The Myth Quest series from Hachette aims at retelling mythological stories to children. We are going through a period where there is a sudden increase in mythology- many of the best sellers today are either modern retelling or inspired works. The only problem Hachette has though is that mythology for children is synonymous with one name- Amar Chitra Kathas.
Narashima is an avatara of Vishnu, fierce and angry, born to fulfil a prophecy. He is half a man, half a lion, strong and capable of killing the demon Hiranyakashipu who has taken a boon from Brahma such that he is almost invincible. Vishnu, the preserver is born as Narashima to maintain the balance of the universe by killing the Asura and restoring the position of the lazy Devas.
Uchchaishravas is the king of horses, one among the many fantastic creatures to emerge from the churning of the sea to retrieve the nectar of immorality. The horse is the pride of Indra, the king Gods. The book recounts the emergence of Uchchaishravas from the sea and stories of its admirers.
Sheshanaga is the divine snake with a hundred heads. He protects Vishnu and is said to be born along with him in various avatars to protect the lord of the universe. The book follows the birth of Adishesha and his various avatars as Vishnu descends upon Earth to destroy evil.
The books are well researched, picking stories from various sources to build out a background first and later explain the basis of the story. The writing by Anu Kumar is simple and thought has gone into the structure of the books. There are illustrations to help narrate the story, but disappointingly in black and white.
The issue though is that the books are too text book like. What Amar Chitra Katha does is take stories and make them memorable. Whereas with Myth Quest, one wonders if one is reading a Grade two text book or a retelling of a story. The illustrations fall flat by adding very little to the overall story. It is nice to see a publisher make an effort to bring mythology to kids- but more thought is needed in the design aspect, especially when you are trying to redo what has already been done and pretty well at that.
A decided aspect for parents to pick up mythology would be to get the kids reading about fantastic Gods, demons and creatures and learn about their culture. Mythology is about the supercilious novelty, which tries to tell children about traditional values and give a peek into a culture. The series does retain the basis of a good mythology retelling but fails at inspiring and painting vivid images of the subjects.
The books expect the involvement of adults- children would need concepts like ‘patala’ , ‘vaikunta’ etc explained without proper illustrations to act as markers in understanding. . If parents intend their children to read a proper book instead of a more graphical form, the books are a good choice. However the series does need more to be done if it is to make an impact.
By Vishesh Unni Raghunathan
Retold: Anu Kumar
Illustrator: Maya Magical Studios
Price: Rs. 99.00
Publisher: Hachette India, 2011
Subject category: Mythology/Series
Age group: 6+