Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Stripping the myths of meaning

kw: book reviews, mythology

I have come to realize I am at best an average writer. I am most comfortable with the essay format, so this blog is well suited to my slender skills. When I have had to write longer works, such as a thesis or dissertation, the greatest task was the narrative and transitions, because without them my writing resembles a strung-together list of bullet points.

As part of my early education, I read Edith Hamilton's Mythology. It remains the classic work on the primary myths, and her other nine books, for those interested, bring out many of the tales left out of that volume, plus they introduce certain of the early Hebrew and Christian stories.

In a new volume, scholar Philip Freeman brings together summaries of most of the Greek and Roman myths, rewritten for a modern audience: Oh My Gods: A Modern Retelling of Greek and Roman Myths. While he clearly loves the classic stories, I think he has misread the audience. While it is true that modern readers have little patience, they clearly appreciate well crafted narrative and characterization; witness the Harry Potter phenomenon or the marathon of reading required by the twelve volumes of the Left Behind series.

Oh My Gods would probably work better as a multi-volume work (five at least). What we have is writing pretty much as I would probably produce: a series of strung together bullet points, almost like reading a bunch of PowerPoint presentations. The emotional power is wrung out of the stories by the brisk point-by-point style. It's a pity. These ancient archetypes reveal a lot about how our insides work, if told well. While it is perhaps unfair to match Freeman with Hamilton, that's what he is up against. Many of Hamilton's books are still in print. Just get them.

No comments: