Mythology has always held a certain fascination for me. It began with tales of the Greek gods, and, then, as I got older, I discovered a wealth of world mythologies and folklore. In the past few years, retellings have become increasingly popular. Some authors retell a particular tale and others craft worlds based on characters or creatures pulled from myth. And I am here for it!
In my experience, retellings are more enjoyable if I understand the winks and nods given to the original stories they’re pulling from. So in addition to retellings, I’ve offered a few recommendations for reading up on the original myths, too.
To start us off with Greek mythology, Edith Hamilton’s “Mythology: Timeless Tales of Gods and Heroes” is a classic when it comes to revealing the foibles of the gods and the humans and heroes who tangled with them. I highly recommend the 75th anniversary edition, which is illustrated by Jim Tierney. The book was originally published in 1942. A more modern retelling of these same myths can be found in Stephen Fry’s “Mythos,” which is followed by other books in the series focusing on different aspects of Greek mythology.
No mention of Greek retellings would be complete without mentioning Madeline Miller, whose most recent novel “Circe” tells the tale of the witch Circe, famous in the original myths for turning Odysseus’ men into pigs when they land on her island.
Jennifer Saint is another author who focuses on Greek myths. Her most recent book, “Elektra” tells the stories of the three women most closely connected to Agamemnon: his wife Clytemnestra, his daughter Elektra, and Cassandra, the seer cursed to know the future and never have her prophecies believed.
For Norse mythology, a great introductory title is Neil Gaiman’s “Norse Mythology.” Gaiman tells the myths of the Aesir — the Norse gods — and other creatures that inhabit the nine worlds connected by the world tree Ygdrasil. It’s also available as a graphic novel series.
In “The Witch’s Heart,” Genevieve Gornichec retells the story of Angrboda, mother of monsters and the wife of Loki, the trickster god and Odin’s blood brother. Together Loki and Angrboda beget Jörmungadr, the Midgard serpent who encircles the world; the wolf Fenrir; and Hel, who presides over the underworld. Angrboda seeks to protect her children from the gods despite her visions of the roles they will play at Ragnarok, the end of the world.
Beyond the Greek and Norse myths, there has been a surge in retellings of other mythologies that may be less familiar to readers. With “Gods of Jade and Shadow,” Silvia Moreno-Garcia delves into Mayan mythology. Set in Mexico during the Jazz Age, Casiopea Tun accidentally frees the Mayan god of death, Hun-Kamé, and finds herself on a quest to restore him to his throne in the underworld.
Based on Chinese mythology, “Daughter of the Moon Goddess,” by Sue Lynn Tan, retells the story of Chang’e, the moon goddess, through her daughter, Xingyin. As a mortal, Chang’e took an elixir of immortality meant for her husband and ascended to the skies, only to be imprisoned on the moon by the Celestial Emperor for her crime. Concealed from birth by her mother, Xingyin escapes the moon and vows to find a way to free her mother. If you’re interested in learning more about Chinese mythology, “Fantastic Creatures of the Mountains and Seas,” written by Jiankun Sun and beautifully illustrated by Siyu Chen, is a bestiary based on an ancient Chinese text.
And, finally, let’s round off this list with some Russian folklore. The first title in a favorite series of mine is “The Bear and the Nightingale” by Katherine Arden. Set in 14th-century Russia, a time when religion was spreading and clashing with traditional folklore, a young girl is drawn into the spiritual conflict. Vasilisa is able to see and speak with the old spirits — the chyerti — and tries to protect them against the village newcomer, a priest who seeks to destroy the old beliefs. But there’s another enemy that threatens her village, one straight out of the old tales.
For more recommendations, check out this list in our catalog.