Corydon the shepherd boy is a monster, a mormoluke, with one normal human leg and one goat leg. That’s why he was thrown out of his village, and that’s why he is picked up as a freak in a pirates’ sideshow. There he meets other monsters like him: the Minotaur, the Sphinx, the beautiful, tragic Medusa, and more. With the help of a magic staff, Corydon and the monsters escape from the pirates, but the gods of Olympus are united against Corydon and his friends, and it isn’t long before the greedy and cowardly Perseus is uniting the “heroes” of Greece into an army to wipe out the monsters. Corydon must journey into the Underworld to learn how to use the staff to save his new family, but what exactly does such salvation mean?
I’m beginning to think that there should be a mandatory question asked of writers before they begin to write: Will this book have whimsy, or no whimsy? I’ve seen whimsy shoehorned in awkwardly so many times in the past few years, but Corydon may be the most egregious example yet. Corydon’s side of the story is told with the gravity of Tolkien, while Perseus’s reads more like something out of Douglas Adams. (Note: I’m talking here about tone; while Druitt (actually a joint penname for a mother and her at-the-time-of-this-book’s-writing-nine-year-old son) isn’t bad, s/he’s no J.R.R. or Doug.) On the one hand you’ve got a sober reevaluation of an ancient tale of good versus evil; on the other hand you’ve got a Fractured Fairy Tale. These are not two great tastes that go great together. This is pheasant and Everlasting Gobstoppers.
Corydon is a struggle. It’s steeped in Greek history and mythology; I consider myself a Classics buff, but I was confused by a lot of the details in the book, particularly the mythology surrounding Medusa and her two immortal Gorgon “sisters” (in name only in Corydon). The jumbling of myths and timeframes (many characters refer to historical events that haven’t happened yet, including characters who should have no way of knowing about them), and of course the switch in moral perspective make it hard for a mythology dilettante to sort out what’s what and who’s who, and the use of less-anglicized and thus less well-known versions of characters’ names (Akhilleus instead of Achilles, for example) seems like it would make it even harder for the target age. Many characters are not named at all: Hades appears several times throughout Corydon’s Underworld adventures, but his name is never given, and I was completely at a loss to guess the identity of Medusa’s baby-daddy until the glossary told me it was Poseidon. On top of that, the book grapples rather vaguely with some pretty heady issues about life and death, good and evil, and reincarnation and heaven. All in all, it makes the plot rather hard to follow.
I did like the Perseus bits, especially the entries in the guide to heroes Zeus gives Perseus: “Odysseus: Wants watching. Too sharp by more than half…Akhilleus: Very difficult to manage (NB, said a marginal note, get his mother to stop spoiling him)…Oidipous: no use to anyone.” I liked Kharmides, one of the heroes enlisted to wipe out the monsters, who knows he’s going on a fool’s quest but tags along to keep an eye on his brother, and I enjoyed the message that love, even familial love, is not about perfection, but about seeing all the difficulties and rough edges in the people we love and loving them anyway. And now that I know that the book was written by a mother and son, I especially like that most of the book came down to maternal/filial bonds.
Still, I can’t say much more about the book because I didn’t really understand a lot of it, and I think in this case that’s less a case of me missing the point (which I admit I sometimes do) and more a case of extremely unclear prose. Thus Corydon and the Island of Monsters gets two and a half cupcakes; there was a lot of potential, but it needed some major edits, and I won’t be reading the rest of the trilogy.
Tags: Tobias Druitt