Classics–whether they are novels, plays, or epics–offer us great characters, interesting plots, and lots of things for discussion … but sometimes they can be a little tough to tackle. Sometimes we adore them, but sometimes we can’t get past page 3, let alone the requisite 50. That doesn’t mean that we should give up what they have to offer, though, does it? Many of today’s authors try to use these classic works as a starting-off point to write a more modern version. If done well, these contemporary versions can have a huge impact and impart the same wisdom that made the earlier story gain its classic status. Jessica Pryde and I decided to find and examine some great pairs of classics and their contemporary rewrites to see if they are successful … or maybe not.
The Classic: Homer’s The Iliad
The Iliad and its follow-up, The Odyssey, are epic poems that are known worldwide and have been reshaped into new stories, turned into mini-series and even filmed as full-length movies more times than I could easily recount here. Though scholars are still unsure as to whether or not these tales were written by one single man, credit is given to the Greek bard Homer, who lived sometime in the late eighth and early seventh centuries BCE. Though composed during Homer’s lifetime, The Iliad is set during the Bronze Age of Mycenaean Greece, around the twelfth century BCE. Within the Trojan War’s final cataclysmic year, the Greeks and Trojans unleash a plague, dream portents, duels, assassinations, and trickery upon one another. Desperate members of each side attempt victory through seduction, divine intervention, and deception. As the Greek King, Agamemnon, and Troy’s Princes, Hector and Paris, clash, death and destruction follow on both sides.
While there is no doubt that a lot of exciting battles and betrayals happen in The Iliad, sometimes actually understanding the historic events can be something of a chore. We’ve all heard friends, classmates, and even strangers complain about the difficulty of reading Shakespeare … I challenge these readers to tackle older translations of Homer’s epic poems! With over twenty-five centuries between our cultures, understanding Homer’s storytelling style can be quite arduous. Even some modern day translations can come across as dry, rather than reaching their full potential and captivating bloodthirsty audiences.
The Contemporary: Shana Norris’s Troy High
Shana Norris takes Homer’s The Iliad and gives it a truly modern day twist. When town lines are redrawn, “Spartan” students are forced to transfer to Troy High. Everyone watches with heightened anticipation as head cheerleader, Elena, switches schools. Our narrator, Cassie, finds herself observing in apt fascination as Elena swans into her life and starts dating Cassie’s brother, Perry. Further complicating Cassie’s life, Elena’s ex-boyfriend, Lucas Mennon, decides that Perry has stolen Elena and incites a prank war between the schools. Cassie and Greg–her best friend/crush and coincidentally Lucas’ younger brother–attempt to keep the peace between factions, but as the year passes and the two schools’ football teams compete for a championship, the pranks and on-field battles become more elaborate and potentially dangerous. It will come as no surprise to those familiar with the original story that injuries ensue, though thankfully Norris shies away from any actual deaths.
With a more lighthearted touch, and the hope of a romance for our poor, doomed narrator Cassie, Norris creates a modern day version of The Iliad that can be read by those familiar with the original or those without a clue to its origins. While containing characters and elements of Homer’s story, Troy High succeeds well on its own merits. It is a romp of a high school rivalry with a surprise happy ending. While I cannot recommend this if you were looking for an easy way to learn the plotline of The Iliad, I can say that readers should be pleased with this blithely entertaining version of the world-reknowned war story.
For earlier posts about updated classics, check out Jessica Pryde’s From Classic to Contemporary: Lysistrata into Shut Out or have a look at Sharon’s Alternatives to the Classics.
Have more classics and their contemporary updates that you’d like us to compare and contrast? Let us know in the comments!
— Jessica Miller, currently reading Insurgent by Veronica Roth and 172 Hours on the Moon by Johan Harstad
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