Poseidon, the mysterious and unpredictable King of the Seas, is the subject of the newest volume of George O’Connor’s Olympians. In his own words, Poseidon tells his tale of how he came to rule the seas, his role in the founding of Athens, and stories of his sons. But like his watery domain, Poseidon does not give up his secrets so easily.
Olympians: Poseidon: Earth Shaker
By George O’Connor
First Second; March 2013. ISBN: 978-1596437388
80 pgs., $9.99
For the fifth volume of his series, Olympians, George O’Connor takes on the middle of the three brother gods, Poseidon. Being as mysterious as the watery depths he calls home, straight stories about his exploits didn’t quite fit the Kings of the Seas. Instead, we are treated to hearing from Poseidon himself as he narrates his own tales, starting with how he came to be the ruler of the oceans in the first place. It’s an internal dialogue as he ponders if his fate was inevitable, or if he could have been meant for something greater, only to be cheated out of it by his brother Zeus. These doubts plague him all through the book.
Instead of focusing on any of his feats, Poseidon instead chooses to talk about his sons, whom he calls “monstrous.” While he has had many, he chooses to tell the stories of just two of them. First is Polyphemos. He is just what you would think of as a monster. Big and lumbering, with one big eye, like his great uncles, the Cyclops. He does things that would be considered monstrous. He reacts violently when he is rejected by the nymph Galatea, whom he was in love with, by killing his rival. He also eats Odysseus’s men, who along with Odysseus, stumbled into his cave and were trapped by him. While he appears to be the classic monster, it’s Odysseus who comes off as the bad guy, rather like a bully who picks on the not-so-smart kid. It’s not like Polyphemos went looking for trouble. He was happy on Lawless Island, tending his sheep. Trouble found him in the form of the too-clever-for-his-own-good Odysseus, who pays for it with his crew’s lives and misfortune.
The story of Theseus and the Minotaur has always been a tale of a hero defeating a monster. But in Poseidon’s version, there is a question of who is the hero and who is the monster. Right from the beginning, doubt is cast as to who Theseus’s father is. Theseus claims to be the son of Aegeas, King of Athens, but as the story goes on, we see that might not be the case. Theseus appears the hero, but acts that are written off as accidents are given a very dark interpretation, and the meaning of Poseidon’s sons being monstrous takes on a whole new dimension. Even the villain of the story, the Minotaur, is shown in a more sympathetic light and even given a name. This interpretation of the Theseus story is fascinating. The ease with which a traditional hero is turned into something not so heroic was a great twist.
While Poseidon’s growing dissatisfaction is never fully explained, it is hinted at through his loss time and again in competitions with other gods for dominion over human cities, such as with Athena for what would become Athens. He even turns against Zeus, joining with Hera and Athena to try to bind him. Poseidon is shown as a god who doesn’t know quite where he fits. Even though the oceans seem to fit him perfectly, the final story of the book gives some idea why he might have these doubts, and why the god of sea would be obsessed with horses. It’s a great story that helps to explain Poseidon without actually saying anything.
Poseidon: Earth Shaker is another great entry in the Olympians series. Its use of a first person narrator makes the stories more personable and Poseidon more relatable, even if so little is actually said about the distant god. While we are not privy to Poseidon’s thoughts, what he chooses to tell and how he tells it speaks volumes more than showing his feats and failings. I really enjoyed this volume, and it holds up to several re-readings.I highly recommend it.