Sunday, September 26, 2010

Book Review: 300

300 puts the "graphic" in the term "graphic novel."  This book, published by Dark Horse (1999), is Frank Miller's and Lynn Varley's artistic rendering of the Battle of Thermopylae, fought between the city-states of Greece and the Persian Empire, sometime in August or September, 480 B.C.

Let's start off with 300's shortfalls.  First, Spartan hoplites dressed like this...

...and not, um, (un)dressed like this:

Nor was the pass at Thermopylae held by a mere 300 Spartan hoplites, but by several thousand allied soldiers as well.  There is no record that the traitor, Ephialtes, was a hunchback, or even a Spartan for that matter. 

And speaking of appearances:  The Persian king Xerxes, was not an effeminate and bejewelled giant, nor were his elite troops, the Immortals, the type warriors to march out of the Black Gates of Mordor.

In fact, from an historical perspective, even Wikipedia provides better information on this famous battle than the graphic novel:

But the quest for historical truth wasn't the reason why I bought 300.  I love the stark and edgy imagery used by the authors to depict the brutality of hand-to-hand combat.  Despite all these historical inaccuracies, the authors retained the core of this epic story:  A desperate holding action by a few against a vast army. 

For these reasons--and that I only paid $8 for the novel at a used book store--I'm giving 300, a five star rating.

300 has been around for nearly a dozen years--leaving plenty of time for readers to vent about it.  There are 240 reviews on's website, most of which are overwhelmingly positive--143 x 5-star ratings and 43 x 4-stars.  The 29 x 1-star raters really hate this book and recommend Steven Pressfield's Gates of Fire.  While I concur with their recommendation, even this book was hit with 20 x 1-star ratings:

I guess there's no pleasing everybody.

So if you want a book loaded with accurate detail on western civilization's most famous last stand, then look elswhere.  But if you're looking for vivid, gritty and heroic imagery--and you can get a good deal on the book like I did--then 300 will entertain you.

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