From the stories of Hades and the Underworld to Persephone and Zeus.
Thousands of years ago brilliant minds like Homer and Plutarch told and wrote the tales of characters like Zeus, Hades and Persephone. The stories ranged in theme, moral and purpose, but had such far-reaching, universal appeal, many of the motifs can still be found in the literary works of today. At its core, mythology served as a way for humans to analyze both themselves and life as a whole—something people still do—either independently or in classes— to this day.
Humans seem to have this innate desire to make sense of their existence and the world around them, and that is reflected in the arts such as writing, music and dance. That being said, it comes as no surprise to me that several contemporary teen fiction/young adult novels mirror these thoughts and ideals. Below are just some titles to consider if you are looking for some added mythological context. Many of them use the myths and characters in modern settings, which eloquently displays their timeless relevance.
Centered around middle-schooler Iris Greenworld, this book by Sarah Deming puts ancient Greek gods and goddesses like Dionysus, Aphrodite and more in modern day Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Throughout the novel, Iris learns some lessons in self-confidence and strength, while also instilling some morals of her own onto the gods and goddesses. She also learns of various myths. It’s a great take on a traditional coming of age novel as it has an element of escapism I think many adolescents crave, while giving a cool, relevant history/culture lesson all at the same time.
Overall, it’s a story about self-discovery, which, if you think about it, is all the myths really were to begin with. Trying tales of a species trying to make sense of its existence.
Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief
Really any book in this series is a great example of the juxtaposition of the modern world and ancient characters from myths of the past—this one just happens to be my favorite. Taking place in New York, the story centers on Percy Jackson—a demigod who is just 12 years old. The ever-present reminders that they are, in fact, in modern times, such as the presence of magical sneakers and references to a Las Vegas Casino, help the reader connect to what might otherwise be a foreign, unrelatable topic.
It keeps readers grounded in reality, while giving them just enough room to slip into the fantasy realm. Overall, just like the other works mentioned, it helps remind people that no matter how far we’ve come as a species, the human experience will remain the same—same hopes, fears, dreams and emotions curse through us as they did through the people around during the heyday of these myths.
Authored by Tera Lynn Childs, this book examines the life of Phoebe, a high-schooler with dreams of attending USC. When a strange, unexpected turn of events places her on a secret island in Greece, amongst peers who have god-like superpowers, she is forced to find her inner strength in order to persevere. Along the way, she is faced with her fair-share of distractions, because after all, everyone has their own “Achilles heel.”
That is perhaps the biggest take-away from this book, that regardless of era or culture, people are imperfect and must rely on a sense of self and willpower to succeed.
Psyche in a Dress
Call me bias, but this book just might be my favorite on the list. It follows the life of Psyche—a young woman struggling to find her identity. I find it so compelling, because it gets right down to the fact that the struggle of self-acceptance is far from a new concept. It is an age-old dilemma that, women especially, struggle with.
All about lost love, and loving one’s self, this is a great read for anyone trying to have faith in themselves as an individual.
Written by Esther Friesner, this story recounts the tale of Helen of Troy—only this time from a different perspective. Although unlike the other books listed this novel does not take place in particularly “modern times” its approach is definitely contemporary as it allows the reader to hear and connect with Helen’s inner feminist. Unlike the traditional tale where Helen is seen as an object, she is given real personality and character here. She’s an individual with her own thoughts and feelings and girls everywhere can connect with her.
This is a must-read for anyone who can relate to the feeling of being ignored and overlooked—a timeless emotion far too many people experience….
So, whether you’re studying it for a class, or just interested in it yourself, you might consider reading one of these books. They offer new, fresh perspective on age-old tales we’ve all heard.
Patricia Garza is a freelance blogger and education writer that can offer suggestions on anything from choosing between accredited online colleges to picking a major. She welcomes your comments below.