Dissus is a modern boy in a cool pair of long shorts and a tracksuit top, who finds himself in a dream adventure with nine classmates. The ten friends have to fight their way past giants, monsters and sorceresses, including Farmer One-Eye, Circe and the Scylla 2000. One boy after another meets a sticky end.
No, this certainly isn’t a story for babies: Dissus is a modern adaptation of Homer’s Odyssey by Simon van der Geest. The most important theme of this classic work could scarcely be more adult: the grave responsibility that Odysseus carries for getting his men safely home. That’s not a subject you can simply ignore. And Odysseus’ modern-day counterpart finds out that being in charge isn’t all that much fun.
The wanderings of Odysseus are among the most retold stories in history. The Netherlands has also seen the usual retellings for children, mostly in prose that relates the story faithfully, but feels a bit stiff and old-fashioned. The nice thing about Van der Geest’s version is that he doesn’t treat Homer with false respect, but with boyish panache, breathing new life into the tale with his refreshing approach.
Van der Geest tells the story in lively, boyish slang, as though he came up with everything all by himself. Classicists may find it hard to admit, but the book perfectly encapsulates the epic Odyssey.
Van der Geest also makes the wise decision to tell the story in modern free verse. And, as in his other poems, he writes swinging, highly quotable poetry for boys. You can imagine that any teacher with a talent for reading out loud will have no difficulty finding enthusiastic listeners for this story. And that would put Homer right back where he belongs: in lively colloquial speech, rather than in stodgy translators’ prose.
And although this may not often happen with books in translation: Jan Jutte’s powerful illustrations deserve to travel all around the world with Dissus.