ODYSSEUS – THE GREATEST HERO OF THEM ALL by Richard Curtis and Tony Robinson
Audiobook read by Tony Robinson

“What do you mean you’ve never heard of Odysseus,” I exclaimed incredulously to my girlfriend one day. “You know, siege of Troy, the wooden horse.” She shook her head. “Homer? Iliad ? The Greek legend?” She looked blank. Okay then, so I guess that means I’m intellectual . Goodness! If that’s true then I obtained my in intellectualism via a most un-intellectual route (and I just used the words un-intellectual to help you glimpse the fraud beneath the mask!).

As a young teenager I was in the habit of borrowing audiobooks from the local library. None were more prolific in the audiobooks for children market than Chivers. One of their releases was Odysseus – The Greatest Hero of Them All.
I had vague memories of Tony Robinson on TV, a gesticulating wildly as he told a great, swashbuckling adventure. These I later found, were Jackanory specials edited together for repeat showings early on Sunday mornings. I remembered this when I picked up the audiobook in the library, with it’s gaudy, colourful cover depicting the eponymous hero, General Agamemnon and Menelaus. (Nowadays, I’d see the names ‘Robinson’ and ‘Curtis’ on the cover and be heading over to the library’s check out desk before you can say “shush!”) I found out later, that yes, those Jackanory instalments were Robinson acquainting viewers with either this, the sequel (The Journey Through Hell) or another story in the Greek myth vein, Theseus and the Minotaur.

This is, essentially, BlackAdder doing Ancient Greece, but for children. Taking Homer’s Illiad as it’s starting point, it is perhaps more correctly described as history told in the mould of Curtis and Robinson’s later hit for Children’s BBC, the peerless Maid Marion and Her Merry Men. History, but with comic west country accents, generals who are nothing better than dumb meat-heads and heroes with precocious pre-occupations, such as Achilles who does nothing but brag about what a great archer he is, and Paris, a dim upper-class toff who would rather hide behind the walls of Troy than face the husband of his kidnapped lover. There’s also Helen, whose once slender face, the face launched a thousand becomes more rotund the longer the siege of Troy continues because, basically, she’s got nothing better to do than pop chocolates and listen to her husband’s whining. Also worth a mention is the ersatz homo erotic relationship between Petrocles and Diomedes. Played completely straight, it’s one of the audiobook’s most affecting elements.

This is a blood thirsty myth given a blood thirsty spin for the junior market, in the now familiar style of Horrible Histories.

So what of this reading? Well, if you’re familiar with Tony Robinson on TV, you’ll know he has quite a distinctive natural voice. Here he provides an excellent range of voices, from his west country twerp Ajax to the rapidly expanding Helen, but because his voice is so distinctive you never find yourself happily lost in the dialogue. By saying that I am basically criticising a tomato for having the audacity to be red and rounded, but when my girlfriend was finally introduced into this world of heroes, princes and cowards it was the one thing she didn’t like about it. Personally, I adore Robinson’s voice and I loved the personality with which he imbued all of the characters.

Of course, this was co-written by Richard Curtis, and there are jokes and pathos here that are pure Curtis. It might seem odd finding his name on something for children but remember, this is the guy who lent his might to Comic Relief and the aforementioned Maid Marion series. You can sense Robinson’s writing chops in the well fleshed-out characters, even the bit parters are memorable and all of the exploits, both heroic, deadly and cruel provide a sense of time and place, despite the BlackAdder-isms. Odysseus himself has more than a hint of Blackadder about him. In his formative years his grandfather tells him, “when the going gets tough you have to be a bit crafty” and the youngster takes this to heart. He’s a manipulator with a hard exterior which bellies a sensitive man just desperate to get back and rule his little island. He is one of the rank and file, too clever to stay in his place, and too bright not to shine amongst the dimness of his generals. But for all his smarts he, like Blackadder himself, is unable to stop himself being swept along by events.
Clocking in at about two and a half hours, the tale is told with brisk confidence and does not slow down, not for a moment. Funny and at times shocking, this would be a lovely way to while away a long car journey with your 10-14 year old. There is a sqequel too, Odysseus – The Journey Through Hell based on Homer’s Odyssey, and the aforementioned Theseus story, so if this floats your boat, you can find more to enjoy.

Audiobook available on Amazon

Tomorrow a look at an adaptation of a book by prolific novelist John Creesey.

Copyright Martin Gregory


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