[Chris Oakley's home page]
This is an epic journey that for me, at least, can be traced back to when I first discovered Bored of the Rings by Henry Beard and Douglas Kenney in 1977. This is still the funniest book I have ever read, and goes well beyond a mere parody of Tolkien's epic masterpiece. It is a lot shorter than the original. On the other hand, the challenge of providing racy and entertaining accounts of the Greek myths, given the brevity of the originals, was the opposite: making the stories longer by inventing details, a process I like to think of as "colouring in". Unlike Bored of the Rings, this was not parody: it was interpolation. One principle, at least, we were not going to follow, summarised by words I have put into the mouth of Dionysus in the appendix of the book I wrote about him:
"Why is it that when anyone makes a movie about the ancient world they have to have everyone speaking about Nobility, Eternity and Honour in BBC English accents? People said stupid, trivial bullshit in regional accents just as much then as they do now!"
So, whatever else, don't expect to have people talking about Nobility, Eternity and Honour in BBC English accents, especially as — assuming that they ever existed in the first place — they never spoke English anyway.
I was fortunate in finding a genuine classics scholar — Gregory Klyve — as a collaborator. Despite exceeding every possible time limit, Gregory did eventually obtain a doctoral degree in Classics from the University of Oxford in 1995. The title of his thesis was: A commentary on Rhesus 1-526, with an introduction. The author of Rhesus (a Greek play) was thought to be Euripides, but Gregory argues against this, a view which has gained a degree of acceptance in the classical community. Since then he has written a book on Latin grammar and been Head of Classics at two public [= private in U.S. terminology] schools in England. He now teaches at a tutorial college in Cambridge. Gregory's enthusiasm for his subject is clearly infectious: his poor, unfortunate, overworked students have more often than not obtained spectacular results.
We worked out the outline of The Legend of Perseus while conducting a tour of a number of public houses in North Oxford very early in 1988. In this regard, it is interesting to read Beard and Kenney's description of a part of their creative process in the prologue to Bored of the Rings:
"Spring found us with decayed teeth and several pounds of foolscap covered with inky, illegible scrawls. A quick rereading proved it to be a surprisingly brilliant satire on Tolkien's linguistic and mythic structures, filled with little takeoffs on his use of Norse tales and wicked phoneme fricatives."
In our case, though, the only thing that was surprising was that the first book ever got completed at all. The fricatives mostly came from me when keying our efforts into the Harwell computer and trying to decode Gregory's handwriting. Two books are now completed, but we also plan to sink our (also decaying) teeth into, at the very least, Heracles, Jason and the Argonauts and the Trojan Wars:
Not by us, but well worthy of mention is this: Leda an' de swan which, charmingly, sets the myth in a modern Dublin inner-city context.