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Jason and the Argonauts (Myths and Legends) Paperback – March 19, 2013
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“...outstanding visual, literary coverage that [does] more than retell a legned...” ―James A. Cox, The Midwest Book Review (June 2013)
About the Author
Neil Smith is a freelance writer living in Virginia He earned his undergraduate degree in Classics and Medieval History from the University of Edinburgh, Scotland, in 1996, then moved to the United States where he studied for his Master's Degree in History at the University of Georgia. After working in student-advising for six years, Neil left to pursue his PhD in History. He achieved that goal in March 2011. Along the way, Neil has written business school case studies and has over 65 wargaming articles to his credit. The author lives in Virginia.
Top customer reviews
This book was east to read and, in many places, gave alternative accounts via differing sources. Very well illustrated.
The introduction is a very brief (one and a half pages) essay placing the story in historical context in terms of when it is assumed to be set, gives a little information on the two authors mostly credited for the versions of the story as we now think of it (Apollonius of Rhodes in the 3rd century B.C. and Gaius Valerius Flaccus in the 1st century A.D.) and on which this tale is mostly based. Finally, it mentions the tale's connection to other adventures, such as the Arthurian cycle and Tolkien's LORD OF THE RINGS. The rest of the text, about 70 pages or so, is the tale itself, enhanced by illustrations and brief sidebar excursions into areas of interest.
As mentioned, we get much more detail regarding Jason's adventures than usual, and my guess is that most readers will be pleasantly surprised by the number of adventures Jason and the Argonauts encounter, as well as how varied their exploits are, including navigating ocean dangers, fighting off harpies and giants, facing armies, and dealing also with the more mundane dangers of the world -- wild boars, poisonous snakes, and the like. Those who have seen either the famed Harryhausen movie version or the less-famed made-for-TV one might recognize more of the adventures, but as both movies truncated the story and took creative liberties, Jason's journey should still seem fresh. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the prose, which is always serviceable but never more than that. It's a step above mere summary, but not much of a step, feeling like a student's report for school, and one wishes for more originality and energy throughout.
The illustrations, however, go a good way toward making up for the text's shortfalls. Peña's artwork is powerfully evocative in full-color (including several full-spreads) and those not in color are also quite well done if lacking the same impact. Other illustrations pepper the tale -- reproductions of classic paintings, stills from the two movie versions, Greek urn art -- and serve to inform the reader, enhance the story, and heighten the energy level.
The story is also fleshed out with a few brief sidebars: Bronze Age ships, Bronze Age warfare, movie versions of the legend, a quick explanation of the origin of the Golden Fleece, a crew list of the Argo, and a few maps. The sections are concise yet informative and often interesting in their own right, and the same can be said of some of the longer illustration captions. Finally, at the end of the text is a selected bibliography.
To be honest, I was somewhat disappointed in Jason and the Argonauts, due solely to Smith's flat retelling, which ably and concisely summarizes and that's about it. Peña's illustrations though, along with the sidebar information, save the book from the prose, salvaging what would have been a failed opportunity in solely textual form and making Jason and the Argonauts a worthwhile if unexciting read. I'd call it "informative" and "complete" more than exciting or entertaining. Something you might read or give to a student in tandem with a more energetic and creative storyteller-like retelling. Since other works in the series are handled by different authors, I'll be interested to see if they take the same tack.
They hit the mark. Osprey already had a few books dedicated to areas that weren't entirely History or military history, but I believe this is their first series focusing on mythological and fantasy themes.
Neil Smith manages to take the Argonauts tale in a way I've never seen before. When you study mythology you may find academic volumes about them or narrative ones. Smith made a syncretism effort and managed to fuse both views. He retells the legend of Jason and the Argonauts using the most famous version, but he also provides background, boxes with information on certain aspects of history (like ships, weapons, etc.) or other versions of the legend.
This story is the archetypical quest tale. A group of heroes with distinct characteristics join together for a worthwhile purpose and for glory. This group includes Herakles, Castor, Polydeuces, Atalanta, Argus, Idmon, Ancaeus, the fathers of the main Trojan War heroes (like Telamon, father of Ajax; Pelaeus, father of Achilles or Laertes, father of Odysseus), among many others. They face monsters, storms and geographical terrors, and when they reach Colchis they find that their adventure is far from over.
Jason is quite different from other Greek heroes. Although powerful, in most versions of the tale he never defeats personally the obstacles (or he is heavily helped by others). For example Herakles take them out of the Lemnian women and killed the monster of segeum; Polydeuces wins the boxing duel against Amycus; the Boreads drive the harpies away; Amphidamas saves the Argonauts from the birds of Ares; in Colchis, Medea helps Jason giving him the protections and knowledge needed to survive his ordeals. Jason is the leader, not the action hero; and in this aspect the author manages to show the valor and importance of good leadership skills and team management for the ancient Greeks. Of course, if you're acknowledged with this tale, you'll know that there are sacrifices to be made, and human failures will lead to tragic events...all so human.
Finally, a word about the art. No, that's impossible...I must use many words to describe the absolutely stunning illustrations by the Spanish artist José Daniel Cabrera Peña (I believe this is his first work with Osprey, but his paintings in Ancient Warfare magazine are gorgeous); the color plates include: Polydeuces preparing to fight Amycus; Battle against the Harpies; the clashing Rocks; Jason and the fire Bulls; Jason against the earth born men; Jason and Medea take the golden fleece; Talos the bronze man. The line drawings are very good too, and there are some information and pictures of the screen adaptations of this legend.