I discovered mythology as a seventh grader.
My Jr. High school was a mile from home, and I walked in all but the very worst weather. Often I would find a brief refuge in the public library which was on the way home.
I remember one illustrated book about the Greek and Roman gods. The artwork was amazing and in my mind’s eye (probably enhanced by memory) as detailed and amazing as Michelangelo’s triptychs.
The 12-year old me was launched on a love affair with all things mythological. The librarians in the children’s section were happy to provide me with age appropriate versions of the Iliad and Homer’s Odyssey. I devoured the tales of King Arthur and Camelot. I hunted out every version of the tales of Greek and Roman gods that I could find. Eventually, I became a bit of an expert.
When I became an adult, I discovered a new genre. These books took the well known myths and rewrote them from a new perspective. I loved them as much as the original stories, and even in some cases, better.
Current day authors, the most well known – Rick Riordan – portrayed a retelling of Greek gods in present day incarnations in his Percy Jackson Heroes of Olympus series. He went on to take a look at Egyptian mythology in his next series, the Kane Chronicles.
But hold on there, he’s not the only author writing these amazing tales. Here are some other books to try if you are mythological tale hound like me.
Tracy Barrett has several tales drawn from antiquity. But says she is only following a long tradition:
I’ve always been confused by the notion that the stories we know from Greek and Roman mythology are the “real” version, and that when I write a book based on one of them, I’m retelling a story from an authoritative text. The fact is that the myths, the hero legends, the incidents of the Trojan War (if such a war ever took place), the voyages of Odysseus—all these tales were told orally for centuries before someone wrote them down. Whoever that writer was, he (almost certainly a “he”) picked and chose which details of the traditional tale to include, invented others, and put on his own stylistic stamp. A poet a generation later who told the same story would have a different spin on it.
That’s all I’m doing in King of Ithaka and Dark of the Moon. I love hearing stories told by a narrator who is a minor character in a familiar tale, so I chose Telemachos (Odysseus’s son) to relate his own coming-of-age story in the former, and Ariadne (sister of the Minotaur) to set the record straight about what was really going on with her monstrous brother in the latter.
Each poet in King of Ithaka says at the start of his song, “Hear this,” and finishes it by saying, “And now my tale is told.” The first words in King of Ithaka are “Hear this,” and the last are, “And now my tale is told.” I’m just one in a long line of people who have taken inspiration from the adventures of Odysseus and the story of the Minotaur.
No one ever listens to Hector. He wanted to hang out with his friends this summer, but instead he’s stuck in Italy at an archaeological dig with his mom. The ancient Etruscan artifacts are interesting, but no one has time for him.
Then he makes a discovery of his own-a strange, unsettling stone that looks like an eye. The stone brings nightmares about Arath, an Etruscan boy who died thousands of years ago but now begs for Hector’s help. Are these just dreams, or is Arath really in danger? As Hector unearths the truth, he realizes that he can make himself heard when it counts.
Ariadne is destined to become a goddess of the moon. She leads a lonely life, filled with hours of rigorous training by stern priestesses. Her former friends no longer dare to look at her, much less speak to her. All that she has left are her mother and her beloved, misshapen brother Asterion, who must be held captive below the palace for his own safety.
The King of Ithaca Telemachos has a comfortable life on his small island of Ithaka, where his mother Penelopeia keeps the peace even though the land has been without its king, his father Odysseus, since the Trojan War began many years ago.
But now the people are demanding a new king, unless Telemachos can find Odysseus and bring him home. With only a mysterious prophecy to guide him, Telemachos sets off over sea and desert in search of the father he has never known.
L.J. Smith pens an enjoyable series based on the characters from the Arthurian Tales.
The Night of the Solstice Four siblings join forces with a talking vixen to rescue the vixen’s mistress, the sorceress Morgana Shee, and stop the evil sorcerer Cadal Forge before he can pass through a gate to Earth during the winter solstice.
When I was ten, I was still searching for magic, real magic. One day my family went to the movies to see something called Camelot, which I was happy to watch until I saw a billboard that said it was an epic romance. Romance? Yuk! Cooties! But my dad dragged me in and I watched, and I cried, and I knew that I had glimpsed a kind of magic I had to have more of. I didn’t notice any of the film’s flaws—I was a kid. What I took away was the idea of a round table and “might for right” and, of course, the idea that we are all just drops of water in the great blue ocean. But some of the drops sparkle!As soon as I could I read the book, The Once and Future King by T.H. White. After that there was no stopping me. I was determined to be a sparkling drop (and find magic, rescue a prince, fight a great foe, and also, as I quoted to people’s understandable bewilderment, “Die a hero or not at all!”) I read everything I could about the Arthurian legend and somehow, slowly, my entire life started to develop around it. I became a militant idealist.When I was in high school I began The Night of the Solstice, meaning it to be the first book of a trilogy. It was about magic, of course, and by the time it came out I’d already written the sequel, Heart of Valor, introducing the idea of a female descendant of King Arthur. I meant to sum it all up in Mirror of Heaven, and I still mean to—someday. Perhaps when the once and future king comes back. The world is certainly ready for his return.
A nail biting series where the hero battles evil to save the world is the Erec Rex tales by Kaza Kingsley.
No list on mythology would be complete without a tale of beasts.
Though not strictly a middle-grade book, Jane Yolan’s newest graphic novel offering is too beautiful not to be included. The Last Dragon tells a tale how two hundred years after humans drove the dragons from the islands of May, the last wyrm rises anew to wreak havoc, with only a healer’s daughter and a kite-flying, reluctant hero standing in its way.
When asked about this book, Ms. Yolan replied:
“Dragons (as well as unicorns and selchies) have been great inspirations to me. But dragons–because they can be good, bad, and ugly, have fascinated me for as long as I’ve been a writer. This book began as a short story called “Dragonfield” (close to novella length) published in 1984 in a collection of mine also called DRAGONFIELD. The first publisher who saw the graphic novel version and wanted it was DC, but they have a contract that is not known to be “creator friendly.” In fact they wanted all rights to my story till the heat-death of the universe. Which may be just about okay if I’d been writing in one of their created worlds, but this story was all mine–characters, setting, etc. So my agent and I took it from them and sold it to this wonderful young editor at DarkHorse Rachel Eidden who was a fan of both Rebecca Guay’s artwork and my storytelling. (She has a blog over at the DarkHorse site which tells you about how she approached the book.) It took about half a year to write and revise at least eight times on my own, before I started doing revisions for the editor. The illustrations took Rebecca closer to two years. And aren’t they astonishingly beautiful! I own one of the original pieces.” Jane Yolen
While I love and am fascinated by what other authors come up with as a new spin on classic tales, my daughter thinks it’s oh so wrong. She complained bitterly about how the Percy Jackson gods were not themselves and totally out of character. She declared that Mr. Riordan must have not done his research very well and just made things up because he wanted to.
Which side of this equation do you fall on? Do you love seeing old tales with a new spin? Or are you like my kid and just wish authors would leave well enough alone?
Wendy Martin spends her days drawing fantastical worlds. In the evenings she writes about them, then she visits them at night during her dreams. Visit her universe at her web site http://wendymartinillustration.com