As spring rolls around, various essays have been handed in and exams have come to a close, it is satisfying to turn over a new leaf (or rather, page). With the latest crazes stocking up the shelves, from Divergent to Fifty Shades, it can be even more satisfying to return to classics retold from fresh new perspectives. And what could be more classic than that treasure chest of stories, mythology? From Margaret Atwood to Angela Carter or the fantasy novels of Rick Riordan, some of the most gratifying (and subversive) fiction features, the re-telling of myths and the recycling of ancient archetypes.
This fantastical author is scheduled to complete his Heroes of Olympus collection of five novels by October this year, chronicling the struggles of demigods to prevent the earth goddess Gaia from awakening from her slumber. The clash continues as the offspring of Greek and Roman deities war against each other over a stolen statue of Athena, but must unite against their ultimate antagonist. The premise is that demigods are still hanging around in the modern era, descendants of the Greek and Roman gods and goddesses of old. Riordan created these new stories out of existing ones when he ran out of bedtime stories for his son based on classical mythologies, creating new characters to interact with the old. Check out the first in the series, The Lost Hero, and the film adaptations of his previous series, Percy Jackson. Definitely one for escapism… And what if the gods were kicking about amongst us?
Atwood’s The Penelopiad is a genre-bending, feminist re-telling of The Odyssey. It was published in 2005 as part of an exciting selection of rewritten ancient myths by contemporary authors. By giving a silent figure of myth and legend a narrative voice, this novella has something to say about the perspectives in storytelling and tackles the possibility of historical misconception head on. It speaks sarcastically on behalf of the women of myth: “Point being that you don’t have to get too worked up about us, dear educated minds. You don’t have to think of us as real girls, real flesh and blood, real pain, real injustice. That might be too upsetting. Just discard the sordid part. Consider us pure symbol. We’re no more real than money”.
Angela Carter is a distinctive voice when it comes to making old stories new. In her radical collection of stories, The Bloody Chamber, she turns fairytales such as Beauty and the Beast and the legend of Bluebeard on their heads in a sadomasochistic goth fest. In The Tiger’s Bride, the female heroine transforms into a glorious tiger in an intriguing reversal of the traditional tale, in which the Beast must conform to become a handsome suitor. Carter’s mission is to extract the latent psychological content and she succeeds; you will never be able to read your childhood favourites in quite the same way. Particular favourites in the collection are The Bloody Chamber, Wolf-Alice, and The Snow Child.