Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Book Review: Judith-Captive to Conqueror, Volume 1

Here is something completely new and interesting. Back in the 1990s, a couple of guys came up with an idea of retelling Bible stories using animated vegetables. The idea was unique. It was clever. And it was a great success--for a while, anyway.

Now, a few young people have decided to take Pope John Paul II at his word and forge a Catholic path into another new medium: manga. For those of you not familiar with this term, it is Japanese shorthand for a "graphic novel" or an extended-length comic-book. But manga is much more than Spider Man or Thor of days gone by. It has a style all its own. The stories tend to be more complex and characters are generally deeper than the stereotypical muscle-bound tragedian in spandex that most older Americans are used to.

I came across Judith: Captive to Conqueror at the Catholic Marketing Network conference and was immediately intrigued. The cover art, in typical manga style, is fantastic and lures you in. Once there, the story picks you up and carries you along. As this is a "graphic novel", it moves very quickly--almost too quickly for someone like me who is accustomed to reading exceedingly long novels. But once you're used to the pacing and the occasional plot elements that are suggested more by the art than by the writing, this book flies by. I read it in under an hour.

What's more, this is a great way to introduce your kids to biblical heroes and heroines. I found my 8-year-old son, who is not the best reader in the world, plowing through this book after I left it on the dining room table. Did I mention that manga and the larger world of anime, is as popular among modern tweens and teens as the old-fashioned comic books were in the 1950s?

Simply, Judith is the story of the Book of Judith from sacred Scripture. More properly, it is the first part of the book. Volume 1 ends just as Judith is leaving the city of Bethulia on her mission to the camp of the Assyrian general, Holofernes. On the whole, the story remains faithful to the biblical account. Additional characters and scenes are added but these in no way detract from the original and are meant to enhance the story and increase the reader's sympathy for the protagonists and odium for the evil-doers.

Works like this one which take liberties with Scripture walk a fine line. The worst of them pervert scripture and make biblical figures into grotesque modern parodies. The best of them offer a new perspective on biblical accounts and make the reader want to re-read the original with fresh eyes. I'm happy to say that Judith: Captive to Conqueror is of the latter variety.

And in case you're curious, the answer is yes--I did go back and re-read the Book of Judith after reading this book. So if that was the authors' intention, mission accomplished!

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