Words by Molly Openshaw
Over the past few years, there has been a surge in the number of mythological retellings in both literature, film and television. With these classic myths inspiring many authors, my bookshelf has definitely been hit by this recent popularisation of mythology. I am sure that many of you were also fans of the Percy Jackson book series as kids, a series that used the stories from Greek mythology in a modern setting, making these tales more accessible and frankly more relatable.
Madeline Miller is an author who we can see as hugely successful as an author retelling the stories of Greek mythology with her 2011 novel “The Song of Achilles” and “Circe” in 2018. I recently read “The Song of Achilles” after being lent it by a friend and read it in one sitting. The writing was beautiful, balancing both the bluntness of Patroclus and the beauty of love but also a really lovely introduction to the story of Achilles that was not too complex or hard to follow.
The popularity of “The Song of Achilles” has definitely sparked a resurgence of Greek mythology in literature. With the likes of Homer and Hesiod writing on these myths as early as 800 BC, these stories have a long history. Looking back at the literature of Greek mythology, these stories have been used by the likes of William Shakespeare, James Joyce and Robert Graves.
Here are some recommendations for novels if you fancy reading a retelling of the classic myths:
“Ariadne”- by Jennifer Saint:
Winning Waterstones book of the month in January 2022, this novel tells the story of the minotaur, Ariadne and Theseus. Taking Ariadne’s perspective, this novel offers a retelling from a female perspective and has been praised for giving a voice to one of the most influential, yet forgotten women of Greek mythology.
“Mythos” – by Stephen Fry:
Taking a more educational stance, Stephen Fry’s 2017 book gives a beginner’s retelling of the original stories in an accessible and informative manner.
“A Touch of Darkness”- by Scarlet St. Clair:
This modern retelling of the story of Persephone and Hades is less educational and more romantic, portraying Hades as a club owner in the mortal world. If you’re wanting something a bit more lighthearted and in a modern setting, then this might be for you!
“The Silence of the Girls”- by Pat Barker
Retelling the story of Homer’s epic poem “The Iliad”, Pat Barker tells the story of Briseis after the Trojan War, when her city is captured by the Greeks and she is given as a war prize to Achilles. This is an incredibly powerful novel demonstrating the significance of women in Greek mythology. Briseis’ story is also briefly told in Miller’s “The Song of Achilles”.
Using these examples, it is evident how popular modern retellings of Greek Mythology are currently. I think that the fact these stories are being recycled and enjoyed all over again is playing into this constant cycle of retelling in literature. We can see the use of fairy tales in lots of popular novels such as “A Court of Thorns and Roses” by Sarah J. Maas and “Cinder” by Merissa Meyer. Authors are constantly taking inspiration from pre-existing stories, and we can see this history even in medieval literature with the Chivalric romances of King Arthur, Gawain, Lancelot and Galahad with Chrétien de Troyes and Thomas Malory writing novels on these characters, adding to the popularity of the stories and this idea of retelling stories. The novel as a form is founded on the idea of retelling stories, Walter Benjamin wrote on this idea of storytelling moving from the verbal recounting of stories to the written form, demonstrating this inherent humane need to tell stories over and over again- “For storytelling is always the art of repeated stories, and this art is lost when the stories are no longer retained”.