Turn Left at the Trojan Horse
turn left at the trojan horse: a would-be hero’s American odyssey
by Brad Herzog (Citadel Press, Kensington Books, June 2010)
Brad Herzog’s turn left at the trojan horse: a would-be hero’s American odyssey is a soulful consideration of not only the life journey of one man, but of us all — not just those of us living in the here and now. The mythological characters of ancient Greece walk through the pages of this book like unruly guests at History’s cocktail party. Heroic, yet occasionally obnoxious or unwitting, and at times to be pitied, the travails of these gods and goddesses are always interesting and offer important lessons, attesting to their ability to hold humanity’s collective attention for millennia.
Ancient Greek gods and goddesses climb into Herzog’s consciousness as he drives his RV across the American countryside beginning within sight of Washington state’s Mt. Olympus and concluding at Ithaca, New York, for a college reunion. Via Homer, the Iliad, the Odyssey, and the characters within, Herzog ponders what heroism means. Athena, Zeus, Hercules, Theseus, Pandora, the Cyclops and many more ride along. At times, so do the likes of Daniel Boone, Meriwether Lewis, Chuck Yeager, and Calamity Jane, as well as the occasional firefighter, police officer, rancher and other ordinary or not so ordinary people along the way.
Herzog’s coast to coast journey is not a direct one. He stops along the way for any town with a named tie to the ancient Greeks, or any landmark or business evoking a relationship. Stops include Seattle’s Cyclops Cafe; Athena and Troy Oregon, Iliad, Montana; Lake Itasca, Minnesota; Siren, Wisconsin; and Pandora, Ohio among others. There he explores the town’s or site’s context and history, seeking heroes and the nature of heroism.
His stops also include his own past, and that of ancestors he never knew, seeking if not heroes, heroic actions. He contemplates the very concept of heroism–ranging from the indisputable bravery of someone rushing into a burning building so rescue a child, to the more ambiguous close but not quite Herculean efforts of those like Ray Burkholder, who has been continuously recording weather observations for the National Weather Service since December 1, 1949 in Pandora, Ohio.
Herzog, like most of us, hopes that when a heroic deed needs to be done, he will rise to the occasion, his balding, middling stature, and middle aged presence notwithstanding. It seems that he has never been offered the opportunity, and so very much hopes that he is prepared for it should the need for heroism appear in his path. He considers, and I believe that he truly believes, that the potential for heroism lies within us all, albeit most often unrealized. But, as he asks, if the potential for heroism lies within us all, then are all of us heroes? And if all of us are heroes or potential ones, then are there really no heroes at all?
So climb into Herzog’s RV, and sit between Hera and Zeus and other gods and the bunch of mortals we will inevitably meet, and let’s contemplate the nature of heroism and who might or might not rise to the heroic occasion when encountered or not, and why. And let’s consider our own more mundane efforts on this earth, whether or not they are or might be worthy of the mantle of heroism, and perhaps what the hell we are supposed to be doing in this life, heroic or not.
Reviewed by Robert Leonard
Author of Yellow Cab, 2006, and contributor to Letters to a Young Iowan: Good Sense From the Good Folks of Iowa for Young People Everywhere, 2007, edited by Zachary Michael Jack, and Iowa, The Definitive Collection: Classic and Contemporary Readings By Iowans, About Iowa, Edited with Introduction by Zachary Michael Jack, 2009.