Archive for ‘2010s’

April 15, 2018

“Troy: Fall of a City” (2018)

Troy: Fall of a City

Miniseries
Run Time: Eight one-hour episodes
Starring: Louis Hunter (Paris), Bella Dayne (Helen), Jonas Armstrong (Menelaus), Joseph Mawle (Odysseus)

Watch: the trailer
Watch it on: Netflix, BBC iPlayer (region-locked and for a limited time)

Synopsis: Searching for the woman promised to him by Aphrodite, herdsman Paris learns his true identity and falls for Helen of Sparta, igniting the Trojan War. (Source: Netflix)

My Spoiler-Free Thoughts: It has been pointed out that movies about the ancient world tend to be released in batches following some kind of change or technological innovation in the movie industry. Trojan War screen adaptations fit quite neatly into this pattern, and the adaptation for the current age of big-budget, on-demand TV shows is Netflix and the BBC’s Troy: Fall of a City. The series’ eight-hour run time allows for the inclusion of characters and events that are often cut from Trojan War movies, but don’t look here for a straight adaptation of the mythology. The show provides a fresh look at several characters, a new take on some of the main events, and an entirely new subplot. All this — plus the show’s focus on the characters instead of the battles — makes Troy: Fall of a City feel very different from previous Trojan War screen versions, and I absolutely loved it. It’s not perfect — sometimes plot elements are forgotten about from one episode to the next, the story stumbles a bit near the end, and I’m a little iffy on the new subplot — but the music is great, the acting is solid, the sets and locations and costumes are beautiful, the last episode holds nothing back, and overall I just really enjoyed seeing such a fresh take on my favourite story and the characters who inhabit it. It’s been fourteen years since the last big-budget Trojan War screen adaptation, and, for me at least, Troy: Fall of a City was worth the wait.

My Thoughts WITH SPOILERS!: Apparently this is the year I learn to love Paris because, as with Shin Toroia Monogatari, my favourite thing about Troy: Fall of a City is its Paris.

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January 26, 2018

A note on “Troy: Fall of a City”

Sometime this year, Netflix and the BBC will bestow upon us their eight-episode take on the Trojan War, titled Troy: Fall of a City. I am very eager to watch it and have constantly been checking for updates, although all we have so far is a partial cast list and a few photos. One of the most striking things about the available information is that black actors have been cast to play several major roles. David Gyasi is Achilles, Lemogang Tsipa is Patroclus, and Hakeem Kae-Kazim is Zeus. There’s also Alfred Enoch, whose “mother is of Afro-Brazilian ancestry” (source) as Aeneas, and Alex Lanipekun, who is “of Nigerian, Italian and English descent” (source) as Pandarus.

I wish to state in no uncertain terms that I am ONE HUNDRED PERCENT in favour of this. I think it is FANTASTIC. When I saw those names start to pop up in the cast list I got SUPER EXCITED. It is 2018 and diverse casting has ARRIVED.

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July 21, 2017

Mini-Reviews #3

Torn from TroyPatrick Bowman: Torn from Troy

YA Novel
Pages: 199
First Published: 2011

My Thoughts: Torn from Troy, the first book in the Odyssey of a Slave trilogy, tells the story of Alexi, a poor Trojan orphan. When Troy falls, Alexi is taken as a slave, accompanying Odysseus and his crew through the events of the Odyssey.

The main thing that stood out to me when I read this book was Bowman’s depiction of Troy at war. Not only is this book not at all about the Trojan royal family (only Cassandra – here called “Cassie” for some reason – puts in a brief appearance), but Bowman commits to writing his protagonist as a poor boy who’s lived nearly his whole life in a city under siege. The casual tone Alexi uses to talk about the terrible things he’s witnessed makes sense for the character in a way that I was absolutely not expecting from a book I found in the children’s section, so praise for that. The bruality of Alexi’s world continues after he’s taken as a slave by Odysseus – here called “Lopex” for some reason – although apart from that, there aren’t too many surprises in the narrative.

When I finished Torn from Troy, I figured I would continue with the trilogy, and so I read the first several chapters of the second book, Cursed by the Sea God. Unfortunately, this is where the trilogy fell apart for me. I have a pretty strong dislike for stories where the characters travel from one place to another, only spending enough time to get a superficial understanding of each one-dimensional place before moving on. (Is there a name for this kind of story? Let me know because I have no idea what to call it.) The story of Odysseus’s return home does more or less fit into this category, but the Odyssey plays enough with its structure and has enough other things going on that I think it’s one of the best examples of it.

In the first few chapters of Cursed by the Sea God, however, Bowman’s Odyssey retelling becomes everything I dislike about these travel stories. The characters arrive on Aeolia, an island with a dangerous secret! Well don’t worry, because it only takes Alexi about fifteen minutes to discover the secret and solve the problem. The solution is extremely simple and one of the first things you would think to try, and yet the people of Aeolia have suffered from this problem for years. Thank goodness Alexi came along and was able to solve it with the information he spent five minutes gathering.

This kind of story can work when you’re talking about heroes in mythology, but as a section in a trilogy that until that point had made an effort to be a realistic portrayal of the life of a slave in antiquity, it was very disappointing. There was no depth or complexity to the Aeolia chapters and it took me out of the story completely. But if you’re a fan of this kind of travel story – or if you’re in this trilogy’s target demographic – you’ll probably enjoy Odyssey of a Slave more than I did.

Buy it at: Amazon.com, Amazon.ca

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Shin Toroia MonogatariTakashi Atoda: Shin Toroia Monogatari

Novel
Japanese Title: 新トロイア物語
Pages: 689
First Published: 1997

My Thoughts: (I admit it’s a bit weird to post about a Japanese novel on an English language blog when that novel has not been translated into English. Read on if you’d like a glimpse inside this retelling from another part of the world …)

Shin Toroia Monogatari – the title can be parsed as either The New Story of Troy or The Story of New Troy – follows Aeneas from his childhood to his death, covering both the events of the Trojan War and the quest to build a new Troy. For the longest time, the uninspired cover image, the dry lecture of an opening paragraph, and my mistaken belief that Atoda usually wrote non-fiction had me believing that this novel would be little more than a by-the-book retelling of the Trojan War myth. Now that I’ve finally gotten my Japanese to a level where I was able to read the whole thing (with a dictionary to help me here and there), I was happy to discover how wrong I was. Atoda plays with the story plenty, and for the most part this book was a really surprising, really interesting read.

There are light SPOILERS in the paragraphs below!

My favourite thing about this book, believe it or not, is its Paris. Paris is not usually one of my favourite characters, but I loved him here. His decade-long absence from Troy is made into something of a mystery – did Priam send him away as punishment for something, or did he leave because he wanted to? – so that you’re not quite sure what to make of him when he reappears. And he’s a bit of a jerk at first, flat-out telling a young Aeneas that Aphrodite has only been declared Aeneas’s mother because Aeneas’s father paid the oracle to say so. But as soon as I got to the brutally honest ramble in which he lists all his flaws and compares them to Hector’s virtues, making Aeneas promise that he’ll choose Hector if he ever has to choose between the two of them, I was sold. This Paris is just as imperfect as he usually is, but just having him be aware of it and honest about it really endeared me to him.

I also really liked this book’s version of the death of Achilles. Achilles is killed in the night, and Aeneas has every reason to believe that Paris did it as revenge for Hector’s death. But when Aeneas goes to ask Paris about it, Paris laughs it off as the work of the gods. His refusal to take credit for the best thing he ever does for his city – for the brother he knew was the better person – is excellent, I love it. New favourite Paris.

My second favourite thing about this book will come as no surprise: I really enjoyed the scene where Aeneas visits Helenus and Andromache after the war. The way their excitement at seeing each other again transitions into tension between Aeneas, who believes Helenus is duty-bound to go with him to rebuild Troy, and Helenus, who has put Troy behind him and started a new life, is fantastic. I love how Aeneas seems to think that “You’re a prince of Troy” is the only reason Helenus should need for joining Aeneas on his journey, and how he never seems to fully understand why Helenus turns him down.

Unfortunately, after Aeneas and Helenus parted ways, my enjoyment of the book slowly but steadily declined, to the point where I had to force myself through the last hundred pages. I think the main reason for this is that Atoda’s Aeneas is a pretty empty character. He is “pious Aeneas” but not much else. During the first half of the book, where he acts as our viewpoint character for the events in Troy, he reacts so little to what happens around him that I often forgot he was there. On top of that, it really feels like all of the potentially interesting challenges Aeneas encounters are quickly wrapped up with an “Ah well, I’m sure I did the right thing.” As the story goes on and the more interesting characters are left behind, we enter Atoda’s version of the Latium conflict, where all of the new characters are either completely good or completely evil. It doesn’t help that everyone in this section speaks in such overly polite language that the scene in which Aeneas confesses his love to Lavinia felt to me like some kind of parody. I’ve read a few Japanese reviews of this book and none of them have mentioned this section at all, so it may very well be that it didn’t work for me because I’m not a member of the culture that it was written for – in the author’s note, Atoda does admit that he feels his Aeneas is a modern Japanese man dropped into the ancient world – but I found it pretty tough to get through. (Not that that stopped me from tearing up a little when the last pages of the book started echoing the first pages of the book …)

Although the last hundred pages did diminish my enthusiasm for Shin Toroia Monogatari, overall I did really enjoy it and all the surprises it offered. So far it’s the only Japanese retelling of the Trojan War I’ve found that allows its author some creative license. I’ll keep my eye out for another.

Buy it at: Amazon.co.jp, BookLive (where you can also preview the first fourteen pages in your browser)

February 26, 2017

Ancient Greece and Rome in Tokyo, 2016

While I didn’t do any Trojan War reading in 2016 (a fact both unfortunate and baffling), I did do my best to enjoy the ancient art and artifacts that made their way through Tokyo, where I am currently living. Look below the jump for my photos of and comments about an ancient Greece exhibit at the Tokyo National Museum, a Pompeii wall painting exhibit at the Mori Arts Center Gallery, and a one-woman performance of Greek tragedy at the Akasaka CHANCE Theatre!

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October 5, 2014

Crash Course World History: “The End of Civilization (In the Bronze Age)”

A few months ago, I posted about Crash Course Literature’s take on the Odyssey. As the Sea Peoples are my favourite awesomely named group of long ago people who maybe did or maybe didn’t exist, I was pretty excited when I saw the thumbnail for this week’s installment of the second Crash Course World History series. The Trojan War only gets a couple shout-outs in the video, which makes me feel like I’m cheating posting about it, but it might be useful to some as a quick introduction to what happened in the time after the war is thought to have taken place. This video also features two mentions of Canada (a rare thing in Crash Course!) and an appearance by a Kingdom Hearts keyblade (KH being one of about three video games I’ve finished) so, you know. I obviously had to link to it.

September 15, 2014

Margalit Fox: “The Riddle of the Labyrinth”

The Riddle of the Labyrinth

Non-fiction
Full Title: The Riddle of the Labyrinth: The Quest to Crack an Ancient Code
Pages: 346
First Published: 2013

Synopsis: In 1900, while excavating on Crete, the charismatic Victorian archaeologist Arthur Evans unearthed inscribed clay tablets amid the ruins of a lavish Bronze Age palace. Written by palace scribes circa 1450 B.C., the script they displayed – featuring outline drawings of swords, chariots, and horses’ heads, as well as other tiny pictograms – resembled no alphabet ever seen. Evans named the script Linear B, and from the start it posed a deep mystery. No one knew what language Linear B recorded, much less what the curious inscriptions meant. If the tablets could be deciphered, they would open a portal onto a refined, wealthy, and literate society that had flourished in Greek lands three thousand years earlier, a full millennium before the glories of the Classical Age.

The Riddle of the Labyrinth is the true story of the quest to solve one of the most mesmerizing riddles in history – Linear B – and of the three brilliant, obsessed, and ultimately doomed investigators whose combined work would eventually crack the code. […] Following the three investigators as they hunt down, analyze, and interpret a series of linguistic clues hidden within the script itself, The Riddle of the Labyrinth offers the first complete account of one of the most fascinating conundrums of all time.

My Thoughts: So you may have guessed that this book is not very much about the story of the Trojan War! But it’s about a Bronze Age script and it mentions the war enough that I feel justified posting about it, although in a rather shorter post than usual.

The Riddle of the Labyrinth tells the story of the decipherment of Linear B by following its three major players: archaeologist Arthur Evans, professor Alice Kober, and architect Michael Ventris. According to its introduction, this book is “the first complete account of the decipherment,” filling in what was previously unknown about Alice Kober’s years of work on the script. All three sections of the book are interesting, but I especially enjoyed reading about Kober and how dedicated she was to the decipherment at a time when it surely couldn’t have been easy to be a female scholar. I really appreciated how Fox handles this section, especially the way in which she only briefly mentions Kober’s apparent lack of interest in traditionally “feminine” goals, doesn’t disparage her for it, and then never brings it up again. Awesome!!

Before reading this book, I glanced at a couple reviews that suggested that a background in Linguistics would help readers to understand the discussions of the decipherment. I happen to have such a background, but I think what was more helpful was my familiarity with Japanese, a language that uses syllabic writing systems similar to the syllabic writing system Linear B turned out to be (spoiler?). But this book is definitely written for the general reader, and Fox includes enough explanation that I don’t think there’s any reason to worry. I suspect that anyone who’s interested in reading this book will have little problem understanding it.

As a big fan of Bronze Age Greece and an even bigger fan of languages, I super enjoyed this book. I learned a lot about how one goes about deciphering an ancient script and it was fascinating to read about the kind of perseverance the process requires. I even nerdily enjoyed reading the correspondence between scholars discussing their theories about Linear B. If any of the above appeals to you, I suspect Riddle of the Labyrinth will be as unputdownable for you as it was for me.

Buy it at: Amazon.com, Amazon.ca

August 2, 2014

Yukio Ninagawa: “Troilus and Cressida” (DVD & screencaps)

Ninagawa x Shakespeare X

In August 2012, I was fortunate enough to be able to see Yukio Ninagawa’s all-male production of William Shakespeare’s “Troilus and Cressida” in Saitama, Japan. The post I wrote afterwards, which contains more information as well as my thoughts about the production, has baffled me by becoming one of the most popular posts on this blog. I was going to post about it again anyway, but now I feel slightly more justified in doing so!

The DVD: Ninagawa’s “Troilus and Cressida” was released on region-free DVD in 2013 as part of the box set Ninagawa x Shakespeare X (“X” because this is the tenth in the series). The set comes with three DVDs: one for “Troilus and Cressida” (172 minutes), one for a production of “Cymbeline” (188 minutes), and one with bonus features, most notably twenty-one minutes of footage from behind the scenes of “Troilus.” None of these DVDs include subtitles of any kind, although Shakespeare’s text can be used to figure out what’s happening in “Troilus”; I don’t think there are any changes large enough that they would throw someone off. (I haven’t watched “Cymbeline” yet, but I’m looking forward to it!)

Watch: Troilus, Cressida, Pandarus and Diomedes in clips from V.ii and V.iv (please note that the footage on the DVD is higher quality and better edited), the cast at a press conference

Buy it at: Amazon.co.jp, CDJapan

Screencaps: So I originally meant to only screencap the things I wanted to show you when I wrote my previous post, but of course I went a little overboard. Read on for thirty-nine screencaps (and four photos)!

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July 24, 2014

Eric Shanower: “Age of Bronze: Betrayal, Part Two”

Age of Bronze: Betrayal, Part Two

Graphic Novel
Pages: 175
First Published: 2013

Synopsis: Winner of five Eisner Awards, including Best Writer/Artist in both 2001 and 2003, and the Gran Guinigi for Best Serial Comic 2006, Eric Shanower presents part two of Betrayal, the third of seven volumes telling the complete story of the Trojan War.

Ships hit the beach. Battle cries ring out. Warriors leap ashore to meet the chariots of the mighty Trojan army. Achilles and his cousin Ajax clash with the Trojan prince Hektor and his ally, King Sarpedon of Lykia. Dust rises as men fall dead, all for the sake of one woman, Helen, who watches the Trojan War from high on the walls of Troy, safe for the present.

Within the walls, conniving Pandarus hopes to avoid paying for his brother’s betrayal of the Trojans. But how? Perhaps Pandarus can gain royal protection by persuading his niece Cressida to accept the love of the Trojan prince Troilus. But she’s reluctant.

The war waits for no one. Its bloody claws close tight around both Troilus and Cressida, forcing each of them to face choices neither would have imagined before the Trojan War began. Troilus’s understanding of existence cracks open, while Cressida must choose whose bed she’ll share.

Drawn from the myths and legends of centuries, Betrayal continues the tapestry of drama and action known as the Trojan War. Eric Shanower’s historically accurate illustrations and taut storytelling propel this greatest of ancient epics into the twenty-first century.

Note: I am reviewing this book because the artist sent me a free copy.

My Thoughts: I really enjoyed Sacrifice and Betrayal, Part One, two of the previous volumes in the Age of Bronze series, so I was looking forward to reading Betrayal, Part Two. Unfortunately, I don’t think it lives up to the level of its predecessors.

The most prominent storyline in this volume is that of Troilus and Cressida. A lot of space is devoted to it and it progresses much farther than I would have expected. I feel a little odd criticizing this without having any idea how the story is going to unfold in later volumes, but I would have preferred to spend less time with them. This is the book where the Trojan War really starts, but so little time is spent on the war that it loses a lot of its impact. I might not have minded this so much except that the time that might have been spent on the war is instead spent on two characters I don’t really care about. Troilus has very little personality besides his constant pining and Cressida, although the more interesting of the two, has a literal change of heart that completely changes her motivations within the space of a few pages. This made it difficult for me to empathize with either of them. I will admit, though, that I was really glad that Cressida’s motivations were made clear and I was glad that she has an actual reaction to the Greek kings when she arrives in the camp; Shakespeare leaves both of those areas pretty vague, and with appropriate embarrassment I must admit that, apart from Age of Bronze, Shakespeare’s is the only version of the Troilus and Cressida story that I’ve read so far.

I have one more criticism of the Troilus and Cressida storyline that might not be valid, but that bothered me enough that I have to mention it. The back flap of this book tells us that Age of Bronze is Shanower’s attempt to tell the story of the Trojan War “in authentic historical detail.” Yet there’s a scene that’s a recreation of the part in Shakespeare where Troilus, Cressida and Pandarus talk about how future generations will remember their names. Of course, telling the story of the Trojan War as it authentically, historically happened is basically impossible, and perhaps the “authentic historical detail” is only meant to refer to the visuals. But it seems odd to me to make a claim like that and then lift a scene from a relatively recent playwright who is not exactly known for his historical accuracy. I would be ready to just shrug this off except that the scene ends with Pandarus’s line: “All those who selflessly exhaust themselves by going between should be called Pandars.” As far as I can tell, this is a wink-wink-nudge-nudge sort of line that only works if your audience is made up of speakers of modern English, and so perhaps not something that a historical Pandarus might have actually said. This is absolutely a nitpick but, to be fair, I did predict that as I continued to review Age of Bronze I would start nitpicking …

Now for what I liked!

I really have to praise the character designs in Age of Bronze. There’s a ton of characters but somehow they manage to be pretty distinct. I read this volume a couple months after I read the previous volume, but even so, the number of characters I recognized right away far outnumbered those I didn’t. I also continue to be impressed with the transitions between scenes; my favourite in this volume smoothly takes us from nighttime in Troy to morning in the Greek camp. It’s followed by several pages where the panels on the left are scenes on the battlefield and the panels on the right are other scenes. I really love how this alternating pattern not only shows the passing of time but also moves the various storylines forward really efficiently.

Unrelated to the story, this cover is my favourite of the volumes so far, and I also really like how two pages at the back of the book are dedicated to encouraging readers to help preserve the archaeological sites.

Even though I didn’t love Betrayal, Part Two, I didn’t dislike it, and I have no reason to doubt that future volumes will return to the high standard set by Sacrifice and Betrayal, Part One. If you’re interested in reading a graphic novel retelling of the Trojan War (and don’t mind a bit of a wait till future issues), I definitely recommend Age of Bronze.

Official Web Site: Age of Bronze
Buy it at: Amazon.com, Amazon.ca

June 8, 2014

Josephine Angelini: “Goddess”

Goddess  Goddess

YA Novel
Pages: 421
First Published: 2013

Synopsis: Can you change your fate?

The gods’ thirst for war already has a body count – and Helen is plagued with visions of destruction. She must find a way to imprison them once again, or risk unleashing immeasurable chaos.

Her powers are increasing – and so is the distance between Helen and her mortal friends. Uncertain whether to fear or revere her, the once-solid group divides.

To make matters worse, the Oracle reveals that a dangerous Tyrant is lurking among them … and all fingers point to Orion. Still unsure whether she loves him or Lucas, Helen is forced to make a terrifying decision, for an all-out war is coming to her shores.

Starcrossed and Dreamless are international bestsellers. Now Josephine Angelini delivers a thrilling conclusion to this epic trilogy of love, hate, revenge, and fate. With worlds built just as quickly as they crumble, a goddess must rise above it all in a final battle to change a destiny written in the stars.

My Spoiler-Free Thoughts: Goddess is the third novel in the Starcrossed trilogy, which I’ve been reviewing here because it kind of sort of uses the story of the Trojan War as a base from which to launch its own story. When I read Starcrossed, the first book, I was baffled by its popularity but kind of amused by all its blatant similarities to Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight series. I thought the second book, Dreamless, was more original and more interesting, but I was frustrated by Lucas’s violent treatment of Helen as well as by the fact that most of the story only happens because of a lie that the readers know is a lie. Reading Goddess, I think I passed through bafflement and frustration and reached a point where this series genuinely makes me angry. Because … it’s terrible.

As usual, I must confess that there were a few things I liked, and here they are: Matt’s first few scenes. Morpheus’s two appearances. Some of the more fantastical settings that ensure that, if the rumoured movies do get made, they should at least be nice to look at. And … that’s about it.

This book reads like a hastily written first draft. Every action and every line of dialogue is overexplained; like both books before it, cutting out all the unnecessary exposition would make the book at least a hundred pages shorter. Plot threads are left half-finished. The main characters are unlikeable. There are too many characters who contribute nothing to the plot. Important scenes focus on characters the readers barely know and don’t care about. None of the main characters ever face any real risk or consequence. The original mythology is simultaneously vague and overcomplicated. The Greek mythology is changed so much that I’m not sure why it was used. The tone and register are all over the place. Characters frequently do things they were adamantly opposed to doing no more than a chapter before, with no reason given as to why they changed their mind. Characters develop powers out of the blue and then never use them. The narration awkwardly jumps from the mind of one character to the mind of another for no good reason. And – my least favourite point of all – an abusive relationship is portrayed as the truest of true loves.

There are some good ideas buried below all the first draftiness of this book, and a ruthless edit and rewrite could have improved it immensely. I have no idea why this series didn’t receive that treatment – surely this book had an editor, right? what did she even do? fix typos?? – but the fact seems to be that it didn’t. As it is, then, I don’t recommend Goddess or either of its predecessors at all.

My SPOILERIFFIC!! Thoughts: Let’s explore some of my above criticisms through examples from the text.

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March 2, 2014

Crash Course Literature: The “Odyssey”

John Green, host of Crash Course World History, one of my favourite YouTube series ever, has begun his second Crash Course Literature series with a twelve-minute look at Homer’s Odyssey. As an installment in a fairly accessible and popular YouTube channel I do kind of wish this video was a bit more “Here are some reasons the Odyssey is considered a great work of literature and here’s why you should read it too!” and a bit less “Here are some reasons Odysseus is a jerk!,” but at the same time the open letter to the patriarchy that begins at 6:55 is so beautiful that it reduces all my criticisms to nothing.

John Green takes on another classic in the Crash Course video for “Oedipus Rex.”