Ther are three main types of modern myth, and by ‘modern’ I mean ‘3000 years old’. In one type the main character hangs around home base (e.g. an island). This type of myth is known as a Robinsonnade. Another much newer type is the so-called Female Myth, in which the main character (of any gender) thinks and feels their way through a problem.
But by far the most popular mythic structure is the Odyssean plot type, in which a main character (hero) leaves home, goes on a journey, meets friends and foes along the way, has a massive battle with someone or something, learns something about themselves, then either returns home or makes a new one.
So many contemporary stories follow this structure that there is a huge array of stories which we might call ‘Odyssean’.
However, when parents and teachers are looking for ‘children’s fiction based on The Odyssey’, I understand they are looking for something a bit closer to Homer’s epic Greek poem, in which case there are many great options for contemporary young readers. Some of these works are a little harder to come by now, but I’ve included free options as well.
The Percy Jackson series by Rick Riordan is sometimes used as a springboard into the ancient myths. There is an extensive Rick Riordan Wiki at Fandom. See the entry for Odysseus.
THE ODYSSEY BY HOMER, ADAPTED BY MAURICE A. RANDALL (1997)
This is a comic book form of Homer’s The Odyssey. It is freely available at The Internet Archive and can be downloaded as a PDF.
On his harrowing return from the Trojan War, Ulysses tangles with Gods, monsters, mages and beautiful women. But when he reaches home Ulysses won’t find the open-armed welcome he expects. A crowd of killers wait to murder him–and the prize is his wife! “The Odyssey” is a cornerstone of Western literature–and the rollicking tale of a great warrior/trickster.
THE ILIAD AND THE ODYSSEY ADAPTED FROM THE HOMER CLASSICS BY JANE WERNER WATSON, PICTURES BY ALICE AND MARTIN PROVENSEN (1965)
A Giant Golden Book Deluxe edition, these adaptations from the Greek classics of Homer designed for kids. Illustrations by Caldecott winners Alice & Martin Provensen on every page.
This picture book is stunning but unfortunately so difficult to get hold of.
THE ODYSSEY BY GARETH HINDS (2010)
This is a graphic novel.
With bold imagery and an ear tuned to the music of Homer’s epic poem, Gareth Hinds reinterprets the ancient classic as it’s never been told before.
“Gareth Hinds brings THE ODYSSEY to life in a masterful blend of art and storytelling. Vivid and exciting, this graphic novel is a worthy new interpretation of Homer’s epic.”
—Rick Riordan, author of the Percy Jackson & the Olympians series
Fresh from his triumphs in the Trojan War, Odysseus, King of Ithaca, wants nothing more than to return home to his family. Instead, he offends the sea god, Poseidon, who dooms him to years of shipwreck and wandering. Battling man-eating monsters, violent storms, and the supernatural seductions of sirens and sorceresses, Odysseus will need all his strength and cunning—and a little help from Mount Olympus—to make his way home and seize his kingdom from the schemers who seek to wed his queen and usurp his throne. Award-winning graphic artist Gareth Hinds masterfully reinterprets a story of heroism, adventure, and high action that has been told and retold for more than 2,500 years—though never quite like this.
THE ODYSSEY RETOLD BY GERALDINE MCCAUGHREAN
Anything by this author is going to be high quality.
After ten years of war, Odysseus turns his back on Troy and sets sail for home. But his voyage takes another ten years and he must face many dangers — including Polyphemus the greedy one-eyed giant, Scylla the six-headed sea monster and even the wrath of the gods themselves — before he is reunited with his wife and son.
WHO LET THE GODS OUT? #3: BEYOND THE ODYSSEY BY MAZ EVANS (2018)
Elliot’s life is spiralling out of control. He’s been suspended from school, his ex-convict dad is useless around the house and his mum’s health is worsening. What’s more, the gods are determined to forge on with the quest for the third chaos stone. An unlikely, hilarious and heart-warming odyssey begins. But Elliot has heard of a mythical potion rumoured to cure all ills – can he save his mum, even if it means sacrificing the fate of the world?
HOMER’S ILIAD AND ODYSSEY RETOLD BY GILLIAN CROSS ILLUSTRATED BY NEIL PACKER (2012)
A bold re-envisioning of The Odyssey, told with simplicity and style — perfect for fans of graphic retellings and mythology enthusiasts alike.
Odysseus faces storm and shipwreck, a terrifying man-eating Cyclops, the alluring but deadly Sirens, and the fury of the sea-god Poseidon as he makes his ten-year journey home from the Trojan War. While Odysseus struggles to make it home, his wife, Penelope, fights a different kind of battle as her palace is invaded by forceful, greedy men who tell her that Odysseus is dead and she must choose a new husband. Will Odysseus reach her in time? Homer’s epic, age-old story is powerfully told by Carnegie Medalist Gillian Cross and stunningly illustrated by rising talent Neil Packer.
THE ODYSSEY: A DRAMATIC RETELLING OF HOMER’S EPIC BY SIMON ARMITAGE (2004)
This is sometimes used for Year 7s. Others may be able to get their hands on the BBC dramatisation, split into 3 parts, each an hour and a half long. It was broadcast back in 2004, and the book came out as a companion.
In this new verse adaptation, originally commissioned for BBC radio, Simon Armitage has recast Homer’s epic as a series of bristling dramatic dialogues: between gods and men; between no-nonsense Captain Odysseus and his unruly, lotus-eating, homesick companions; and between subtle Odysseus (wiliest hero of antiquity) and a range of shape-shifting adversaries—Calypso, Circe, the Sirens, the Cyclops—as he and his men are “pinballed between islands” of adversity. One of the most individual voices of his generation, Armitage revitalizes our sense of the Odyssey as oral poetry, as indeed one of the greatest of tall tales.
CHASING ODYSSEUS BY SD GENTIL (HERO TRILOGY #1) (2001)
This revisioning young adult novel written from a different perspective might be good for a capable class.
The main characters of this retelling are a young girl called Hero and her three brothers, raised by the herdsman Agelau.
When their kinsmen are falsely accused of betraying the city to the Greeks, Hero and her brothers set out to reveal the truth. In order to do so they must seek out Odysseus and find a way to make him admit the herdsmen’s innocence.
USBORNE ILLUSTRATED ODYSSEY BY ANNA MILBOURNE, ILLUSTRATED BY SEBASTIAAN VAN DONINCK (2016)
Usborne publishes a number of Odyssey adaptations. This one is marketed at readers aged 8 and above.
Homer’s classic tale has been vividly retold to delight modern readers. Dramatic illustrations bring to life Odysseus’s encounters at sea, complete with furious gods, bewitching goddesses, terrifying monsters and a man-eating Cyclops.
THE WANDERINGS OF ODYSSEUS BY ROSEMARY SUTCLIFF (1995)
Studied with Year 8s, challenges capable Year 7s.
The long siege is ended. Troy lies in ashes. The black ships of the Greek war-host set sail for home but for King Odysseus of Ithaca, the return voyage holds hazards far greater than any he faced in the Trojan War.
For this dramatic sequel to Black Ships Before Troy, Rosemary Sutcliff has transformed Homer’s magnificent but complex epic poem The Odyssey into an enthralling traveler’s tale, with a spectacular cast of men, magicians and monsters. Alan Lee evokes a golden age of mythical Greece in his portrayal of the greatest voyage of all time.
ITHAKA BY ADELE GERAS (2005)
Many years have passed since the end of the Trojan War, and Penelope is still waiting for her husband, Odysseus, to return home. The city of Ithaka is overrun with uncouth suitors from the surrounding islands who are vying to win Penelope’s hand in marriage, thereby gaining control of the land. When a naked, half-drowned man washes up on the beach, everything changes. . . .
Told through the eyes of Klymene, a young girl who is like a daughter to Penelope–and who longs for more than friendship from the young prince Telemachus–Ithaka captures the quiet strength and patience of a woman’s enduring love for her husband and the ensuing chaos that threatens all as Penelope is pressured to remarry.
GODS AND HEROES OF ANCIENT GREECE BY GUSTAV SCHWAB AND WERNER WILHELM JAEGER (1837)
The second half of this book was all about the adventures of Odysseus.
From fire-stealing Prometheus to scene-stealing Helen of Troy, from Jason and his golden fleece to Oedipus and his mother, this collection of classic tales from Greek mythology demonstrates the inexhaustible vitality of a timeless cultural legacy.
Here are Icarus flying too close to the sun, mighty Hercules, Achilles and that darn heel, the Trojans and their wooden horse, brave Perseus and beautiful Andromeda, wandering Odysseus and steadfast Penelope. Their stories and the stories of the powerful gods and goddesses who punish and reward, who fall in love with and are enraged by the humans they have created, are set forth simply but movingly, in language that retains the power and drama of the original works by Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides, and Homer. In Gustav Schwab’s masterful retelling, they are made accessible to readers of all ages.
Part of the Pantheon Fairy Tale and Folklore Library
SHADOW OF THE MINOTAUR BY ALAN GIBBONS (2000)
This is a novel about a boy, Phoenix, the son of a computer geek who creates a virtual reality game that gets a bit too real.
Phoenix becomes Theseus pursued by the Minotaur, becomes Perseus and confronts the Gorgon, and goes down into the underworld.
THE PENELOPIAD BY MARGARET ATWOOD (CANONGATE’S THE MYTHS #2 ) (2005)
A novel aimed at adults, this book is nonetheless written in relatively simple prose.
Now that all the others have run out of air, it’s my turn to do a little story-making.
In Homer’s account in The Odyssey, Penelope—wife of Odysseus and cousin of the beautiful Helen of Troy—is portrayed as the quintessential faithful wife, her story a salutary lesson through the ages. Left alone for twenty years when Odysseus goes off to fight in the Trojan War after the abduction of Helen, Penelope manages, in the face of scandalous rumors, to maintain the kingdom of Ithaca, bring up her wayward son, and keep over a hundred suitors at bay, simultaneously. When Odysseus finally comes home after enduring hardships, overcoming monsters, and sleeping with goddesses, he kills her suitors and—curiously—twelve of her maids.
In a splendid contemporary twist to the ancient story, Margaret Atwood has chosen to give the telling of it to Penelope and to her twelve hanged maids, asking: “What led to the hanging of the maids, and what was Penelope really up to?” In Atwood’s dazzling, playful retelling, the story becomes as wise and compassionate as it is haunting, and as wildly entertaining as it is disturbing. With wit and verve, drawing on the story-telling and poetic talent for which she herself is renowned, she gives Penelope new life and reality—and sets out to provide an answer to an ancient mystery.
Header illustration: William Russell Flint Rendered Into English Prose by S.H. Butcher & Andrew Lang, The Odyssey of Homer 1924