the odyssey

Science-Fiction, Fantasy, and You

Written by Grant Goodman, 2/16/2015 Time travel. Rocket ships. Wizards. Dystopias.

You will meet many people in your life who look down on “those kinds of stories.” They are the serious types. They believe in their serious literature.

We can let them believe in that.

They can have their stories about sad people in sad cities. Because, honestly, we read those books, too. Every now and again, we need a palate cleanser, a waystone that lets us step back into our own world.

The deep truth is this: we like other worlds. We like worlds that don’t already exist.

Besides, the biggest milestones of human storytelling tend to be about magic and dystopias.

The Odyssey is full of witches and sea monsters and Cyclops. Beowulf fought a dragon. Shakespeare filled his plays with ghosts and wizards and prophecy. Mary Shelley brought the dead back to life. Jules Verne sent humanity to explore the moon long before John F. Kennedy was born.

Reading fantasy and science-fiction connects us to the roots of the world. The desires to explore and to escape and to imagine are built into us.

That’s why we need Suzanne Collins to send us into the arena. That’s why we need Darren Shan to show us the hidden world of vampires. That’s why Ray Bradbury once wrote, “I have never listened to anyone who criticized my taste in space travel, sideshows or gorillas. When this occurs, I pack up my dinosaurs and leave the room.”

So go ahead and dive into sci-fi and fantasy.

But don’t be afraid to dip your toes into realistic fiction, either. There’s excellence to be found there, too.

The Hero's Journey (Monomyth) in YA

The Hero’s Journey (Monomyth) in YA Written by Grant Goodman, 11/4/2014

The Hero’s Journey (also called Monomyth) is a story pattern that appears again and again in literature and film. You can find it featured prominently in The Odyssey, The Princess Bride, and The Lion King, just to name a few.

While there are many “official” steps, here are the basics of what you need to know:

  1. The hero is forced to leave home to seek out adventure/a new life.
  2. Our hero meets a mentor or receives supernatural aid.
  3. There are several small challenges the hero must conquer.
  4. The hero experiences death and rebirth (not always literally, though).
  5. The power/skills necessary to succeed are finally mastered by the hero.
  6. The key obstacle is overcome or defeated, leaving the hero free to live without fear.

Here’s an example for you, which is a spoilerific romp through a certain wizard story you may have heard of, called HARRY POTTER.

Harry is whisked away to Hogwarts, where he must learn to cope with being a celebrity and the pressures of wizard school. He finds himself mentored by a series of wizards: Hagrid, Dumbledore, Sirius. In book after book, Harry must confront the growing threat of an ever more powerful Lord Voldemort, until eventually he faces the fully revived wizard. Harry experiences death at the hands of Voldemort, though he comes back to life. Harry, having overcome death and becoming the master of the Elder Wand, is able to end Voldemort’s uprising. He has removed the world’s greatest threat and is therefore able to go on living his life.

There are several other prominent titles that follow this model. Suzanne Collins’ GREGOR THE OVERLANDER, Ursula Le Guin’s A WIZARD OF EARTHSEA, and Christopher Paolini’s INHERITANCE CYCLE are a few more that come to mind.

The next time you’re making your way through a YA adventure novel, there’s a good chance you’re following one of the most widely used story patterns in human history.

Percy Jackson: An Intro to the Odyssey

Percy Jackson: An Intro to the Odyssey Written by Grant Goodman, 9/30/2014

(A big thank you to one of my students, who suggested writing about Riordan’s novels!)

Everyone who's anyone knows that Rick Riordan’s final book in the Heroes of Olympus quintet comes out soon. Riordan’s tales of modern Greek and Roman heroes have been flying off the shelves year after year, making him a mainstay in the YA kingdom. (Fun fact: the first novel, The Lightning Thief, will be turning 10 years old in July.)

In honor of this upcoming release, I thought I’d put an English teacher’s spin on it and connect the dots between some of Riordan’s references to mythology and their more deeply-rooted roles in Homer’s epic poem, The Odyssey. It's yet another reason why YA also appeals to an older audience.

NOTE: SPOILERS AHEAD.

  1. The Lotus Hotel and Casino

In The Lightning Thief, Percy, Annabeth, and Grover, find themselves trapped inside of the Lotus Hotel and Casino, where time slips by without anyone noticing.

This moment is a reference to, among other tales, Homer’s Odyssey. In Book IX, Odysseus and his men seek refuge from their days at sea and come to the land of the Lotus eaters. The people there do no physical harm to Odysseus and his men, but they offer the men a taste of the lotus. The magical flower is like a drug; those who eat it lose their desire to do anything else except stay and eat more lotus. In the end, Odysseus is forced to retrieve those who have eaten the lotus and he has them tied down on the ship so they can sail away.

  1. Aeolus’ Castle

Leo, Piper, and Jason find themselves trapped by Aeolus in The Lost Hero. The wind deity is bent out of shape because he isn’t officially labeled a god. Yes, he controls the winds, but apparently “Master of Winds” isn’t good enough for him.

The cursed crew of Odysseus visits Aeolus in Book X of The Odyssey. Aeolus subdues the North, South, and East winds by stuffing them into a bag and sealing it. This, he assures them, will provide the men swift and safe passage back to Ithaca. The crew sets sail, finally ready to return to their island.

With home on the horizon, Odysseus takes a nap. His men decide to see if Aeolus’ bag contains silver or gold, unleashing the winds and blowing the ship back to Aeolus’ island. The wind master deems them cursed by the gods and refuses to offer his help anymore.

From there, they sail on, into disaster after disaster.

  1. Calypso, on the island of Ogygia

The nymph Calypso is stuck on the island of Ogygia. In The Battle of the Labyrinth, Percy is washed ashore and Calypso brings him back to health. He breaks her heart when he leaves the island on a raft. (Honestly, I think it is the best scene in all of the books Riordan has written so far. Really sends a tremor through your heart.)

She appears in The Odyssey, playing a very different role. She isn’t nearly as kind. She keeps Odysseus prisoner on her island for seven years. Calypso even offers Odysseus immortality if he stays with her and he turns it down. Eventually, Athena convinces Zeus to allow Odysseus to make his way home to his wife and son. Hermes is sent to visit and he commands Calypso to let Odysseus go. From there, Odysseus makes a raft and begins the final stretch of his long journey home.