Am I typing this up while wearing a tee featuring the cover of the d’Aulaires’ Book of Greek Myths? YOU KNOW IT!
That strange tome of simplified myth and ultra-bright illustration cracked open a need in me when I was very young. I re-read that book countless times, and used it as the entry point into the larger world of mythology. Combined with a Catholic upbringing that was far more focused on the deaths of the saints than on anything else, you could saw I was a morbidly curious child…and if you look at any of my internet history after falling into one of my many Wikipedia-holes you will see that morbid curiosity is still on my calling card.
Kate Bernheimer and a murderer’s row of contributors spin stories of old into stories for the new age in this collection. Fifty myths have been pulled from the heavens and hammered out, fully formed, into stories to treat and react to our modern times. How else would one create new mythologies for our modern world without filling them to the brim with existential dread?!
I was enraptured within the first page of Bernheimer’s introduction when she stated “we, in our less than divine wisdom but apparently quite divine powers, are now transforming the planet like an Olympian might have created an Ice Age, or a Titan might have thrown down an asteroid from the sky to kill off a bunch of dinosaurs. We are the gods. Our scientists have said so.”
The myths within cover many religions, civilizations, and timelines. Some are familiar and currently in vogue (what’s up, Hadestown!) and some are comments on the means of mythology rather than straight re-tellings, but they flow together into a river of murk and mystery.
Each story comes from a different author or pair of authors, and each begins their myth with a listing of what story they are adapting. It’s helpful and informative; it was exciting to find familiarity in old favorites, and I found tellings of myths with which I was not deeply familiar to be intriguing. I was not a fan, however, of a little “note” tacked onto the end of every piece. Each author gave a little “artists statement” which often robbed the story of power, and my enchantment became annoyance. I do not have a problem with hearing author’s discuss their work, but these little add-ons felt like the openings of elementary school book reports (“I wrote this because”) and less like conversation around their art. They felt like boxes at the bottom an online form that could not be left empty, lest you be unable to click “submit”.
With a list of more than 50 New Myths, there is a very long list of contributors! My favorites include Aimee Bender, Ron Currie Jr, Maile Meloy, Madeline Miller, Victor LaValle, Sheila Heti, and Sigrid Nunez. There were so many lovely little bits in this collection that I struggled to not just fill this write up with quote after quote! I will leave you with a few favorites though, as I cannot help myself!
“The girls, tottering from bar to bar in their high-heeled shoes—when you look at them, you will think of your small daughter, tottering in the high-heeled shoes you no longer wear. You will think of the days when you tottered in those shoes yourself. You hunted and your daughter will hunt and now it is their turn and to each of us it is as if we are the only ones who ever hunted, the only ones who ever longed, but the hunt is eternal and there is never enough time, there is never enough time. Do not look at them. You will be hurt, and they will not notice, and nothing will change.”
“Beer is not necessarily sweet. It is not necessarily safe. Neither are the girls.”
“She could feel it twitching through his fingers, the sorrow, the guilt, like schools of tiny flicking fish who swim through bone instead of ocean.”
“The boy traced a road for his yellow truck in the dirt of the vacant lot and when he looked up, the older boys were gone. The neighborhood had grown quiet, all the doors closed, the orange of evening casting a light on everything that the boy would later know as loneliness, but back then, he knew only that the light meant the day had ended.”
“See? Look at how much we can know without being told!”
“Once Nell let snow rain from her fingertips until a tiny snowman stood frozen on the floor. See? she said. Birth is not the only way to create.”
Has your attention been grabbed? Give in and get reading!