Why is mythology having a moment?
Pat Barker, Michael Hughes and Madeline Miller are among many modern writers reinventing the classics
Lynn Buckle: The Greeks serialised our morality, foibles and failures in the guise of gods and goddesses lest we recognise our mortal selves – or lest we don’t.
Glancing through the book review sections one can’t help noticing the preponderance of mythopoeia in literary fiction and wondering if there any new stories at all or just reworkings of old tropes? Why such an interest in mythology?
If a novel contains appalling behaviour, family drama, endless sparring or infidelity on an epic scale, it is simply describing the human condition. The Greeks serialised our morality, foibles and failures in the guise of gods and goddesses lest we recognise our mortal selves – or lest we don’t.
These ancient insights remain pertinent; they are as eternal as immortality itself. And that is the point. We are always ourselves; misogynistic, warring, selfish, idolising, yearning perfectionists. Tragic, clever and beautiful.
Dystopia was never an imaginary place of ruination – it is now
The regurgitating, the reinventing, the references and rewrites of Greek mythology will continue for as long as humanity remains on this planet. In case it doesn’t we have a genre of literature dealing in every apocalyptic disaster.
But dystopia was never an imaginary place of ruination – it is now, and authors are at pains to either point out our dystopia-blindness or to salve our weariness of it with idealised beauties and escapist yarns.
Authors and readers alike fall into one or other classical camp. But then every human discord has an opposing virtue and a story to help us to understand it. Authors of these stories are seeking congruence with the ancients or opposing them. Either way the Greeks are lending credence to contemporary fiction.
Pat Barker rights gender imbalance wrongs in her Silence of the Girls, giving voice to women, not just of the past, in her retelling of Homer’s Trojan Wars. Country by Michael Hughes also repeats the Iliad but sets it in Northern Ireland where conflict and sexist wrongs continue aplenty, although Anna Burns winningly attests to this in Milkman without so much as a glimpse of a Grecian.
Madeline Miller’s classicist background lends academic rigor to an engagingly written Circe, the novel’s heroine being an extension of Homer’s same character in the Odyssey. Here she presents us with timeless dilemmas.
Others, like Daisy Johnson in Everything Under The Sun and myself in The Groundsmen, weave Greek allusions and archetypes throughout our tales like Arachne herself, while creating new myths for the modern world.
From tragedy to beauty, on Mount Olympus or in Mountjoy Square, we tread in well-worn footsteps.
Lynn Buckle, author of The Groundsmen published by époque press, continues her Irish and UK book tour Myth & Narrative throughout 2019.