Thursday, June 5, 2008

Doesn't it always come back to the Trojan War?

What's been interesting about looking at all these books that tackle the Greek myths is the way they come at the familiar tales from so many different directions. Recently I found two books that both have Helen of Troy as either the main character or a major character, and, as you will see, you couldn't get two more different takes on the "face that launched a thousand ships."

Caroline B. Cooney is best known for her book The Face on the Milk Carton, so it may seem unusual that she would write about ancient myths, but she does it well with Goddess of Yesterday, about Anaxandra, a princess captured as companion, first to Callisto, then to Helen, heartless betrayer of husband Menelaus. Anaxandra's journey is like an upended Odyssey--Anaxandra has to be as clever and as strong as any Greek hero, taking on disguises and braving the will the of gods as she struggles to protect those she cares about while two nations go to war over the cruel half-goddess Helen of Troy.

On the other hand, in Esther Friesner's Nobody's Princess, Helen is a princess struggling to avoid her fate, and determined not to be judged just by her looks. Helen becomes a hero to stand beside other Greek heroes, and she does it by enlisting the help of the likes of Atalanta and the Oracle at Delphi. What's interesting here is that, in doing research, the author discovered that, other than being known as "the face that launched a thousand ships," Helen is somewhat of a blank slate. And Friesner does a great job of filling that slate, both in this book and the just released sequel, Nobody's Prize.

Some other books along these same lines:

Quiver, by Stephanie Spinner, plumbs the depths of the myth of Atalanta, evoking the adventure, romance and ultimate tragedy of one of mythologies most lasting and powerful women.

Lost in the Labyrinth, by Patrice Kindl upends the myth of Theseus by portraying him and Ariadne, his lover, as heartless conspirators, hoping to kill Ariadne's half-brother Asterius, the minotaur, and threaten the lives of Daedalus and Icarus. The narrator and hero of the book is Xenodice, the younger sister of Ariadne.
Tomorrow: we finish off with a question for the reading audience: who are the Young Heroes?

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