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*Corydon & the Island of Monsters* by Tobias Druitt - tweens/young readers book review


Corydon & the Island of Monsters
by Tobias Druitt
Ages 9-12 304 pages Knopf February 2006 Hardcover    

Corydon is a monster, at least by the standards of his village. He has a goatís leg where one of his normal human boyish legs should be. He has an uncanny communion with goats and sheep. Heís freakishly strong and tough, and when the other villagers quite sensibly offer him up as the yearly scapegoat, two terrifying harpies swoop down in his defense.

Corydon is a monster, too, in the eyes of the pirates who soon come to his lonely island, looking for freaks to put in their show. Heís named as such by the Gorgon, whose slightest gaze can turn men to stone but whose stare does nothing to him; when he finally win his freedom, itís the Harpies who wait to welcome him back. Even his real father, once revealed, confirms his monstrous status. So when the would-be hero Perseus comes bringing war on the monsters, Corydonís allegiance is clear - but his course is not. Before the war is over, heíll travel to the Underworld, face gods older than the Olympians that rule the earth, and help right a balance broken before history began.

Fairy tale and myth retellings have been popular in recent years, and readers could be forgiven for rolling their eyes at encountering yet another retelling of the Greek myths. But no matter how revision-fatigued you may be, give Corydon and The Island Of Monsters a chance. Aside from being a sheer joy to read, it differs from most revisions in two crucial aspects. First, author Tobias Druitt never contradicts the familiar stories he references, only builds on them or presents them from another viewpoint. Most of the characters in Corydon are still recognizably themselves, the harpies greedy and quarrelsome, the Gorgon bitter and hidden. Even Perseus, though somewhat less heroic than the standard tale would have him, is trying in his own way to serve the gods. This isnít a story that lionizes the villains at the expense of the previous heroes, but one that truly develops all sides of the story more equally. Only the gods come out looking truly cruel, and even they donít appear any worse than usual.

Second, and more rare, Corydon delves beneath the surface trappings of the stories it references to tap into the deeper mysteries of Greek mythology. The Greco-Roman myths have taken on a fairy-tale association over the years that often obscures the fact that, for many people over thousands of years, this was a religion, with all the deep power that entails. Druitt taps into that power to create a new and beautiful story of creation and redemption, one very different from the usual Judeo-Christian allegories and fully in keeping with his pagan source material. The sheer scope of Corydonís story is breathtaking, and Druitt delivers it with full force.

Corydon has everything else to recommend it. There are feats of valor, true loves won and lost, and real humor. Druittís glossary of mythological terms is itself almost worth the price of admission. But if the promise of seeing the mysteries of life and death revealed arenít enough to lure you away on an adventure, perhaps you still might send someone younger and bolder to visit Corydon and The Island Of Monsters.

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  Sarah Meador/2006 for curled up with a good kid's book  

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