A. S. Byatt's Ragnarok is the most recent addition to The Myths series, published in the UK by Canongate and around the world by various publishers. Launched in 2005, The Myths series has brought together remarkably talented authors to put their own stamp on ancient myths from around the world, including many that are familiar to Western readers.
"The civilization I live in thinks less and less in terms of raw myth, I think," Byatt writes. "The idea of many other writers in the Canongate series has been to assimilate the myths into the form of novels, or modern stories, retell the tales as though the people had personalities and psychologies." Byatt takes a different approach to her chosen myth: framing a fairly conventional retelling in a modern setting and thereby creating an allegory with contemporary repercussions.
What's remarkable about The Myths series is the exquisite variety with which these noted authors approach their source material. The series includes, among others:
A Short History of Myth by Karen Armstrong: a nonfiction overview that serves as a terrific introduction to the series and to the study of myth.
The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood: a retelling of The Odyssey through the point of view of the wife Odysseus left behind and the twelve hanged maids that form a chorus around her.
Lion's Honey by David Grossman: a recreation of the Old Testament story of Samson and Delilah in which Samson is portrayed as a regular man, not a hero.
Orphans of Eldorado by Milton Hatoum: an account of an ambitious father and son living together in the fabled white city deep in the Amazon rain forest.
Dream Angus by Alexander McCall Smith: a twentieth century parallel about the Scottish god of love and youth as he searches for the beautiful Caer, the swan maiden he desires.
The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ by Philip Pullman: a controversial retelling of the New Testament and the life of Jesus Christ by one of literature's more famous atheists.
Girl Meets Boy by Ali Smith: a playful recounting of Ovid's gender-bending myth of Iphis and Ianthe from the vantage point of two Scottish sisters. This is a story of love, humor, and transformation.
Binu and the Great Wall by Su Tong: a love story set in a mythical village in China where crying is forbidden. Two lovers are separated when one is taken as a slave to build the Great Wall, but the other is determined to get him back.
This article was originally published in February 2012, and has been updated for the
March 2013 paperback release.
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