Donna Jo Napoli is famous for her retellings of fairytales; from Rapunzel (Zel), Rumplestiltskin (Spinners) and Hansel and Gretel (The Magic Circle), but she’s also done a couple of Greek myths as well: Sirena, and this, The Great God Pan. Taking inspiration from two mythological mysteries: the fate of Iphigenia (the king’s daughter sacrificed in order to ensure safe passage to Troy) and the goat-legged god Pan (of whom Plutarch wrote: “the great god Pan is dead!”), Napoli attempts to fill in the gaps in the stories.
Here Pan is presented as an innocent and carefree young god, who adores his father Hermes but whose mother is a mystery. He is happy roaming the countryside and sporadically spending time with the gods, till his life changes forever. He meets the young princess Iphigenia and cannot seem to get her out of his mind — especially when he begins to hear foreboding prophesies about her.
Napoli weaves in other myths, giving them her own personal touch: the story of the nymph Syrinx and the origins of the syrinx instrument, the death of the healer Asclepius and of Orion, and the musical tournament between Pan and Apollo. Told in rich descriptive language, Napoli tells a bittersweet tale about these two individuals, which fits in well with her established canon of retold tales.
The Great God Pan is a little forgettable, and not as good as some of her other books, but is an interesting enough read for a rainy day and a particularly good book for those wanting to read up on their Greek mythology. Napoli tells a sympathetic story without taking away the inherent darkness and mischievousness found in many of the tales (something that other authors often do), and — as was her goal — fleshes out the lives of both Pan and Iphigenia.