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Hades Speaks! by Vicky Alvear Shecter

Hades Speaks!: A Guide to the Underworld by the Greek God of the DeadHades Speaks!: A Guide to the Underworld by the Greek God of the Dead by Vicky Alvear Shecter

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book, beautifully illustrated by J. E. Larson, is nevertheless somewhat disappointing, both historically and because of the rather snarky tone of the narrative. It takes the form of a monologue by Hades, ruler of the Underworld and Judge of the newly dead, Who is escorting a human being down into His realm to show him/her what it comprises and the history of some of the famous humans and demigods that have visited it. The humans, of course, ultimately ended up there in Hades's realm, but the demigods, such as Hercules and Chiron, were often placed among the stars by Zeus, ruler of the Olympian deities, becoming holy constellations.

Hades describes such humans, Gods, demigods, and events in ways that are similar to those given by Hesiod, Homer, Herodotus, other ancient and Classical Greek poets, playwrights, and historians, not to mention critically important modern sources such as Robert Graves (and see also Robert Graves 2). The problem is that He does so in a sort of bitter, stand-up comic, pseudo-American Yiddish way that is not at all faithful to the way in which the Greeks themselves reviewed their Gods and, above all, Hades and His wife and queen, Persephone. Even Shecter's treatment of Their dog, Cerberus, is rather tacky.

At times the book is humorous, but almost by accident -- and not always for the right reasons. And throughout the narrative is such that the Classical and ancient Greeks themselves would either have doubled over in hysterical laughter at it or gone on the warpath against the author (the illustrator, J. E. Larson, however, would have received garlands and great appreciation from the Greeks, for the book's illustrations are sublime black-and-white renditions of Hades and Persephone, Their realm, and the monsters, demons, and others who share it with them -- contrasted with the narrative, those splendid illustrations seem to be in bad company).

At times I am reminded of that all-time Disney animated horror, Hercules, which trivialized Hercules' accomplishments, danced around the question of his parentage (i.e., in the film, Hera, rather than the mortal Alcmene, was Hercules's mother), and made the whole thing into a rather confusing and, at times, stupid musical rather than the Greek tragedy that was Hercules' life. Also, the film-makers presented Hades as a crude and ugly caricature of the Judeochristian Satan, which Hades, resembling his Gothic counterpart, Batman, both handsome and a just judge and not a perpetrator of evil, most certainly was not. In fact, in the entire film, the only accurate elements were that Hercules' father was Zeus, King of the Gods, and a Centaur that turned up as a villain. The Centaur was exactly like the overwhelming majority of Greek Centaurs -- vicious, dangerous, cruel, barbaric, ugly, stupid, and totally uncivilized. Only a handful of them, such as Chiron, were benign, learned, and gracious. The rest were nightmares on hooves, and the Centaur in Hercules was exactly that.

The book's narrative is fascinating, though. Inaccurate as it may be, it does present the Underworld is much the same way that the Greeks believed it to be, populated with monsters and demons very much part of the original myths about Hades. The story it tells, whatever its flaws, is still enchanting -- in the somewhat crude words of a friend of mine, it "gives good story." And its illustrations are worth the price of the book and then some, Gothic art at its best. At $13.42 for the hardback edition and $6.15 on Kindle, it's very much worth the price. (But please, please, PLEASE put out some doggie treats for Cerberus and gifts for Hades and His wife if you do read it, especially if you buy it.)

I give this one 4 stars.

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