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Battle of the Books

Round 2, Match 3: The Odyssey vs. The Ring of Solomon

The Odyssey
by Gareth Hinds
Candlewick
The Ring of Solomon
by Jonathan Stroud
Hyperion Books

Judged by
Patricia Reilly Giff


I read THE ODYSSEY by Gareth Hinds first. Based on Homer’s epic poem, it tells of the terrible efforts King Odysseus must make to return home to Ithaca.Even holding the book is a joy, the soft blues and greens of the cover, its velvet feeling. Before reading a word, you have to wander through the pages, admiring this world.

The story is wonderfully told in the confines of space allowed in a graphic novel; captivating illustrations enhance the tale. We see the strength of Odysseus the beauty of his queen, the terrifying face of the Cyclops. The eyes of the characters are stunningly portrayed: anger, courage, longing, scheming.

I can only imagine the depths of research that went into this book. The author’s note gives us a hint of the tremendous variations in translations and questions raised by scholars that gave him leeway in telling the story while still preserving historical background.

As in many of the classics, a myriad of characters people the pages. It’s hard in the beginning to keep them straight. I found myself reading and rereading.

And each time, I found something new to admire in the writing and especially in the illustrations; I was moved particularly by the views of the sea.

But what about Jonathan Stroud’s THE RING OF SOLOMON? What about the djinni Bartimaeus? For those who aren’t familiar with djinn, the author tells us that “they lack the raw power of the greatest spirits, but frequently exceed them in cleverness and audacity.” That’s Bartimaeus. He’s certainly clever, full of himself, and his humor is laugh-aloud. Just listen to his take on his master: “The magician’s eye bulged; it looked like an egg emerging from a chicken.”

Bartimaeus has the ability to change form. He’s a good looking young guy, a lizard, a sand cat, a pygmy hippo. Not only does Bartimaeus change form, so does the author. The sand cat speaks in third person…and in the same paragraph, Bartimaeus’s voice is heard in first. Clever!

What an unlikely pair Stroud has given us: the conscientious Asmira who is determined to save her country, and that scamp Bartimaeus who is more interested in saving himself.

The book is inventive, action packed and hysterically funny.

I have to choose one of the two, and so it must be this one, Johathan Stroud’s THE RING OF SOLOMON. I found his imagination dazzling, his story intriguing.

One other thing that factored in my decision: I had to stay up at night to keep reading, just to see what Stroud had in store, those twists and turns that kept me guessing until the end.

I was sorry to get to that end.

— Patricia Reilly Giff

And the Winner of this match is…

… THE RING OF SOLOMON



It’s the battle of the ancient civilizations: the Greeks vs. the Hebrews! I’m really pleased that both of these books have advanced this far because I felt neither one really got their just due. For me, The Odyssey was the year’s best graphic novel and The Ring of Solomon just sort of got lost in a really strong crop of fantasy books. (How else do you explain a book with five starred reviews slipping under the radar?) I want to second a couple of Patricia’s points. First, the expression portrayed on the faces of the characters, particularly the eyes, is stunning. The scene where Odysseus’s dog lays eyes on his master after eighteen years, and then passes on with the help of the goddess Athena is a prime example of this. And second, the self-serving Bartimaeus does play well against the conscientious Asmira, presenting a nice contrast to the selfish Nathaniel, his master throughout the later trilogy.

— Commentator Jonathan Hunt

Roxanne Feldman About Roxanne Feldman

Roxanne Hsu Feldman is the Middle School (4th to 8th grade) Librarian at the Dalton School in New York City. She served on the 2002 and 2013 Newbery Committees. Roxanne was also a member of 2008-2009 Notable Books for Children, 2015 Best Fiction for Young Adults, and the 2017 Odyssey Award Committees. In 2016 Roxanne was one of the three judges for the Boston Globe-Horn Book Awards. You can reach her at at roxannefeldman@gmail.com.

Comments

  1. (note, author is wrong for King of Solomon above–I thought “Kathi Appelt wrote that? How did I miss that news?)

  2. Battle Commander says:

    Thanks for catching that, Wendy!

  3. Two correct in a row! Be still, heart. I was able to speak to Gareth in Boston at Midwinter, way back when, about this interpretation. My major from college is classical studies and I read this book in its original Attic Greek. Hinds does an excellent job of capturing the spirit of the original in his choice of words to include AND in the way the art captures many of those left out words. Sorry to see Homer go, even though a win is a win!

  4. I was lucky enough to hear Patricia Giff speak just before the tournament began in earnest. I will admit that I resorted to bribery to find out how this battle came out, but Mrs. Giff is a class act and would not cough up the goods for a mere $20. She did however seem open to a higher sum . . . I was under the misconception that the judges further into the rounds would not know which book they would be voting for until they cleared earlier rounds. I tried to get her to admit that she was going to choose ONE CRAZY SUMMER, but she just look at me like I was crazy.

    I’m glad someone else was confused by the sheer number of characters parading through THE ODYSSY. What a task Hinds had in controlling the legions. Well done sir.

    Live on Bartimaeus, that is until you come up against my TRASH boys.

  5. bananaelephant says:

    @DaNae: I’m fairly sure that the judges write their decisions out long before we see them, like all the way back in January.

  6. Simply brilliant that Bartimaeus is, fooling us into completely adoring him… Ms. Giff’s decision is ingenious of course. Who, in this book frenzy world, could blame her?

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