Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Classic Connections - King of Ithaka and The Sherlockian

In my last blog I talked about my 2010 revision of What's New in Young Adult Novels? and discussed the three new instructional units that I added. One of my favorite updated units in the book is entitled "Classic Connections." Many modern YA authors are following the time honored tradition of retelling a classic story in a modern setting (Beastly by Alex Flinn) or incorporating elements of a classic in a modern tale (Saving Juliet by Suzanne Selfors). By having students read and compare the classic and the related modern novel, teachers can expose kids to plots that form the backbone of literature and help them appreciate the clever variations that the modern authors imagine. Two new books which can be added to this lexicon of classic connections are King of Ithaka by Tracy Barrett in which the author recreates the voyage Telemachos takes to find his father Odysseus, and The Sherlockian by Graham Moore which alternates the present day story of a Sherlockian scholar’s death with the story of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Bram Stoker’s investigation of a series of murders in the early 1900s.

If you are looking for classic connections to Greek Mythology, Rick Riordan's Percy Jackson and the Olympians five book series or his new Heroes of Olympus series immediately come to mind. The new series introduces Jason, Piper and Leo, three of the seven demigods mentioned in Rachel’s prophesy in The Last Olympian. These troubled teens are at wilderness school in the Grand Canyon when they encounter evil storm spirits and are transported to Camp Half-Blood. However, if you are looking for a book with deeper mythological connections, you may want to read Tracy Barrett's King of Ithaka, which reimagines Telemachos' quest to find his father Odysseus, King of Ithaka. When the book opens Telemachos has been waiting 16 years for his father to return from the Trojan Wars. His mother, Penelopeia, has been weaving a burial shroud whose completion she is using as an excuse to fend off would-be suitors, who think it's high time she remarries. Telemachos, who is worried about his country's lack of leadership, says, "I knew that Ithaka was falling into ruin and was vulnerable to attack, both from within and from without." He consults an oracle, who prophesies that Ithaka will not have a king until Telemachos searches for Odysseus and returns "to the place that is not, on the day that is not, bearing the thing that is not. On that day the King will return." With his centaur friend, Brax, and Polydora, a female runaway, Telemachos puts aside his fears and sets sail. He travels through dangerous territory from Pylos to Sparta. In a first person narration he tells the tale of his journey during which he meets many famous mythological characters, some who help him and some who deter him in his quest to fulfill the mysterious prophesy.

Based on real life events, The Sherlockian by Graham Moore embellishes the story of the death of a modern Sherlockian scholar, who was to present his finding of a lost Conan Doyle diary at the annual Baker Street Irregulars convention, but died on the eve of his presentation. The fictional Harold White, who has just been inducted into the society when the Sherlockian dies, is hired by a Conan Doyle relative to investigate the death and the whereabouts of the diary . The lost diary chronicles the story of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Bram Stoker’s investigation of a series of murders of young suffragettes. The author alternates his chapters between Harold's story in the present and Conan Doyle and Stoker's investigation in the early 1900s, so the reader can understand why the two would want to suppress the diary. The Sherlockian is arguably an adult crossover book which has some vulgar language and violence. However, any student who is reading Sherlock Holmes stories, will undoubtedly be comfortable with the subject matter and will revel in the backstory of Conan Doyle's period of abandonment of Sherlock Holmes and his dabbling in detective work using Holme's techniques.

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