Category Archives: Mythology

Fabulous by Lucy Hughes-Hallett

Fabulous by Lucy Hughes-Hallett Title: Fabulous
Author: Lucy Hughes-Hallett
Publisher: Fourth Estate
ISBN: 978-0008334857
Genre: Short Stories, Fairy Tales & Myths
Pages: 224
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

March 2020 is turning out to be a great month when it comes to short-story collections, and Fabulous by Lucy Hughes-Hallett is the third one.

These eight stories are derived from popular and not-so-popular myths. Myths are constantly being adapted and this is one example of that. Each of these stories is set in modern Britain. The characters therefore are in tune with people we hear of or meet; people-traffickers, prostitutes, migrant workers, estate agents, librarians, and office-goers. These are ordinary people really, but all their stories are inspired by Graeco-Roman myths, or from the Bible, or from folklore.

We know these stories. We have heard of them or read them in their original form (if that’s a thing really). We know of Orpheus, Psyche, Tristan and Isolde, the Pied Piper, and Mary Magdalene, and if we don’t then these stories will make you want to know about them.

For me the stories that stood out were Pasiphae and the minotaur with seaside gangsters, the one with Mary Magdalena and Joseph, and the Pied Piper one. Having said that, each story is a commentary on the state we live in and what we have become as a people.

Hughes-Hallett’s style is direct. The range of retellings is wide enough, so it doesn’t get boring or mundane. I love the way the themes are constructed and presented to the reader. The stories are familiar and yet not so familiar. She blends the everyday with the mythical with great ease, and with each chapter I was more hooked and intrigued to know more. Fabulous is a collection of short stories that are whimsy, fantastical, sometimes literal, sometimes metaphorical, and random which worked beautifully for me.

 

Circe by Madeline Miller

Circe by Madeline Miller Title: Circe
Author: Madeline Miller
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company, Hachette USA
ISBN: 978-0316556347
Genre: Mythology, Literary Fiction, Greek Mythology
Pages: 400
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

I have never followed Greek Mythology with great fervor. In fact, even while I was in school and college, these myths did not interest me much. Till after, when I started reading The Iliad and the Odyssey that my interest levels peaked and there was no turning back. Also, might I add the various retellings – from “The Penelopiad” by Margaret Atwood to Ilium by Dan Simmons (a lesser-known work but a work of sheer beauty) to also the funny “Gods Behaving Badly” by Marie Phillips and then “The Song of Achilles” by Madeline Miller happened and changed it all, I suppose.

I read “The Song of Achilles” and was floored by it. And now her brand-new book “Circe” – to me is even better. I also tend to think her craft has worked way better when it comes to this one. Circe has always been thought of as the dangerous siren from Homer’s Odyssey who lured sailors to their deaths with her seductive song. Madeline Miller changes that perception and manages to make her more human (ironic, isn’t it?) than just be someone cold and distant.

Madeline Miller makes Circe’s life real, with motivators, with passion, life experiences that made her who she was. There is no justification and no sides are taken. Miller steers clear from all of that. There are shades of grey which are present in almost every character in the book – from Helios – Circe’s father (Titan God of the Sun) or Perse (her mother, an Oceanid naiad), to her siblings who are cruel to her (this was one of the major reasons of Circe being who she turned out to be), and all the other nymphs who are seemingly lovelier than Circe.

Circe turns to witchcraft when she makes Glaucos (a mortal) a god, and even more so when Glaucos falls in love with another nymph. “Pharmaka” or witchcraft is frowned upon by all gods and goddesses and this is how Circe is banished to the island of Aiaia to live a solitary life. It is here that she practices her powers of witchcraft and excels. It is here that her life begins (as is also mentioned in the Odyssey).

I love how Miller uses the story of Circe to make so many points – feminism, alienation, acceptance, loss of love and not being able to fit in. Madeline Miller also didn’t restrict the book to mainly being Circe’s story. It is also about the other mythological characters that Circe encounters – Prometheus, Daedalus, Icarus, Hermes, Athena, Penelope and more and all the other gods and mortals. It is also through them that Miller shows us various emotions and sides to Circe, thus leading her to actively participate in their myths as well.

“Circe” might be a retelling and may not be for everyone (more so if you are a purist when it comes to myths) but it sure did work for me. All in all, it was a great read, with everything falling in place – from the plot to the characters to the way Madeline has written the story – with not a single dull moment. Will sure keep you turning the pages.

 

The Thirteenth Day: A Story of the Kurukshetra War by Aditya Iyengar

The Thirteenth Day by Aditya Iyengar Title: The Thirteenth Day: A Story of the Kurukshetra War
Author: Aditya Iyengar
Publisher: Rupa Publications
ISBN: 978-8129134752
Genre: Fiction, Myths
Pages: 260
Source: Author
Rating: 4/5

I have always maintained that mythology must not be tampered with. I am sort of wary of the idea of retellings (so-called) and drifting away from the original or the real deal. It somehow scares me to read something like that. Having said that, I was quite taken by surprise by a book that had a retelling (of sorts) and somehow also stuck close to the original plot (had no choice given it was the Mahabharata).

Aditya Iyengar’s “The Thirteenth Day” is about the thirteenth day (well of course) but it a part of the war that is known only on the surface to most. It is the day when Yudhisthira, Radheya and Abhimanyu collide on the battlefield and what is the past and present to that day. It is about Abhimanyu majorly and how the story moves ahead using the “chakravyuh” as the core metaphor (at least that is what I interpreted from it).

There have been a lot of retellings of the Mahabharata – there is no dearth of stories out there on the epic. Then why must you read this book?

The book is no frills. It is simple, clear and tells a story that is riveting and keeps you hooked. What else do you need from a book?

The narration is in first person, which I am most comfortable with and might I add that it is most difficult to write a book in first person. The danger of losing the plot or the readers’ interest is quite high. However, Aditya never manages to do any of that at any point.

The thing with retelling or writing a story from the Mahabharata is that your research has to be five folds over and nitpicked. If that is not then, then you have already set yourself up for failure. But this book doesn’t do that. The research is thorough – so much so the minor characters also stand out and sometimes have their own stories to tell. There is also the element of surrealism (in some places) and it doesn’t at any point become an impediment but only helps the story move ahead. There are a lot of layers and sub-layers to Mahabharata. One cannot write about it and not be swayed to include some of them, which is what also happens in this narrative and that works for the book at every page.

The reason I am not talking much about the plot is that I would really want more people to read this book and experience it for themselves. A read that I would urge you to pick up because it is a fresh voice and tells the old tale with that voice harnessed all along.

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The Thirteenth Day : A Story of the Kurukshetra War (English)

The Thirteenth Day: A Story of the Kurukshetra War

D’Aulaires’ Book of Greek Myths by Ingri d’Aulaire and Edgar Parin d’Aulaire

D'Aulaires' Book of Greek Myths by Ingri d'Aulaire and Edgar Parin d'Aulaire Title: D’Aulaires’ Book of Greek Myths
Authors: Ingri d’Aulaire and Edgar Parin d’Aulaire
Publisher: Delacorte Books for Young Readers
ISBN: 978-0440406945
Genre: Mythology, Children’s books
Pages: 192
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5/5

I have always been fascinated by Greek myths. There is something about them right – from their Gods and Goddesses to also the most obvious heroes and monsters – something so incestuous (which is how we would think) about them to not be involved in their myths. And it is not only that aspect that fascinates me, it is the entire gamut – right from how the universe was created according to these myths to how Zeus’s insecurity when it comes to ruling the world or the universe as it may to all the Gods and Goddesses and their quirks and eccentricities.

At the same time, it isn’t easy to read Greek myths – not the version of Robert Graves – well not immediately and with the Percy Jackson series doing the rounds – sometimes you don’t even know which God is God of what and the other – so you have to start somewhere, right? For me, the best place to start was technically a children’s book of Greek myths and let me tell you that I also recommend it to every adult who wants to use it as a primer, so to say.

“D’Aulaires’ Book of Greek Myths” has been in print for more than forty years now and that says a lot about the book. The artwork and the stories both are as enthralling as ever – I know I fell in love with this book for sure – I mean who couldn’t and who wouldn’t? The d’Aulaires make Greek myths so easy with their simple writing and telling of those myths – it may seem to be for younger ears but to me it is for everyone. A must read for those interested in Greek myths.

Rise of Kali: Duryodhana’s Mahabharata (Ajaya Book 2) by Anand Neelakantan

Rise of Kali - Duryodhana's Mahabharata - Ajaya Book 2 by Anand Neelakantan Title: Rise of Kali: Duryodhana’s Mahabharata (Ajaya Book 2)
Author: Anand Neelakantan
Publisher: Platinum Press
ISBN: 978-9381576045
Genre: Mythology
Pages: 530
Source: Booksense
Rating: 4/5

Mythology according to me should strictly be pure. I don’t know, I may be wrong, but I do not like everyone’s point of view when it comes to mythology. Ajaya as is said is the story of the Mahabharata told from the perspective of the Kauravas. I was quite hesitant to read this. I had not read the first book Roll of the Dice so I read that one and then I lapped this one up quite immediately. I must say though I enjoyed “Rise of Kali” a lot more than “Roll of the Dice”.

“Rise of Kali” is about Duryodhana and his story and role to play in the epic. It is about dharma and adharma. The book is well-structured and most of it is well-written. It is also quite interesting, but somehow I thought it was just way too long to finish in one sitting. Having said that, “Rise of Kali” gives you an over-all perspective on the Mahabharata. May be that is the reason I enjoyed it as well.

“Rise of Kali” is all about Suyodhana (Duryodhana) and about his conflict of emotions between right and wrong and why he does what he does. That struck me as something which I had never thought of, because of my prejudices.

The book tests your patience as well. It is difficult to get into it initially but once the reader has, it is a different ball game altogether. I thought that Karna’s character was detailed quite well in the book and that is something which I really enjoyed.

Anand Neelakantan draws on the characters quite well and that is something which is quite difficult to do and maintain in a book like this, given the scope of it all. I must also say that all in all, I enjoyed the book a lot. I think it will appeal to everyone who wants to see mythology differently.