- Series: Heroes (Book 4)
- Hardcover: 152 pages
- Publisher: Cricket Books (September 20, 2005)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 9780812627374
- ISBN-13: 978-0812627374
- ASIN: 0812627377
- Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 0.7 x 8.9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 6 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,811,041 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Hercules (Heroes) Hardcover – September 20, 2005
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From School Library Journal
Grade 5-8–Part of a quartet of novellas about mythological Greek heroes, this volume does a creditable job of making Hercules a dimensional character whose struggles against fate and the vindictiveness of the gods arouse readers' sympathy. Despite his strength and considerable cunning, he is powerless to determine the course of his own life. After his stepfather goads him into tasting wine, Hercules kills his family in a drunken stupor. As punishment, he becomes a slave to his wicked cousin, who compels him to perform impossible tasks during his 12 years of servitude. McCaughrean enlivens the familiar story with arresting imagery, as when she writes of Hippolyta, queen of the Amazons, The smell of her oiled and corded hair was strange as the scent of the black orchid. And she lends majesty and pathos to the hero's ultimate fate as part of the night sky: Over the centuries, the constellation would seem to be failing, falling apart, disbanding….But do not be deceived….One day, a million million years from now, the sun's small family of planets will lose itself among the seven stars, and we shall be cradled in Hercules' arms. Such vivid writing will hold the attention of anyone already interested in these ageless legends, and teachers could well ignite students' appetites for the tales by reading passages aloud. A strong addition to the series.–Miriam Lang Budin, Chappaqua Public Library, NY
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The son of Zeus and a mortal woman, Hercules is imbued with supernatural strength even in his infancy. Saddled with the burden of his phenomenal physical strength and his inability to control it, his early life is marked by his jealous stepmother's vendetta against him. After the combined efforts of Hera's vindictiveness and his own drunken rampage result in the deaths of his wife and children, Hercules willingly makes himself a slave to King Eurystheus of Argos in penance.
King Eurystheus orders him on one dangerous mission after another, in what makes up the bulk of the book and later becomes known as the Twelve Labours of Hercules. Most casual readers of Greek mythology will recognizes some of the trials that Hercules goes through: the Nemean Lion, the Erymanthean Boar, the Stamphylian Birds, and of course the many-headed Hydra and the filthy Augean stables, but McCaughrean explores these feats in more detail and explains just how Hercules managed to overpower so many monstrous creatures.
The author also finds room to include side-stories such as Hercules's relationships with his second wife Deianeira, his mentor Chiron the centaur, and his famous meeting with the titan Atlas, who holds the sky up over the earth. Although the story ends with Hercules's long-awaited ascension into the heavens, it concludes on a bittersweet tone in which the author describes the constellation of Hercules and its placement in the sky: "One day, a million years from now, the Sun's small family of planets will loose itself among the seven stars, and we shall be cradled in Hercules's arms. All of Earth's little gods, people, beasts and children will fill that icy emptiness that presently lingers over his heart."
Most young people are familiar with Hercules through either the Kevin Sorbo Hercules The Legendary Journeys - Seasons 1-6 Bundle, or Disney's Hercules (Disney Gold Classic Collection), in which the famous hero appears as a good-hearted, sensitive man who devotes his life to good deeds simply for the sake of it. The reality (or rather, the original versions) portrayed him quite differently. The legendary Hercules was loud, boorish, brutish and rather dense; all the clever ideas that helped him defeat his foes were invariably whispered in Hercules' ears by helpful gods. McCaughrean walks the line between these two extremes. Although this Hercules is certainly not as saintly as his television/movie counterparts, he is still a relatively gentle and simple soul who captures the reader's sympathy.
Although McCaughrean doesn't shy away from his weakness for wine and women and the devastating consequences that follow, Hercules' grief and confusion over his destiny is vividly captured and surprisingly easy to relate to. (Though I suppose that's the whole point of archetypal heroes: to capture the profound dilemmas of human existence in larger-than-life terms). Although Hercules is often helped by the younger gods, he just as often comes up with his own ideas on how to defeat his foes, either through cunning or the appropriate handling of his strength. Ultimately there is a sense of tragedy about him, particularly considering the lost love that he finally finds at the conclusion of the novel.
McCaughrean also creates a wonderful character in the sniveling, cowardly, pathetic King Eurystheus. Comically terrified of Hercules, the king is convinced that his bond-slave is out to get him, leading Hercules to wonder why his temporary master has taken to hiding in a box and directing his orders from there.
Out of McCaughrean's four retellings of Greek myths, "Hercules" is probably the best. Remaining faithful to the myth, whilst writing with her own distinctive voice, softening some of the harsher aspects whilst never pandering to the lowest common denominator, this is a thoughtful, well-told, bittersweet look at one of the world's most famous heroes.