Tag Archives: Helen of Troy

My big beautiful Greek goddess wedding

Mr. Good Judgement Skills

Whoops!

Literally hundreds of alert readers have pointed out that I really made a boo-boo with that last post, The Judgement of Parrots. Turns out, it should have been The Judgement of Paris! Is my face red!

Maybe I should start over.

The Greek gods were different from regular humans—they were immortal and ruled over parts of the physical or mental/emotional world. Kind of like having a super power. The more you read about Greek gods, the more they sound like characters the Marvel guys Jack Kirby and Stan Lee would’ve invented.

For instance, Zeus ruled over the sky (and the other gods); Poseidon ruled over the seas. Ares was the god of war. Athena was the goddess of wisdom; Aphrodite the goddess of love & beauty.

On the other hand, the gods had the same character flaws that mortal humans do. They weren’t necessarily virtuous. They could be petty and vain and selfish and sometimes interfered in mortals’ affairs to further their own interests.

Homer was a blind poet who wrote epic poems, like the Iliad and the Odyssey. They are stories that are set against the Greeks’ wars with the Trojans around 1200 bc. Troy was a city in Turkey. Homer’s poems tell about historical events and include the Greek gods as characters.

According to the myth, the Trojan War started when the mortal Peleus and his sea-goddess sweetheart Thetis got married and invited all the gods to their wedding. Well, all the gods except Eris, goddess of discord. When Eris showed up at the reception the bouncers kept her out. Eris was ticked off, but she knew how to get back at the other goddesses. She tossed a golden apple marked, “To the Most Beautiful” into the crowd. Three goddesses—Aphrodite, Hera and Athena—each said she deserved the apple and started throwing wedding cake and chairs at each other. Zeus stopped the argument by setting up a beauty contest. Paris (a Trojan shepherd known for his good judgment) would pick the most beautiful. The three goddesses agreed. They weren’t above a little bribery, just to be on the safe side. Hera offered Paris power to rule the world and Athena offered him wisdom. But Paris chose Aphrodite, who offered him the love of Helen, the most beautiful mortal woman in the whole world. The only catch was that Helen was already married to Menelaus, king of the Greek city of Sparta. With Aphrodite’s help, Paris stole Helen away from Sparta. This cheesed off Menelaus and he (with the kings of other Greek cities) declared war on Troy—leading to years of slaughter, destruction and the eventual fall of Troy.

Homer’s poems pick up the story from there.

By the way, does any of this remind you of The Sleeping Beauty—and the evil fairy Maleficent who wasn’t invited to a christening?

Trilemma on 34th Street

C.S. Lewis, the Narnia author and theologian, put forth the argument that logically, Christ must have been divine.  If He weren’t divine, then He was either lying or insane.  Those are our only choices.  If you don’t believe in Christ’s divinity, do you believe one of the other options is true?  Lewis called this the trilemma.

Whether or not you accept the premise, it is thought-provoking.  Is it thought-provoking enough to weave a story around?  I have a few children’s author friends who stop by here—how would they build a plot around Lewis’ argument?

First, you need an Everyman character—someone who could be influenced to believe or not believe.  Add two more characters:  one advocating for belief in His divinity, one against.  Then add Christ Himself to the mix.  Let’s set the story in the here-and-now.

Christ appears on the scene; some people believe in Him, some don’t.  Of those who don’t, some think He’s insane, and subject Him to psychoanalysis, and finally have Him committed.

Christ gets out of the insane asylum, but now He needs to prove He’s not lying—in a court of law.  His lawyer doesn’t actually succeed in proving His divinity—because there never can be such proof—but he does show that so many people do believe that there must be something to it.  That’s the best any of us can do.  That’s the nature of faith.

What a great plot!  Of course it’s the story of Miracle on 34th Street.  Santa Claus (Edmund Gwenn) stands in for Christ; the little girl (Natalie Wood) is Everyman; her mom (Maureen O’Hara who scorches the screen even in black and white) is a militant disbeliever; John Payne is a lawyer who literally advocates for belief in Santa.  Santa is psychoanalyzed, committed, and put on trial.  He’s either insane, lying—or he really is Santa Claus.

What does this have to do with a kids’ book illustration blog?  Well, this is what we kids’ book illustrators do.  Whenever I get a new manuscript to work on, it’s my job to scrutinize the story on more than one level.  Many of the stories I get won’t stand up to too much analysis; they’re meant simply to entertain.  But every story began with the germ of an idea.  If I can discern that original idea by thoroughly analyzing the story, I’ll do a better job of illustrating the book.

On the other end of the spiritual spectrum—believe it or not, I’m currently working on a children’s story that I’m pretty sure is the author’s retelling of Doctor Faustus.  Even if the author didn’t intentionally base her story on Marlowe’s masterpiece, the plot construction is so similar to Faustus that Faustus informs my visual interpretation of it.  No, no devils, no Hieronymus Bosch, but there’s a character in this story who was about to get cut—and I argued for her to stay, since she would be Helen of Troy in Doctor Faustus.  If I hadn’t read the play, I wouldn’t have realized her importance to this new story.