Starfall: Phaeton and the Chariot of the Sun by Michael Cadnum, NOOK Book (eBook) | Barnes & Noble
Starfall: Phaeton and the Chariot of the Sun

Starfall: Phaeton and the Chariot of the Sun

by Michael Cadnum

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A child of the sun seeks his father—and risks destruction for the thrill of speed

In the grazing fields outside the village, a griffin swoops from the sky to attack a lamb. To save the innocent creature, a boy called Phaeton hurls rocks at the assailant, taunting it to come after him instead. As the mythical beast charges, Phaeton turns and runs.


A child of the sun seeks his father—and risks destruction for the thrill of speed

In the grazing fields outside the village, a griffin swoops from the sky to attack a lamb. To save the innocent creature, a boy called Phaeton hurls rocks at the assailant, taunting it to come after him instead. As the mythical beast charges, Phaeton turns and runs. The griffin is quick, but it cannot catch Phaeton. He is the fastest boy in the world, and he believes there is nothing he cannot outrun.
Phaeton is a child of Apollo, god of the sun. When he learns the nature of his birth, this proud young man embarks on an epic journey to challenge his father and claim his birthright. But even though his heritage is divine, Phaeton is only human. When he comes face-to-face with the might of the gods, he will learn that mortals are not meant to soar so high.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Cadnum (In a Dark Wood) once again displays his expertise as a storyteller as he refashions sections of Ovid's Metamorphoses into a trilogy of enchanting tales. In this first of three volumes planned, he relates the story of 15-year-old Phaeton, Apollo's half-mortal son, whose brazen request to drive his father's chariot across the sky inevitably leads to disaster for the world and his own untimely death. Throughout the story, the author takes care to preserve the spirit of the original text. He clearly defines the characters' flaws (Apollo's fatherly pride and rashness, Phaeton's overconfidence) and conjures images of Apollo's temple ("Columns rose up from the darkness, glowing gold and other precious metals pulsing with the subdued but tireless sunlight secreted within") and the god's powerful steeds ("The air shook as horses struck sparks with their hooves, nickered and thundered, eager to fly") that reflect the splendor evoked in Ovid's descriptions. Readers will feel Phaeton's trepidation as he journeys to meet his father for the first time, and they will understand the hero's mixture of excitement and dread as he loses control of the horses. While some poetic elements may be lost in translation, Cadnum compensates by humanizing classical figures and transforming lofty language into accessible, lyrical prose; he may well prompt enthusiasts to seek the original source. Ages 9-14. (Sept.) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Cadnum, author of a number of notable historical novels and other fiction for YAs, turns to mythology here in the first of a trilogy of retold classic legends from Ovid's Metamorphoses. A fleet-footed youth named Phaeton is told by his mother that he is the son of the powerful sun god Apollo. He embarks on a dangerous journey to the gates of dawn to find his divine father, encountering a water nymph, centaurs, and the god Mercury along the way. When Phaeton arrives at Apollo's temple, the god promises to grant his son any favor, and Phaeton rashly asks to drive Apollo's great chariot across the heavens for a day. Worldwide catastrophe ensues, vividly described by Cadnum, and in the end Phaeton goes down in flames—and is transformed into the wind. This brief, accessible, and dramatic retelling of the Roman myth will be appreciated in Latin and English classes as well as for recreational reading. KLIATT Codes: JS—Recommended for junior and senior high school students. 2004, Scholastic, Orchard Books, 128p., Ages 12 to 18.
—Paula Rohrlick
Children's Literature
Cadnum's retelling of this ancient myth is full of love, light, and bitter grief. Young Phaeton, warm and impulsive, is haunted by a shadow of inferiority. He is desperate to know if he is indeed the son of Apollo, as his mother, Clymene, has implied. He leaves his mortal home with her blessing and travels to the edge of the world, seeking the lord of light. When Phaeton finds him, Apollo is "moved nearly beyond speech in his fatherly affection" and offers his son anything in the world he might want. Phaeton, desiring to prove to the world that he is indeed Apollo's son, asks for the one thing that Apollo is loath to give, the opportunity to drive the fiery chariot of the sun across the sky for one day. No one but Apollo, not even Jupiter, has the strength and skill needed to guide the four powerful horses of fire who pull the chariot. Against the warning of his deepest fears, Apollo gives in—and disaster ensues. From the moment Phaeton takes the reins the chariot is out of control. As it careens across the sky, the Earth below bursts into flames. Jupiter hears the piteous cries of his people, sends a lightening bolt to take young Phaeton and the chariot from the sky, and Phaeton falls to earth burning, like a star. Cadnum's has made his characters, especially Phaeton, very accessible to young readers, but he manages to retain the power and lyricism of Ovid's original story. 2004, Orchard Books/Scholastic, Ages 9 to 14.
—Dawn Elizabeth Hunt
After chaffing under the jibes of a young man in his village, Phaeton confronts his mother, Clymene, about his parentage. Clymene confirms her tryst with the sun god Phoebus Apollo, and she urges Phaeton to seek his father. Leaving home, Phaeton travels to the far reaches of the world before finding his father, Apollo. To prove his devotion to Phaeton, Apollo promises his son anything he desires. Unfortunately, Phaeton asks to drive the chariot of the Sun. Regretting his rash promise, Apollo allows his son to drive the chariot. Unable to control the horses, disaster soon follows. Havoc is wrecked upon the earth, and Phaeton is killed. This classic tale is a most readable story. This is the first in a trilogy of retellings from Ovid. 2004, Orchard Books, 120 pp., Ages young adult.
—Joy Frerichs
School Library Journal
Gr 7-9-When a griffin threatens his home, Phaeton hopes to battle the monster, but a rival beats him to the kill. Epaphus then challenges Phaeton's claim to be Phoebus Apollo's son. Phaeton questions his mother, who bids him to seek his divine father. Charmed by this bold, handsome lad, Apollo rashly promises him anything he wants. The boy asks to drive the god's fiery chariot, a journey that ends in tragedy. This retelling is structured in three acts: the home setting, where Phaeton acknowledges his stepfather's wisdom but finds the man too tame; the journey, where the boy has a chance to take his own measure and learn about his weaknesses; and the encounter with Apollo. Cadnum's psychological penetration is most sure in the final section, revealing exactly how both characters get locked into their positions against their better judgment. The writing is pitched to accomplished readers, though the paragraphs contain lots of dialogue. The slightly formal style recalls archaic sources: "Phaeton lifted a clear-voiced greeting." Greek terms add to the ambience, but definitions are clumsily inserted rather than indirectly indicated ("dryad-a wood nymph"). Still, a lot of information on the ancient world is conveyed. Cadnum promises three books based on Ovid's Metamorphoses: if they are like this one, then these myths will draw a few new readers.-Patricia D. Lothrop, St. George's School, Newport, RI Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A classic cautionary tale, the first of a proposed trilogy based on Ovid's Metamorphoses, is stripped of its moral. Phaeton is truly blessed by the gods: graceful, handsome, swift of foot, valued by his stepfather, beloved of his mother and sisters, idolized by his cousin. Yet he remains becomingly modest, dutiful, and content-until a thoughtless taunt from a jealous rival sends him into a spiral of self-doubt and adolescent bravado that can be resolved only by demanding a fatal token of favor from his true father, the sun-god Apollo. This lapidary retelling remains mostly faithful to its source, the polished archaic diction enlivened by touches of sun-drenched sensuality. But while fleshing out mythological archetypes into sympathetic characters grants the tale greater poignancy, it robs it of meaning. To make Phaeton likable, devoid of his overweening hubris, devolves his story into a senseless family tragedy, and the fate of his loved ones becomes needlessly cruel. An original grace note palliates somewhat the grim conclusion; but for all its elegance, readers are left with only a sense of exquisite grief. (Fantasy. 9-14)

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Phaeton and the Chariot of the Sun

By Michael Cadnum


Copyright © 2004 Michael Cadnum
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-5040-1966-8


The two cousins hurried out under the bright late-morning blue, joining the shepherds. Frightened sheep parted around all of them as they dodged the terror from above. Phaeton seized a rock, took aim, and hurled it as hard as he could.

The stone spun upward, and barely missed its target. The griffin banked, still clinging to a bleating lamb. The monster stretched its feathered wings and lashed at the air with its lionlike claws, its dark eyes seeking the source of this fresh attack.

Phaeton heaved another, larger rock – just grazing the griffin's head.

The hairy claws released the lamb, and sent it kicking, sprawling to earth, breathless and gouged but still very much alive. The predator let the afternoon sunlight play along its bronze-bright feathers as it took its time, angling a deliberate circuit around Phaeton. The young man dodged, afraid for his life as the creature dived, its shadow huge and growing larger.

Phaeton fell and rolled, barely escaping the claws.

"Phaeton, let's try for the orchard," piped Cycnus, and the already fleeing shepherds joined in, urging Phaeton to save himself.

"Run, run," mocked the monster.

The youth tumbled again as the talons whistled through the air. The outstretched claws snagged the cloth of Phaeton's chiton – his woolen tunic. And held him, straining the fabric, tugging the young man off the ground.

Phaeton struggled, his legs wheeling in midair.

Off-balance, the raptor tried to circle higher, carrying the youth for a few sweeping strokes of its powerful wings – but the fabric tore.

Phaeton tumbled to the ground. When he found his feet again he gave a burst of speed, zigzagging across the meadow. Cycnus and the shepherds scurried ahead, until the thickly blossomed orchard sheltered all of them.

The griffin gave a roar of frustration, and seized the topmost branches, twigs and petals raining, trying to work his way downward, to reach his human prey.

Phaeton did not linger long with the shepherds, crouching under the trees.

His sandaled feet and his bare legs were a blur, his tunic flowing, apple branches catching at his sleeves.

His lungs began to burn, his vision swam, but fifteen-year-old Phaeton used the power he had been born with, the speed that was his from earliest boyhood. He raced all the way through the orchard, sprinting down into the village of shepherd huts, toward the handsome villa at the center of the settlement, Phaeton's home.

Cycnus ran, too, trailing his long-legged cousin, but soon the youth had to break his stride.

Cycnus gazed after the path Phaeton had taken, blossoms still shivering where he had brushed past.

Cycnus was an orphan, the son of Phaeton's maternal uncle, and he was as close as a younger brother to his active cousin. Cycnus thought of himself as blessed by the fates to have such a safe and happy home. At times like this, however, he knew that it would always lie beyond his power to keep up with Phaeton, whose very name meant Shining One.

Phaeton had just enough breath to call a warning as he flung open the gates, startling the servants.

His mother Clymene rose from the shade near the fountain.

"Our flock is being attacked!" he panted.

The house servants gaped, wide-eyed. A soft-voiced, prayerful lot, they knew nothing of rough life under the sky.

Phaeton steadied his voice and spoke formally now, as was proper in the presence of servants. Bad tidings had to be expressed in a careful way, the words chosen deliberately, and the youth steadied his voice.

"Mother," he said at last, "send word to your husband, before the griffin does real harm."


Clymene loved her husband Merops for his generosity.

And she loved his house. The fountain here played night and day, and a peacock strode among the herb shrubs of the sun-splashed courtyard, lording harmlessly over the doves that gathered to drink and bathe.

The main house of a wealthy farming estate was usually, like this one, composed of wide walls that enclosed a central refuge, and many women lived as Phaeton's mother chose to do, staying in the quiet confines of the home.

But Clymene was more retiring than most, and all the countryside shared the story that explained her special need for peace and shadow – although not everyone agreed that this tale was true.

In the years of her maidenhood, the summer she had coaxed her father into letting her scamper with the rabbit hunters, the story went, she had found a lover beyond a clump of alder trees.

This lover was none other than Phoebus Apollo – the god of the sun.

She had understood as this handsome presence swept her into his embrace that he would not linger – that he would depart to his duty beyond the gates of sunset. The lord of daylight could blaze up like noon heat, and he could soothe like a warm dawn. But he could not be won, or bound by promises, like a mortal lover.

But she had believed that she found a special favor in his eyes – that of all the women under the blue he loved her best.

So she had believed.

He called her alma – dear one. She had swelled with child in the following months, her prayers to the morning sun unanswered. Summer ripened to harvest time all those years ago, and the lovely Clymene learned to relish solitude, and the laughter of her infant son. The beautiful young woman told herself that she did not regret her lover's absence, and that her heart was free of longing.

After a few summers the wealthy Merops adopted the boy Phaeton as his own, gracing Clymene with marriage vows. Her wedding had been a joyous feast, still remembered in the farmland, with the finest meats and wines, and golden acorns and hazelnuts strewn on the ground for good luck.

Merops was a kind husband, careful with every living creature he owned. If a barrow-pig lost a tusk, or a pigeon sprained a wing, Merops hurried off to attend to the injured creature. Clymene loved him for his kindness and for his quiet laugh.

Even so, Merops was a mortal man, and not the god of daylight. Clymene wondered sometimes if Phaeton's father ever savored the sight of the lad at play, from his chariot across the noontime blue. She avoided bright sunlight increasingly in recent summers, keeping to the shade. Let my son's father be teased with curiosity, she thought, and forever wonder. Let him ache for a glimpse of me, as I once did pine for him.

Of all that she enjoyed now she treasured nothing so much as the sight of her son. When a beesting had nearly taken his life a few summers ago, her sacred locket – with the knucklebone of a sea hero – had worked magic, but Clymene felt her son should be spared such dangers.

The sound of his step, the murmur of his voice, always quickened her heart. Now she was alarmed at his sudden news.

"How many men has the griffin killed?" she asked with an air of calm.

"No one, while I was there," said her son.

No woman who had been intimate with a god was easily disturbed. She had been afraid some ancient Titan had stirred to life – a raving giant – or some equal horror. Griffins were like so much else in the woodlands and hills – spiteful toward human beings, and envious of the love men and women could share for each other.

Nonetheless, Clymene resented the threat her son had just encountered. Surely Apollo could extend some special protection to the youth. Besides, she was proud of the sort of young man Phaeton was turning out to be. The son of Phoebus Apollo did certainly resemble his father – with his honey-bright hair and his sky-bright eye.

And she was more concerned than she wanted Phaeton to see, despite her pretense. His shoulders bore flecks of tree bark, and an oak leaf was caught in his hair. She plucked it free and said, "You haven't been near the Nymph Tree, Phaeton, have you?"

Clymene had heard Phaeton and Cycnus planning a gift of honeycomb for Ino, but never guessed the danger her son was willing to risk. Someone should take an ax to that old oak, she thought – it festered with bees. Or better yet, the immortal god of sunlight should parch it with his rays and kill the tree, and all the winged insects, too.

"Tell me, dear Phaeton," insisted Clymene, "that you have not climbed that old oak to find honeycomb for Ino."

"Don't – please don't worry about me, Mother," stammered Phaeton.

He was more than a little embarrassed. His mother must have overheard Cycnus urging caution, and Phaeton insisting that surely the long-haired Ino, daughter of the local river merchant, would be impressed with such a gift.

Affection warmed Phaeton's eyes, but his voice was impatient when he added, "Send for Merops, Mother, please – before the griffin kills every living thing."


Phaeton's stepfather hurried toward them at that moment, rolling up the scroll in his hand, an inventory of wheat bushels and breed-ewes, an estimate of the bountiful harvest to come.

Hearing the news, Merops asked at once, "Where is Cycnus?"

"I left him safe," said Phaeton, realizing he had not given his cousin much thought, "in the apple orchard, I think."

"Dear goddess of love," breathed Merops, "I'm grateful for that."

It was not the first time that the young man had felt impatience at his stepfather's character. When confronted with bad news most men gave out a manly "by Hercules!" But quiet Merops whispered a prayer to the goddess Venus, like a philosopher.

Now Phaeton wondered as before why his mother hadn't married a tough, sun-weathered adventurer with a hearty laugh – like the traders who bought horses from Merops early each summer, stallions bound for chariot duty in the far reaches of the world.

And so Phaeton's heart leaped when Merops called for the farm-steward, and gave the command, "Arm the workers with scythes and axes."

And Phaeton was glad to hear his stepfather add, "We'll teach this griffin a lesson he won't forget."

Phaeton was proud of the sturdy band of servants and neighbors that marched quickly across the village square, brandishing scythes, boar spears, and cattle prods.

Old Aristander had donned one of his time-honored helmets, from the days when he crafted armor for sea traders and fought alongside them. The stout bronze smith still fastened the fittings of his crocodile-skin armor as he outpaced all but Phaeton.

The veteran smiled at the young man and said, "We'll cut out this monster's gizzard, Phaeton, and have a tasty feast!"

The young man did not want to say what he was thinking, even as the old campaigner lifted his pelta – a crescent-shaped shield: Be careful, honored Aristander – your best fighting days are past.

Phaeton's youthful half sisters joined them, long-limbed Phaethusa, nearly as fleet of foot as her brother, and Lampetia, who made birds and beasts out of red river clay.

Phaeton lifted a gentle hand to stay them. The anticipated violence was too dangerous for the very young, and Merops agreed, "Stay here in the village and guard the threshing ground," said their kind-eyed father.

"Phaeton, bring me back a feather," called Lampetia. "Please!"

Her half brother laughed and waved, wondering inwardly that his sisters knew so little of danger.

The band was a brave sight, Phaeton knew, and when Ino called out from the wellhead, where she helped one of her servant girls crank water out of the ground, Phaeton gave a wave.

"There's trouble in the sheep field," was all he would allow himself to say, imitating the terseness of warriors who had seen much violence.

"Phaeton, be careful!" called Ino, hurrying to join him.

The young woman had rarely spoken like this to Phaeton. They played drafts together, a board game with ivory pieces, and sometimes she sang for him, poems Phaeton had barely heard of, learned from ambassadors and river captains.

Some day he would write a song of his own, or memorize an epic, some artful way to prove his worth to her. But for now he could not trust himself to say anything further. Something about her struck him speechless, as so often before.

Phaeton was pleased to note, however, that the golden-haired young woman followed along, accepting a hunting lance from one of the field workers as the band stormed through the orchard, ready to battle the monster.

Perhaps, thought Phaeton, I'll seize the griffin, and wound it somehow – as Ino watches.


The throng of armed villagers hurried into the meadow.

They were just in time to see young Epaphus, bending his bow, taking aim at his winged quarry.

The feathered monster let out a wordless, piercing challenge just as an arrow lanced into the sky. The arrow caught the sunlight, glinting as it arced upward. The griffin tried to time its flight to avoid this menace – and it succeeded, fluttering its great wings.

But a second bolt immediately followed the first.

This new shaft buried itself in the griffin's throat, and the creature let out a breathy scream. The monster wheeled awkwardly, trailing feathers. It struggled to remain aloft, but at last plunged downward, unable to break its fall, and landed hard on the grassy field.

"Come see!" called Epaphus, brandishing the bow, a bristling quiver of arrows at his hip.

He gave his chest a pat. Come see what I've just done.

The young hunter propped one booted foot on the flank of the bloody, barely moving griffin as the villagers gathered around, giving cries of congratulations and thanksgiving.

The arrow thrust from the throat of the monster, where the eagle-like plumage of the head and neck mingled with the tawny, lionlike body. The creature's eyes were half-open, a black tongue darting from its metallic beak.

The griffin snapped at the air, and Phaeton joined others in taking a step back. As much as he hated and feared the creature, it gave the young man no pleasure to see it suffer.

Epaphus gave Phaeton a bold glance and laughed.

"While one of our neighbors ran as fast as he was able," said the young archer, "another planted his feet and bent his bow."

"Well done, Epaphus," said Merops. He put his hand on the suntanned hunter's shoulder.

"Oh, very well indeed, Epaphus!" sang out Ino.

Phaeton was fleet of foot, and he knew how to ride a spirited horse. But he had no training in the art of archery – it was not considered a seemly skill for the stepson of a gentleman. Now as so often before Phaeton bitterly resented his stepfather's quiet household, with its thoughtful-looking marble ancestors lined up in the hall. His father should be a war hero, his walls lined with battle trophies.

"And thanks to quick-footed Phaeton, too," said Merops, "for alerting us to danger."

The gathered folk gave a cheer for both young men.

A youth less blinded by feeling would have seen that Merops was merely proper toward the prideful archer, but that he reserved a warm smile for his stepson. And he would have seen that Ino, while dazzled by Epaphus's prowess, put her hand to her throat, dismayed at the way the young hunter kicked the dying griffin, and kicked again, causing the creature further agony.

When he kicked the monster once more the black beak parted, and released an airy groan. The griffin's head fell back into the dust, but even now the beast was not dead, panting, red eyes searching. A more merciful hunter would use a knife, now, to bring this suffering to an end.

Ino turned away, but Epaphus for the moment had no eyes for her.

"Apollo is the god of the bow and arrow," continued Epaphus, "as everyone knows."

"Phoebus Apollo in his chariot admires archery," admitted Old Aristander, his voice muffled by the helmet he loved to wear, "almost as much as he approves a good song."

"So, Phaeton," said Epaphus, radiant in the bright noon. "I've heard you bragging about your divine father."

Phaeton had mentioned his parentage in quiet moments, believing his mother's word. Now he regretted ever opening his mouth around the young hunter.

"Tell me truthfully now, Phaeton," Epaphus was continuing, "who among us is the son of a god? A mild-hearted dreamer?" Phaeton seethed inwardly. The young archer was blessed with a rooster's voice as well as an archer's eye. Besides, good-humored tradition allowed a successful hunter, like a victorious athlete, to boast of his triumph.

But the sound of Epaphus's voice stung Phaeton, as the archer added, "Or somone like me?" He laughed and continued, "Phaeton, you have to admit it's possible. Maybe I'm the offspring of Jupiter himself!"


Excerpted from Starfall by Michael Cadnum. Copyright © 2004 Michael Cadnum. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Michael Cadnum is the author of 35 books for adults and young adults. His work—which includes thrillers, suspense novels, historical fiction, and books about myths and legends—has been nominated for the National Book Award (The Book of the Lion), the Edgar Award (Calling Home and Breaking the Fall), and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize (In a Dark Wood). A former National Endowment for the Arts Creative Writing Fellow, he is also the author of award-winning poetry. Seize the Storm (2012) is his most recent novel.

Michael Cadnum lives in Albany, California, with a view of the Golden Gate Bridge.

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