For various reasons, it really, really scares me to do this.
There are two very prominent sides of my nature that are really at war over me making this post. On the one hand, there is a very strong part of me that likes to be heard (read). Otherwise, why on earth would I be a book editor and writer, let alone own a blog? On the other hand, being exposed to the world frightens me in ways I can hardly explain. That's a big reason why I write under pseudonyms (pen names) and blog anonymously: Other people may love the idea of getting public attention, but I really don't like attention, unless it's on my own terms. I really, really don't.
So, why am I posting about this novel? Hell, I dunno. I think it's a way to kick myself in the butt to try to get the next novel finished. I've been sitting on a half-finished sequel for several years now. There's no excuse for it, really.
Anyway, for anyone who's interested, here's the COVER:
AND for anyone who wants some nice, long reviews that AREN'T from Amazon.com (though there are certainly a few of those as well), here you go:
From Kirkus Reviews:
A lifelong student of classical mythology, Houck writes in the author’s note following this fictional autobiography of one of the most human-oriented gods: “Anyone who’s studied Greek mythology knows one of the most fascinating and frustrating things about it is that, for the most part, it isn’t linear.” Likewise, many rousing tales of gods and monsters have come down through the ages in complicated verse. Houck tackles these epic structural challenges head on in this accessible prose narrative of Hermes, messenger of the gods. Though widely known as the god of merchants, Houck brings Hermes’ raft of personal traits and supernatural talents to the fore, making him at once exceptionally human-like and divine. The son of Zeus and Maia, practically from birth Hermes demonstrates his wily and worldly nature in executing whatever feats Zeus asks as he comes to realize his gifts of flight, invisibility and, most uniquely, the ability to sense ghosts. This last attribute leads Hades to dub him Hermes Psychopompos, or herald of the Underworld, giving him the all-important mission of guiding souls to the land of the dead, a responsibility he assumes with gratitude and pride. Hermes’ compassion as a guide wins him devotion among the living, and his telling of his role in the grand adventures of Perseus, the rescue of Dionysus, the birth of Athena, and the conception of Eros, Priapos, Hermaphroditos and Pan, makes him an affable, sympathetic protagonist. The author doesn’t hesitate to take liberties with various storylines and genealogies to drive home, at times, heavy-handed themes of requited love and forgiveness, but in the end he produces a mythic story that coheres.
Three parts autobiography, two parts Greek primer and an engaging read for all ages.
(NOTE: I don't agree with the "for all ages" part. I'm not letting Mighty Mite read it until she's at least 13 years old! Of course, other parents are allowed to make their own judgments.)
From Foreword Magazine:
Adventure, sex, power, drama, and the whole gamut of human emotions – has Hollywood ever fully exploited the richness of Greek mythology? N.F. Houck, a nonfiction book editor and a lover of classical myth, has done so with Herald, an entertaining and instructive fictional autobiography, the first of a planned trilogy.
Houck’s narrator is the Olympian god Hermes, who most recall as almighty Zeus’s bastard son and messenger. Zeus often summoned Hermes to help hide his extra-marital shenanigans from his ever-jealous wife, Hera. Hermes begins this memoir by recalling how he lulled Hera’s spy, Argus, into a sleep so complete that every one of Argus’s many eyes closed, thus killing him. In the book’s final episode, Hermes details what he calls his “greatest accomplishment” at the behest of Zeus. He had long ago saved a fetus, a half-brother who later became known as Dionysos, from the burning body of the princess Semele, another of Zeus’s lovers who was victimized by Hera. With Athena and Apollo, Hermes is asked by Zeus to bring Dionysos, who has grown to become the much-adored patron of wine and unreason, into the council of Olympian gods. Dionysos, having little reason to trust in the family of Zeus and Hera, greets Zeus’s emissaries with the taunt, “So, Wisdom, Wit, and Reason have come to temper the hands of Madness, have they?”
Readers will understand that Hermes was more than a gofer for the God of Thunder. He was a clever and amiable god, a trickster and a mischief-maker. And with an ability to fly, and to see the bodiless souls who wandered the earth, Hermes was the psychopomp, or soul guide, for the dead who did not know their way to the Underworld. In this volume Hermes recalls many of his excursions below, including those involving the goddess Persephone, the lover Orpheus and his ill-fated bride, and the reunion of Dionysos and his mother. Hermes was an independent spirit who spread his seed among goddesses, nymphs, and dryads. Hermes documents his awkward and painful affair with Aphrodite, as he comes to understand why this off-and-on relationship with the goddess of Beauty could not work. And although Hermes swore off love when it came to humans, he tells of his enchantment with the Athenian maiden Herse. This is the most touching part of the memoir, as Hermes reveals the depths of his love as well as his capacity for despair.
Houck illustrates that, as Hermes tells Perseus, “gods and humans are the same except for magic and mortality.” Given his super-human powers and the fact that ichor, not blood, flows in his veins, Hermes is not all that unlike us. By showing a sometimes flawed and suffering being who must discover his place in his world, Houck pulls in and holds readers. At the same time he adds color but stays true to the details of classical mythology.
The gods of the Ancient Greeks hurled thunderbolts, flew [through] the sky, and changed their appearance at will, but they also displayed all-too-human foibles. They had their power struggles, love affairs, and vendettas just like humans, although on a far grander scale. In Herald, author N.F. Houck offers a fictional autobiography of Hermes, the messenger of the gods and a god himself. The result is an engaging adventure that reveals just how human the Greek gods were.
Hermes is a particularly good choice as a subject. His myths are perhaps not as well known as Zeus’s myriad love affairs or Athena and Poseidon’s struggle for Athens, but Hermes plays starring or supporting roles in a great many stories. More importantly, Hermes is easier to relate to than some of the other Olympians. The god of thieves, tricksters, sailors, and messengers, Hermes was known, too, as the god of wit. The wings forged for him by Hephaestos allowed him to travel swiftly on his errands as the gods’ herald.
Houck has strung together and cleaned up a host of often contradictory myths to deliver a sharp, rollicking tale of the life and times of Hermes. Born from Zeus’s liaison with the Titaness Maia, Hermes gets up from his birthing bed and heads out to experience life. He tricks and thieves his way across the world, but his adventures reflect a sense of mischief rather than malice. Of all the gods, Hermes is one who particularly delights [in] the company of people. He is one of the few of the Olympians who can see the shades of the dead, and he takes on the role of psychopomp, leading the confused dead to the underworld.
Greek myths can be confusing to the uninitiated, but Houck does a wonderful job of making them accessible, retelling them in Hermes’s own humorous and mischievous voice. Hermes is an engaging narrator, and while his humor colors most of the book, an occasional episode reminds readers of his mercurial nature. Aphrodite seduces and leaves him in order to have a child, then snares him against his will to have others. His anger and hatred are palpable. His interactions with the dead leave him fearful of becoming involved with a mortal lover, yet his fascination with the mortal priestess Herse is one of the most tender episodes here.
If it is the underlying humanity of the Greek myths that has caused them to resonate so well over thousands of years, then surely Herald will attain its own immortality.
From Reader’s Connection, Indianapolis Marion County Public Library:
Are you in the market for a good psychopomp? I’ll assume that literally speaking, the answer is no. According to Wikipedia (and who would know better?) a psychopomp is a soul-guide, a “spirit, angel, or deity whose responsibility is to escort newly-deceased souls to the afterlife,” and I’m guessing that you’re not reading this blog on your deathbed. I mean, if you are, more power to you; but I’ll assume you’re not.
If you want to read a great psychopomp story, though, N. F. Houck’s novel, Herald, is told from the point of view of Greek god Hermes, who is one of the very few gods who can enter and leave the Underworld at will, and whose uncle, Hades, gives him the job of escorting confused souls to their new home.
From the first event described, the killing of the many-eyed giant Argus, the mischievous god’s version of events differs from others you may have encountered. In Hesiod’s Works and Days, Hermes is identified as the “slayer of Argos,” and Ovid, in his Metamorphoses, describes how Mercury (Hermes’s Roman name) made the slumber deeper:
With movements of the wand, and then he struck
The nodding head just where it joins the shoulder,
Severed it with the curving blade, and sent it
Bloody and rolling over the rocks. So Argus
Lay low, and all the light in all those eyes
Went out forever, a hundred eyes, one darkness.
That’s not how it goes down, when Hermes tells the tale. Yes, he’s responsible for the giant’s death. But there’s no curved blade involved, and he groans whenever he hears himself described as a giant-slayer.
If you read the hymn to Hermes in The Homeric Hymns, by whoever it was who wrote those, you’ll learn that the recently born god of theft and mischief stole Apollo’s cattle. In N. F. Houck’s novel, Hermes admits to the theft. But he has an unexpected (and very practical) motive. He’s not just being driven by his thieving nature.
I’m 200 pages into Herald. I think Houck has done something wonderful, and I hope he delivers on the other two parts of the trilogy that are announced on the book’s back cover. Yes, he’s a local author and an I.U. grad, but that’s not why I’m saying these things.
If you’re uncomfortable with the liberties Houck has taken with Greek myths, you need to remember that every version of this material we have is somebody’s treatment of pre-existent oral tales. In his introduction to his translation, Tales from Ovid, Ted Hughes writes:
Why the world should have so clasped Ovid’s versions of these myths and tales to its bosom is a mystery. As a guide to the historic, original forms of the myths, Ovid is of little use. His attitude to his material is like that of the many later poets who have adapted what he presents. He, too, is an adaptor; he takes up only those tales which catch his fancy, and engages with each one no further than it liberates his own creative zest.
It’s great fun to read Houck’s retelling of stories – Orpheus and Eurydice, for example – and then go back and read, or reread, a version by Ovid or another earlier teller. By sticking to Hermes’s point of view, Houck has created a great new story. My favorite portions so far have to do with our narrator’s relationships with departed souls, his journeys to the underworld, and his relationship (if we can call it that) with its stay-at-home ruler, Hades.
“This book was written because, in all honesty, I couldn’t help myself.” So says Houck in his closing notes:
After thirty-one years of reading everything I could find on Greek mythology– numerous censored and uncensored translations, a myriad of academic notes, and countless psychoanalytical, historical, astrological and astronimical dissections–the ancient tales about Hermes fell into a story pattern in my head that refused to go away until I wrote it down.
I hope that Houck’s creative zest is sustained for years to come.
Yeah -- me, too!