The Wolf-Girl, the Greeks and the Gods: A Tale of the Persian Wars: Combining history and mythology, Tom Holland and Jason Cockcroft have created a beautiful book. By subtitling it a ‘tale’ of the Persian Wars they’ve made their thesis clear. This is a book that takes the well-known stories of the Persian Wars, the battle of Marathon and the much-told story of the Battle of Thermopylae and the 300 and highlights the ways that legends and the legendary combine.
Telling the stories from the perspective of Gorgo, daughter of Cleomenes and wife of Leonidas, provides a different angle on the historical exploits of the Persian Wars. It is through Gorgo and her dying mother’s words that the Spartans learn of their fate as ‘the Persians are coming…’. Gorgo is the ‘wolf-girl’ of the title. Legend has it that she transforms into a wolf and fights the Persians and communicates with the Athenian Bear-girls. As Lampito tells Gorgo of her history, Gorgo tells the readers. Bard-like, Gorgo recounts her Spartan childhood and her connection with the attention paid to her mother’s dying warning.
The illustrations are dark in Cockcroft’s customary style – stylised but detailed. Double page spread images lure you away from the story for a moment and then help the story explode in a visual exploration of the people, places and events of Holland’s prose. Combinations of monochrome and startling pops of colour are both gorgeous and illuminating. They will be revisited often as a way of locating and anchoring the stories.
Holland’s prose drifts in and out of historical recount and imaginative tale. Not always smoothly but without too many interruptions in the experience. Cockcroft’s illustrations are expectedly brilliant. Dark, broody and magical – like the written material. Reading and browsing The Wolf-Girl, the Greeks and the Gods is a journey into the past while staying grounded in lessons to be learnt in the present. Young people will always be fascinated by these stories. It’s why movie makers revisit these legendary battles generation after generation. In this latest in the mythology takes, the history and scholarship ring out while being thoroughly entertaining and enjoyable. A lovely introduction to both the legends and the legendary stories of the Persian Wars.
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