The renowned illustrator and graphic designer continues his series of classic adaptations, with diminishing returns.
When Chwast, a very influential stylist in visual communication, published his adaptation of Dante’s Divine Comedy (2010), he set the bar very high, with an irreverent triumph of the imagination that was somehow both true to the spirit of the source material and totally original. The next year’s similar transformation of The Canterbury Tales was less revelatory, and this third in the series fails to fulfill the epic’s promise. It is playful but slight, like a cross between Flash Gordon (complete with space ships and rocket burners) and fractured fairy tales. He concentrates on two set pieces: The hero’s romantic island idyll with Calypso (in her beach chair and bikini) and the repeated efforts by his wife and son to fend off suitors—who multiply alarmingly, like cockroaches. Penelope and Telemachus hope that Odysseus has been long delayed in his return but fear he is dead. Eventually, he does return, in disguise, with help from the gods (and goddesses), and virtue triumphs. Otherwise, the narrative is both skimpy and fast-paced, barely pausing to take a breath for such dramatic staples as the Sirens and Scylla and Charybdis. The artistry (especially the larger scale panels that dominate a page) continues to dazzle, but most of the moral of the story is left to the framing. “The Odyssey is more about what happens after battles end,” explains Homer in the Prologue. “In those days, only men fought in wars. But this story shows how they affected everyone—women too. My story tells you a lot about human nature.” And then, at the end of the tale, his listener realizes, “Getting into trouble and out of it again is really everyone’s story, isn’t it?” And so the universality of the age-old epic asserts itself.
A quick, breezy read through a cornerstone of literary tradition.