The Hardest Book in the World to Find

There’s a song by the English comedian stroke musician Mitch Benn titled The Hardest Song In The World To Find. Of the song in question there is only one copy left, and that’s stuffed in the wrong sleeve in a second hand record shop on Camden High Street. Although my interest in obscure music records is nil, I can fully sympathise with Mitch Benn’s sentiments because there’s a book that I couldn’t track down, not in thirty years.

The Trojan War

The book in question is called The Trojan War, and it’s a children’s version of, well, the Trojan war: the Iliad and the associated myths. It starts off with the wedding of Peleus and Thetis, so you get all the background before you actually get to the point where it begins to retell the Iliad. It was the book that first set me on the fateful path to Homer and learning Ancient Greek. But all I can remember – or think I can remember – is that it might have had a brown dust jacket. And that it was the one of the most enchanting, interesting stories ever.

You read a book as a child and then you forget all about it until some moment later in life. Then you suddenly recall some episode – very vividly indeed. It’s just you can’t remember the author. Or the title. Or anything very much about it really. Apart from this very vivid episode, clearly.

In my experience this fateful moment in life usually comes around when you’re out to buy books for your children. And there you are standing in the bookshop, where they thoughtfully shelved books alphabetically by the author, desperately trying to recall the author’s name… or at least the title… I mean, have you ever tried asking for the story of the farmer’s son who got carried off by an American Indian tribe, for example?… (I did remember this was read to us in after school club during wet play in Year 4 and a fat lot of good remembering that did to me.)

The Usefulness – or Lack of Usefulness? – of the Internet

A lot changed with the advent of the internet of course. For one thing, you no longer have to brave the despairing looks of the shop-assistants as you present them with a vague book description. Now, since I do actually remember the title, a quick online search presents me with all such books ever published…

There are many. Far too many. In 0.59 seconds the book search on Google offered up 598,000 results, no less. On Amazon, you have to go through 75 pages of book listings… even excluding all variations on the title, that’s too many books. Not to mention that after further excluding all the ones that were clearly meant for adults, I can’t actually figure out which one of the remaining ones is the one. If any of them is…. Apart from no longer having to come face to face with the despairing shop-assistant, maybe the internet didn’t really change things all that much.

The sad truth is that I’m not as dedicated as Mitch Benn.

Eureka! (Alternatives to The Trojan War)

Oh well. It’s too late for The Trojan War anyway: I had to settle for other books for my children. If you’re in need of some good children’s books retelling the Iliad or Greek myths, Black Ships Before Troy by Rosemary Sutcliff and Atticus the Storyteller by Lucy Coats both were loved by the children well enough for us to be willing to lug them around in our backpacks in temperatures over thirty Celsius when we toured Greece…


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