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A New Quarantine Obsession: Modern Retellings of Greek Mythology

Quarantine breeds increased social media presence, that much we know. So imagine my surprise when one day, aimlessly scrolling through Twitter, joylessly chuckling every so often, I see a piece of news that makes my little nerd heart beat faster. Disney+ has officially announced that a Percy Jackson live-action TV series is in development, with each book of the original Percy Jackson and the Olympians series getting its own season!!!!! 

FLASHBACK TIME: I’m ten years old, my friends calling me to sit with them in the cafeteria. No thanks, losers, I think to myself as I sit at an empty table. I have a lunch date with a black-haired, green-eyed son of Poseidon. 

As someone who devoured D’aulaires’ Book of Greek Myths, recounting the adventures of gods, goddesses, and heroes until friends begged me to ‘please, just shut up Eliza’, I loved the modern retelling of these myths in the Percy Jackson books. Percy, a son of the powerful sea god Poseidon, teams up with grey-eyed, blonde-haired (ahem, the Walt Disney Company, if you’re reading this: please, oh dear god, don’t let this TV show in any way resemble the monstrosity that was the 2010 Percy Jackson movie. Except maybe try to play ‘Poker Face’ during the Lotus Hotel and Casino scene again. That was fire.) daughter of Athena, and a nature-obsessed satyr to defeat an evil being hell-bent on destroying the world. 

Yes, a familiar set-up, but the books are unique in combining a fast-paced, exciting plot with genuinely funny characters, intelligent dialogue (see: a modern re-telling of Apollo, god of music and poetry, obsessed with reciting bad haikus? Hilarious! Ha!), and a genuine message of the importance of valuing human life. Rick Riordan, the author of the books, writes from the point of view of the children of the gods, the demigods. In ancient Greek stories, these were men and women whose mortal parents had been seduced by one of the 12 Olympians — usually that horndog Zeus — and were born with supernatural strength or intelligence. Within the series, with the power of Western civilization shifting from ancient Greece to America, so too do the gods move their headquarters from Mount Olympus, to the top of the Empire State Building in New York (look, I’m sure from a critical perspective this is problematic, but let’s not think about that one too hard right now). The gods, therefore, are now manifestations of American culture instead of ancient Greek culture — manifestations of American ideas and discourse about tangible things, such as the sea or the sun. This is why — within the series — instead of being armed with a javelin and a spear, Ares, the god of war, carries a machine gun. He sucks, obviously. 

So, when I saw on the bird app that Disney+ was stepping up to the task of making the Percy Jackson books into a TV show, of course I re-read them all within five days. Honestly, they aged perfectly, a nostalgia read that was nonetheless gripping, funny, and at times heartbreakingly sad. With killer lines like ‘there is always a way out for those clever enough to find it’ and ‘Aaaaaaghhhh!’, the adventures of those crazy kids hooked me again. For those stuck inside during these long months of solitude, I would highly recommend cracking open one of these bad boys. However, for those soulless monsters who have no inner child and will probably die alone, there are more adult adaptations of Greek myths that I’ll recommend below. Happy reading. 

‘Adult’, ‘Dark’, ‘Gritty’ (think; The Dark Night of the superhero genre) modern retellings of Greek myths

  • The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller 
  • Circe by Madeline Miller 
  • Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff 
  • Till We Have Faces by CS Lewis 
  • The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker 
  • Lavinia by Ursula Guin 
  • Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides (ok stay with me here, he references the Muses a bunch) 
  • The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood 
  • American Gods by Neil Gaiman 
  • Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie 

I would also recommend watching O Brother, Where Art Thou, for a great retelling of the adventures of Odysseus and for George Clooney handsomeness. 

Enjoy! 

Yours for the revolution, 

Eliza 

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