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Sunday, March 13th, 2005, 09:31 PM
March 12, 2005

Authors take on Herculean task of retelling myths

By Dalya Alberge, Arts Correspondent

http://images.thetimes.co.uk/images/trans.gif FOR thousands of years, myths have captured imaginations, helping us to make sense of the world. Now some of the world’s leading authors have been inspired to reread and retell them in the most ambitious simultaneous worldwide publication ever undertaken.

The venture will involve 35 publishers worldwide and some of their best-known authors are rewriting the ancient myths, whether Greek, Aztec, Hindu, Norse, biblical or African, to show how the stories remain as relevant as ever.

The authors have been given no brief, beyond taking a myth of their choice and writing a 30,000-word story based on its gods, superhumans and larger-than-life characters.

They will be writing in 30 languages: the universal nature and language of mythology is not harmed by translation.

Margaret Atwood, who won the Booker Prize in 2000 for The Blind Assassin, the story of an old woman reflecting on her life, has rewritten the myth of Penelope and Odysseus, turning it on its head by approaching it from Penelope’s perspective as she waits in the palace for Odysseus’s return.

The Russian writer Viktor Pelevin has brought Theseus and the Minotaur back to life, with an internet chatroom as the labyrinth. Other contributers include Jeanette Winterson, Donna Tartt and David Grossman, from Britain, America and Israel respectively.

Asked about the enduring appeal of myths, Winterson, who is retelling the myth of Atlas and Heracles, said: “Even when societies change . . . underneath, there are permanent truths about the human condition and things about ourselves that don’t change so easily.

“Myths take us to deep places, hidden places we recognise. They are going back into those strata of imagination” The idea for The Myths, which is to be announced tomorrow at the London Book Fair, came to Jamie Byng, the publisher at Canongate Books, after the success of his bestselling edition of the Bible introduced by A.S. Byatt, among others. “I’m excited by the collaborative nature of the project,” he said. “Nothing on this scale has been attempted before.”

Each book will be published simultaneously in 35 countries by 27 publishers. By October, when the first three books are published, the number is expected to rise to 35. There are final negotiations with publishers in Hungary and Portugal.

Michael Heyward of Text, Australia, said: “The Myths series takes us back to the heart of storytelling itself and the quest for meaning. Myths can be ancient stories, but they never grow old.” Two or three books are expected to be published each year.

“We hope for the next 50 years,” Morgan Entrekin of Grove/Atlantic said. “These are myths as a piece of narrative with universal appeal. Myths reflect the urge to tell stories.”

Winterson said: “When I was asked to choose a myth, I realised I had chosen already. The story of Atlas holding up the world was in my mind before the phone call had ended. If the call had not come, perhaps I would never have written the story, but when it did, that story was waiting to be written."


Saturday, March 26th, 2005, 07:23 AM
I don't understand the reasons for doing this. Why do myths need to be retold? If you want to know about Greek mythology, then read Hesiod. You want to know about Norse mythology, then read the Edda. Why should ancient myths have to be completely redone in order for us to understand them? What's the point of even reading them, if you don't allow yourself to experience a story that comes from a viewpoint radically different from your own? This just seems silly.