclepius's unfortunate deadly duel with Hades, who was angered at the healing god's divesting him of his due of dead souls.

Wry touches catch the eye of modern readers: a marble image of Dionysus, wearing a party hat and with a party whistle in his mouth, features a thought balloon which says "The party goes where I go!" and parents Ares and Aphrodite get an irate email from their kids' school:

Re: Parent-Teacher Conference

Dear Ares and Aphrodite:

The new school year has just begun, and your sons Deimos, Phobos, and Cycnus have already begun terrorizing students on the playground. I remind you that Mount Olympus School has a zero-tolerance policy regarding bullying. Please contact my secretary to arrange a parent-teacher conference.

A text message to Dionysus reads "D-Dude! i gotta do something about those maenads. 4 real. totally wack! my dad is gonna freak when he sees what they did to the minotaur." Hermes says "You've got mail," and Pan brags "I am the original party ANIMAL!" Poseidon himself presides over a theme park titled "Poseidon's Water World," featuring attractions such as "Proteus's Fun House of Mirrors." There are puns and parodies aplenty. Prometheus jokes "Light My Fire," and Zeus tries to placate spouse Hera with a weak apology: "Hera, baby, light of my life, mother to, well, a few of my children...those other 114 didn't mean a thing to me!"

Spoofs aside, though, there are plenty of basic facts about the personalities of the pantheon here, including maps of the classical world and a "Family Tree," beginning with Gaea and Uranus, which tries to bring some order to the deities' doings. There is also a glossary, a sky chart of the "Stars of Greek Mythology," a bibliography and list of useful web sites, and an index to pull together all these messy mythological characters insofar as we mere mortals may.

For the distaff side of deity doings, mythological mayhem, and pantheonic pranks, there is a "sister" volume to this one, also by Megan Bryant, She's All That!: A Look-it-Up Guide to the Goddesses of Mythology (Mythlopedia), and its companions, All in the Family: A Look-it-Up Guide to the In-laws, Outlaws, and Offspring of Mythology (Mythlopedia) and What a Beast!: A Look-it-Up Guide to the Monsters and Mutants of Mythology (Mythlopedia). And the die-hard demi-deity devotees of Percy Jackson must not miss the mega-popular (and priced for mere mortals) Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Ultimate Guide (Hyperion, 2010).

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