I'm a journalism freshman at MSU, and I hope to eventually publish my own novel one day.

Sunday, April 30, 2006

Books Based on Greek Mythology

Lately, I've read a great deal of books inspired by famous Greek myths. I used to read Greek myths when I was a little kid. Of course, the versions that I read were written in context appropriate for kids, so it was a bit of a nasty surprise when I discovered the kinkier side of those myths (incest, marrying older men, deities transforming into animals to mate with humans--ew). Still, once you get past all that, they remain exciting to read.

Some of the following novels are very interesting retellings. Other ones aren't as good. So here is an overview of the ones I've read, rated on a scale of thunderbolts (since Zeus was the god of thunder).

Inside the Walls of Troy and Waiting for Odysseus by Clemence McLaren
Plot: Inside the Walls of Troy is basically the Trojan War told in the points of view of the all-seeing Princess Cassandra and the infamous Helen of Troy. The sequel, Waiting for Odysseus, is (obviously) The Odyssey, told in the perspective of Odysseus' wife Penelope, alone with the many other women in his life.
Thoughts: It was nice to hear Homer's work in the point of view of the women. Troy has a strong female protagonist in Cassandra, who for once isn't a psychotic loon. She has to deal with the fact that she knows that her family and city is doomed, yet no one will believe her. Helen, on the other hand, is basically protrayed as a passive, self-pitying sissy. Even after reading the novel, I still couldn't understand why she ran off with Paris, aside from the fact that he's handsome. Waiting for Odysseus has more admirable female characters; McLaren manages to make the reader feel sorry for Circe!
Rating: Inside the Walls of Troy gets 4 thunderbolts out of 5, while Waiting for Odysseus gets 5 out of 5.

Goddess of Yesterday by Caroline B. Cooney
Plot: Anaxandra, the sole survivor of the sack of the kingdom of Siphnos, is taken in by kindly King Menelaus. However, she has to fight to protect the king's baby son, Pleis, when his mother, Helen of Troy, takes him with her to Troy
Thoughts: WOW! This novel was so great! It was cool to see Helen of Troy portrayed as a villain for a change. And Anaxandra can be compared to Odysseus with her intelligence and courage.
Rating: 5 out of 5 thunderbolts. A wonderful epic story!

Troy by Adele Geras
Plot: Another retelling of the fall of Troy, this time surrounding the romantic agonies of the servants (and one soldier).
Thoughts: One big soap opera. Don't get me wrong, I liked it, but the main characters seemed to place their own romantic woes over the fact that everyone in their city was dying. And the guy that the two sisters fight over has zero personality.
Rating: 3 1/2 out of 5 thunderbolts.

Ithaka by Adele Geras
Plot: Penelope tries to cope with the fact that her husband is AWOL while her maid, Klymene, tries to win the affections of Telemachus.
Thoughts: What's really interesting about this one is that Penelope actually sleeps with one of the suitors!!! True, the one in particular is decent, but still! Klymene is much more sympathetic than the characters in Troy.
Rating: 4 out of 5 thunderbolts. I still can't figure out why Penelope does what she does, but it's a good twist.

Lost in the Labyrinth by Patrice Kindl
Plot: The events of Theseus' battle with the Minotaur in the point of view of Ariadne's (Theseus' lover) little sister, Xenodice.
Thoughts: I liked how the Minotaur was made into a misunderstood, deformed man and Theseus was the bad guy. It's a refresher from the many stories of the Trojan War.
Rating: 5 out of 5 thunderbolts.

The Memoirs of Helen of Troy by Amanda Elyot
Plot: The events of the Trojan War told in Helen's POV.
Thoughts: Elyot definitely did her homework on Greek traditions and the descriptions of clothing. However, if she was trying to make readers feel sorry for Helen, she failed. Even throughout the terrible things that happen, Helen refuses to take responsibility for any of her actions, instead blaming others. I also didn't buy the transformation of Paris from a coward to a pacifist. While this isn't smut, it is dangerously close.
Rating: 2 out of 5 thunderbolts.

Aphrodite's Blessings by Clemence McLaren
Plot: The famous love stories of Atlanta, Andromeda, and Psyche told in a feminist perspective.
Thoughts: I liked this book. Eros and Psyche is one of my favorite stories in Greek mythology, although McLaren could have made it a little longer. Actually, she could have made the whole novel the story of Eros and Psyche. Oh well, it's something left for another writer to tackle. On a further note, why does McLaren insist on naming all of the maids in her stories Clymene?
Rating: 4 1/2 out of 5 thunderbolts.

Anyone who loves Greek mythology should definitely look into these books. Maybe eventually, someone will write the stories in the perspectives of Andromache or Medea. Hey, if they can try to empathisize with Helen, we should at least give Medea a shot!


Blogger BrokenElbow said...

great selection! i love re-imaginings of old stories!

3:17 PM  

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