Many of you may be familiar with the recent "Hydra Review" anti-censorship movement on goodreads, in which deleted reviews are reposted by other reviewers with the image of a hydra. Many of them are posted under Bernard Evslin's book, titled "The Hydra." While I support the aims of the Hydra posters, I couldn't help feeling a little sad for this book, with basically no reviews actually about it.
So, I decided to read it. After all, it's short and I like mythology.
I wasn't expecting too much. Look at that boring cover. "The Monsters of the Mythology Series" -- doesn't that sound like something educational? You know, those made-for-school publications that try to trick you into learning something by dressing it up with somewhat interesting stories?
Well, this is not that. Maybe Evslin pretended it was to get published, or maybe the concept/marketing person was an idiot. Amazon would never make a mistake like this, presenting a book as more boring and educational than it really is. They'd be all "ABDUCTION! RAPE! DANGER! INSTALOVE! HOT PEOPLE!"
The book's not really that, either, but that's closer than the educational-tome-for-young-mythology-enthusiasts model. This isn't as ridiculous as something like "The Goddess Test" where the Greek gods are modern teens with Christian values, but it's not Serious Correct Mythology, either. Needle-headed snow demons? Attack owls? Hercules fighting polar bears? Did the Greeks even KNOW about polar bears?!
Personally, I really prefer my mythology more, um, accurate. But if you don't mind that, this is a pretty good story. Iris, the messenger goddess, has been abducted by the harsh North Wind, who is determined to make her his wife. He is so powerful no one will oppose him, but young Hercules is friends with the nymphs who dye Iris' rainbow so he promises to try to rescue her. (It takes a while to get here, there is lots of background info about the Titans and the war of the wind brothers, possibly accurate.)
I quite liked Evslin's depiction of Hercules. He is neither stupid nor wantonly violent, but so much larger and stronger than everyone else that it is hard for him to not damage things. His energy is so vast and restless that he must run over eight mountains every day and wrestle bears trying to dispel it. But he doesn't hurt the bears. He's basically a nice guy.
Despite his incredible strength he is not invulnerable. He makes careful plans (kind of stupid ones, but he's 15, give him a break) to pass the monsters guarding Boreas' fortress. Which, by the way, is basically the Castle East of the Sun and West of the Moon (Evslin writes about Norse mythology, too). He manages to free Iris and reunites her with her daughter, Iole, who decides to marry Hercules when she grows up. [As far as I can find out from my mythology books and looking online, Iole being the daughter of Iris is totally made up by Evslin.]
Okay, we've almost made it to the Hydra! But not really. Hera is just ranting about how she hates Hercules and wants him dead, and the hydra is mentioned, but first there's a bunch more stuff about Hera causing Hercules to accidentally kill a guy so he can be punished by laboring for King Eurystheus, and Iole cleverly manipulates everything so Hercules gets the Nemean Lion's impenetrable skin first to protect him as he fights the hydra and she is there with the torch to sear the necks and then there is a brief and pointless appearance by the crab that is usually associated with Orion the Hunter but not in Evslin's cosmology apparently, and then we end because Hercules is shy and doesn't kiss while readers are looking.
This is a pretty fun story and has nice pictures. Not illustrations, but reproductions of various artwork, both classical and later. That gets carefully credited, while the mythology gets no citation whatsoever.
Thanks, Hydra Reviewers, for leading me to read this book, which turns out to be 1) pretty good and 2) not much about hydras. This is one of the things I love most about goodreads: semi-strangers directing me to random books I would otherwise never have known about.