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Bookbed reviews ‘The Mythology Class’ by Arnold Arre

BY CAKE EVANGELISTA

While reading Arnold Arre’s 1999 debut graphic novel The Mythology Class (2000 National Book Award Winner), I couldn’t help but reminisce about the fantastical and magical stories my mom, aunts, uncles and late grandmother used to tell me, my siblings and cousins when we were growing up.

Those bedtime and naptime stories about all sorts of creatures from Philippine folklore sparked my love for reading and literature. And I do wonder if parents nowadays are still telling these tales to their kids, passing on this literary and cultural wealth to future generations. (I hope they do.)

THE STORY

Summoned to a secret gathering one stormy night by the mysterious Mrs. Enkanta, Nicole finds herself face to face with ‘tikbalangs,’ ‘kapres,’ and all sorts of ‘engkantos’—mythical creatures she had only heard about from her grandfather’s stories. Together with newfound friends, she embarks on a quest into the realm of myth and folklore where she fights alongside heroes of her childhood against an age-old terror.

Follow in their footsteps as their adventure takes them through the familiar streets of Metro Manila and into a world more fascinating than they have ever imagined. Get a copy: Nautilus Comics, Chamber Shell Publishing / Check out: Arnold Arre’s website / Read reviews: Goodreads

WHAT I LIKED

First things first, a little clarification: The summary above, which was taken directly from the blurb published on the book’s back cover, is a little misleading.

The story centers on an ensemble cast rather than a singular character. Though much of the book delves into myth student-expert Nicole’s past, the story also explores the other characters’ lives (particularly shy Gina and her secrets, and the volatile relationship between Rey and Misha). Basically, it’s more Scooby-Doo than Buffy in terms of character focus, but more Buffy than Scooby-Doo when it comes to plot.

What I really like about The Mythology Class is that even after almost two decades since it was first published, the story remains fun, fresh, exciting, unique and very, very Filipino. You would think that a book—a graphic novel no less—published in 1999 would seem outdated when read in 2017. But it wasn’t. Even the tech described in the book wouldn’t seem out of place in our current time. (Maybe the fascination with radio would be. I imagine that if set in the present, the Metro Manila middle-class youth of The Mythology Class would be listening to podcasts or watching vlogs instead.)

I was sucked in by the dynamism and detail of Arre’s art and the intricacy of the book’s plot from the get-go. Nothing about this graphic novel—neither the art nor the story—was done halfheartedly or haphazardly. Arre is not just an artist or a writer; he is a story weaver. Each detail, each panel, each dialogue serves a purpose in his story’s tapestry.

Much of what makes The Mythology Class remarkable is its focus on our very own culture. I assume it would have been easier to incorporate Western fantasy into a story like this. That instead of the aswang and the kapre, we could have Nicole and the gang capturing vampires and werewolves. After all, young people fighting monsters isn’t a unique premise. So it is to Arre’s credit that he embraced what is uniquely ours and made it the focus of his masterpiece.

HOWEVER

I hate to nitpick, I really do. But there are little typos that marred my reading experience. These aren’t glaring errors, but they are noticeable. Sometimes they shook me out of my “zone” and I had to close the book, take a breath and command my brain to get back into the story.

What also raised an eyebrow was (Spoiler alert! Highlight succeeding text to read.) one character’s never-ending fat-shaming of another character. The relationship between these two—their hate-love dynamic—was even funny at times, and there were reasons they acted the way they did. And yes, I understand. Fictional characters aren’t supposed to be 100% noble and nice. Perfection is boring. Flaws are a must for a story to be grounded, relatable and interesting. But it was just exhausting to see and read how relentless the male character was in insulting the female character’s weight.

Finally, maybe this is just wishful thinking on my part, but I wish Arre would have explained more the history of mythical heroes who guided the group in their quest. I would even appreciate a few pages of back matter that would explain the legends surrounding these characters (and even the folklore that became Arre’s reference for the creatures featured in the book).

tl;dr

The Mythology Class is a must read for anyone who loves fantasy, adventure and the good ol’ tale of good-versus-evil.

Anyone who loves Philippine folklore would enjoy Arre’s fantastical and visually mesmerizing story about a motley crew of university students with unique skills and talents who gets caught up in an ancient quest to capture all sorts of magical creatures in urban Metro Manila. Aside from the fantasy elements, there’s also comedy, a whole lot of action and even romance! (Oh, the romance!)

More than anything, The Mythology Class is a groundbreaking, genre-defying literary and artistic work that should be considered a modern classic. Read it! It’s great! 

Awesome News Alert! Arre announced last June that there is a sequel, The Children of Bathala, in the works. Plus, it was also officially announced last week that The Mythology Class is going to be adapted into a live action film(!!!!), with Jerrold Tarog (director of Heneral Luna) at the helm!

Bookbed received a physical copy of this book from Chamber Shell Publishing in exchange for an honest review.
Add this to your #BookbedReadsPHLit challenge or #BuwanNgMgaAkdangPinoy reads!
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