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Monday, November 9, 2009

Guest Post: The Rage of Achilles (and US-only giveaway)

As I hope you've already heard, RebeccaReads and I are co-hosting the Really Old Classics Challenge between now and Feb. 2010. One of the "extra credit" activities for this challenge is to read a modern retelling of a really old classic. I enjoy these kinds of books and would love to get more people reading them.

In keeping with that, I've got a guest poster here today who will tell you about his new version of Homer's Really Old Classic, THE ILIAD. I haven't yet read this new book, entitled THE RAGE OF ACHILLES, but it definitely sounds good to me! (Be sure to read until the end for the giveaway info.)

*** About the Book ***

The Rage of Achilles, by Terrence Hawkins

Blood. Guts. Pride. Wrath.

The ancient clash of armies outside the walls of Troy is a cornerstone of Western literature. In The Rage of Achilles, Terence Hawkins brilliantly reimagines that titanic encounter. His stunningly original telling captures the brutality of the battlefield, the glory and the gore, in language that never relents.

Raw and compelling, [this book] tells the story of Achilles, a monstrous hero, by turns vain and selfish, cruel and noble; of Paris, weak and consumed by lust for his stolen bride; of Agamemnon, driven nearly to insanity by the voices of the gods; and of Trojans and Achaeans, warriors and peasants, caught up in the conflict, their families torn apart by a decade-long war. [It] is an exhilarating story that has captured the imaginations of readers for thousands of years restored to immediacy.

Find out more at

*** Author Guest Post ***

The Rage of Achilles is intended as a realistic retelling of Homer’s Iliad. That is, I assume the war was fought at a real time, in a real place, by real men. In doing so I discovered why the original became the cornerstone of the Western literary tradition and has held our imaginations for three thousand years. It’s a hell of a story.

We all remember the outline: Trojan prince Paris steals Helen from Menelaus, King of Sparta; Agamemnon, Menelaus’ older brother and overlord of the Greeks, raises an army and invades Troy. Nine years into the war, Agamemnon humiliates Achilles by taking a girl Achilles himself had taken in a battle with the Trojans. Achilles decides he’ll sit out the rest of the war. But when his lover Patroclus is killed by Hector he gets back into the fight, kills Hector, and mutilates his body. It ends with Achilles, relenting in response to pleas from Trojan King Priam, returning Hector’s body to his father for a decent funeral.

That much we all remember. What we have forgotten----or at least I had forgotten----was much that was rich and strange. But I also found much that was missing. As I wrote the book I was struck by the fact that even though the dispute was between Paris and Menelaus, the war was actually fought between their older brothers, Hector and Agamemnon. That couldn’t have been easy for anyone. Homer made little if any mention of the relationships between the brothers, Trojan and Greek. In my account, I try to imagine the tensions that must have made the air between them boil. Similarly absent from the original is the relationship that started the war in the first place: Paris and Helen. After all, he kidnapped her for a reason. I attempt to show the relationship between them through Helen’s eyes. And I try to imagine as well what it must have been like to be Menelaus, on the beach before Troy, knowing not only that some young bastard is in bed with your wife in there, but knowing as well that every man in your army knows it as well.

I had also forgotten a great deal. There is a lot of very odd behavior in the original. And I exclude from that the exceptionally brutal nature of a war fought with edged weapons, which I describe in some detail-----not because I like it, but because the work’s original audience, living in those times, would have well known what that kind of war, looked, felt, and smelled like. No, by “odd” I mean things like Trojan Queen Hecuba exposing her breasts to her son Hector in an effort to dissuade him from taking on Achilles, or Priam worrying aloud to the whole court that if he’s killed his starving dogs will devour his genitals. Stranger still is Achilles’ execution of a dozen Trojans to be thrown on Patroclus’ pyre----we don’t associate human sacrifice with Homeric Greece.

Those who’ve read my other work are sometimes surprised by the brutality and strangeness of this-----but the really weird stuff is all Homer.

*** The Giveaway ***

The publicist who contacted me about this book has offered a copy to one lucky winner. Here's how to enter:
  • Leave a comment saying what intrigues you about retellings of ancient classics, or letting me know why you signed up for the Really Old Classics challenge (if you have signed up that is!). A simple "enter me!" won't get you in.

  • If your email address is not available through your profile or your blog, please include it in your comment.
  • This contest is open to US residents only, per the publicist.

  • I'll draw the winner on Nov. 16 so be sure to enter before then! The winner will have 24 hours to contact me to claim the prize; if I don't hear from that person I'll select a new winner.


Michelle Stockard Miller said...

I haven't signed up for the challenge as of yet, but I'm seriously thinking about it! I'm just so swamped with reading until the end of the year. Maybe I'll have time in January and February...we'll see!

What I like about retellings of old classics is the fact that we seem to get to know the characters more than in the original. I really enjoyed reading The Red Tent, a retelling of Jacob from the Book of Genesis, by Anita Diamant. The characters just came alive on the page!

I read the Iliad for one of my English classes a few semesters back and found it very interesting. I know I will enjoy this book by Mr. Hawkins. Thanks for the giveaway.

My email is listed in my Blogger profile.

Jen (Devourer of Books) said...

I think retellings of ancient classics can be a really helpful tool for modern audiences to understand, or even just take a greater interest in, the ancient classics. Even things like "O Brother, Where Art Thou" can be helpful. I remember that came out when my sister's class was reading Homer and I think it rejuvenated her interest for what otherwise seemed to her rather dry.


Linda said...

Interesting that the comment above mentioned the movie Oh Brother Where Art Thou. I was just thinking about that myself. I'm not much for entering challenges, but I am interested in revisiting such old classics as the Iliad. I only feel like I have a mere smattering of knowledge or understanding of the ancient myths. This is certainly the kind of novel I need to read. Thanks for the giveawasy.

Sue said...

I haven't signed up for the really old classics challenge. I've struggled with some of them in the past and I'm not sure I'm up for it right now.
I love retellings because I love the old stories, but find many hard to read. This looks great.

Thanks for sharing.

s.mickelson at gmail dot com

Rebecca Reid said...

I haven't read a lot of retellings - but as you know I LOVE the Iliad. I loved the emotions and although it was brutal it was amazingly human, even though Achilles is part god. I'd love to be entered for this....and as you know, I've joined the challenge because I love these kinds of books :)

Susan Helene Gottfried said...

No need to enter me, darling. I'm dropping in to say thanks for the e-mail. I've got this posted at Win a Book for you.

Unknown said...

The retelling of ancient classics gives young readers access to the old stories with all of the content and motives of the original story. Too often young readers are not aware of the old classics or if they do know about them, can't relate to them. In the long run, these retellings continue sharing the old classics with each generation.

bstilwell12 at comcast dot net

Mozi Esme said...

I'm not a big old classics fan because they are so hard to read! I love the idea of retelling them in today's language...

janemaritz at yahoo dot com

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