Our Mythical Hope

In mid-May, Antipodean Odyssey (aka Liz Hale) went to Warsaw in search of hope, and found that there is plenty to be hopeful about.

I was there for a wonderful event:   Our Mythical Hope, the first of the three ERC-funded conferences that are a key part of the Our Mythical Childhood project.

Screenshot 2017-07-07 21.30.47

Our Mythical Hope
in Children’s and Young Adults’ Culture… 
The (In)efficacy of Ancient Myths in Overcoming the Hardships of LifeWorkshops and Conference, May 15–21, 2017

 

I arrived early in Warsaw to do some research and have some Polish lessons.  I had just learned how to say ‘it is snowing’ in Polish (‘pada snieg’), when the weather turned brilliantly beautiful.

Warsaw in blazing sunshine is something to behold.  It’s always a gracious city, but the flourishing of outdoor cafes, and strolling happy people was something I hadn’t seen on previous visits in cooler weather.  It was the perfect context for a conference on Mythical Hope.

And what a conference!  Scholars from around the world converged on the Faculty of Artes Liberales, at the University of Warsaw, to talk about the ways that myth in children’s literature gives hope, or gives tools to deal with the difficulties of life.  Topics included discussions of young adult fiction, picture books, television, film, animation, toys, games, clothes, memes, tragedy, comedy.  Texts, like presenters, came from around the world: from Australia to Atlantis, from Cameroon to Ancient Greece, from the subways of New York to the schoolrooms of Russia.

Here’s a link to a video that gives a flavour of the event

“>Our Mythical Hope

Everyone involved was there: the Warsaw team, including the genius behind the whole project, Katarzyna Marciniak, her colleagues Elzbieta Olechowska, Hanna Pauloskaya, Joanna Klos, and her delightful PhD students Anna Mik and Dorota Bazylcyk.

The British team: Susan Deacy, Sonya Nevin, Steve Simons, and Katerina Volioti, from The University of Roehampton.  Susan spoke movingly about her project on using classical myth in classroom projects for autistic students.  Sonya and Steve showed us how they bring Greek vases to life through their animation work.  Katerina showed that the classical pantheon is alive and well in modern picture books for young readers.

Lisa Maurice and Ayelet Peer from Bar Ilan University in Tel Aviv, were representing Israel.  Lisa gave us a taste of her work with students and literature fans, who work with classical myth in fan fiction environments.  Ayelet took us to Japan, and talked about the power of the hero in contemporary manga.

Daniel Nkemleke and Divine Che Neba came from the Université de Yaounde 1, in Cameroon.  Divine spoke about the gathering of myths from Cameroon, and Daniel introduced us to the forthcoming collection of Cameroonian myths (translated into English and Polish, and illustrated by students from the Warsaw Academy of Fine Arts).

And, on our very special Antipodean Odyssey, was the Australian contingent: Marguerite Johnson from Classics in the University of Newcastle, and Margaret Bromley and myself from UNE.

As the person who covers the Australian side of things, I feel a responsibility to present the dynamism and creativity of the country I’ve lived and worked in for so long, and it was a joy to have with me presenters who showcased this so well.  Marguerite Johnson’s talk about the children’s columns of colonial Australian newspapers showed how Australians clung to classical ideals as part of a connection to standards imposed by the motherland.  Margaret Bromley’s presentation on two contemporary adaptations of Aesop (one by Rodney McRae, the other by Ray Ching) showed artists using Australian imagery and ideas to breathe distinctive life into the familiar stories.  I’ll be asking each of them to write a short version of their papers for this blog, soon.  I spoke too, about the wonderful Australian writer, Ursula Dubosarky, and her briliant novel about Sydney schoolgirls, The Golden Day.

For me, one of the most delightful aspects of the conference was the opportunity to meet with local students, from local schools and from the Universities of Warsaw and Belarus, and I’ll be sharing adaptations from their presentations shortly on Antipodean Odyssey.  The students of Strumenie High School performed the tragedy of Pyramus and Thisbe, all in Latin, impressing the scholars greatly with their linguistic skills and acting verve; The students of Mikolaj Rej High School gave wonderful presentations, in which they showed us the myriad ways that classical myth still exists in the statues of Warsaw.

“>Visit to Strumenie High School of Our ‘Mythical’ Scholars

 

This conference showed us that hope doesn’t have to be mythical to be powerful, that myths are alive and well and living in Warsaw (and around the world).  It was a testament to the joy of scholarship, the love of literature, and the power of culture dedicated to young people.   Watch this space for presentations and writings that draw from this conference.

— Elizabeth Hale

 

 

 

 

First Contact (Ancient Myths and Modern Children . . .)

First Contact (Ancient Myths and Modern Children . . .)

 

Miriam Riverlea recently completed her PhD at Monash University: My First Book of Greek Myths: Retelling Ancient Myths to Modern Children. In it, she argues that the retellings of classical myth in children’s literature deserves more attention.  We’re delighted that she has joined the Our Mythical Childhood team.

— Liz Hale

When I was about eight years old, my father read me Roger Lancelyn Green’s Tales of the Greek Heroes and The Tale of Troy. First published in the late 1950s, these books retell some of the most famous stories from Greek myth for young readers, from Jason and the Argonauts to Odysseus and Achilles at Troy. I was enthralled. I can remember feeling quite devastated when we finished reading the final chapters, and have since reread these books many times over.

RLG inside cover
Where it all began for Miriam: Roger Lancelyn Green, Andrew Lang, Ian Seraillier . . .

The stories that we read as children can have a profound and lasting influence upon us. My childhood fascination with classical mythology led me to study Classics at high school and university. When I was introduced to the ancient, ‘original’ sources for the myths, Green’s stories still loomed large in my mind. The Tale of Troy, for instance, developed an overarching narrative connecting the events of Zeus’ early reign on Olympus with the Trojan War. At times, reading Homer or Euripides, it was a real challenge to overcome the notion that the versions of the myths that I knew so well were somehow more legitimate than the disparate, often contradictory references in the ancient tradition. As my first point of contact with the world of Greek myth, Green’s tales have retained their hold on me.

As I moved into postgraduate study, I began to focus my research on the appearances of classical myth in the modern age. I studied the 1980s adventure computer game King’s Quest and the myriad ways that the myth of the Trojan Horse has infiltrated our consciousness. And when I wrote my PhD, my choice of topic brought me full circle. My thesis, entitled ‘My First Book of Greek Myths: Retelling Ancient Myths to Modern Children’, examined more than seventy contemporary retellings of Greek myth written for children and young adults. While most of the texts were published in the last four decades, I also considered the works of Roger Lancelyn Green and other earlier storytellers, including Nathaniel Hawthorne, Charles Kingsley and Andrew Lang. I discovered that many of the texts are intensely self-conscious about their own position within the storytelling tradition. Metafictional and intertextual elements feature prominently, and the motifs of weaving and storage are regularly employed as symbols of the complex shape and the enduring survival of the mythic tradition.

Reading
The next generation–Miriam’s children enjoying their classics!

During the course of my PhD, I had three children. The eldest two, now aged six and four, are beginning to discover Greek myth for themselves. As well as the many books that are gradually winging their way from my bookshelves to theirs, they have worldly friends with older siblings who have read the Percy Jackson books and have told them all about Hades and Medusa. I’m happier starting them on Rosemary Wells’ Max and Ruby’s First Greek Myth: Pandora’s Box, in which all the characters are rabbits. We’ve also got a sticker book in which all the characters (even the gods!) appear in their underwear, and you get to stick on their clothes, armour and accoutrements.

Sticker book
Classical stickers, from Usborne publications…

I have always promised myself that I wouldn’t force Greek mythology on my kids, but I am secretly delighted that they seem to like it. And I am looking forward, both as a parent and a researcher, to seeing how the texts they encounter at this formative time come to influence their lives in the future.

Miriam Riverlea

References:

Gillespie, Lisa Jane, and Emi Ordas. Sticker Greek Myths. London: Usborne, 2016.

Green, Roger Lancelyn. The Tale of Troy. London: Penguin, 1958; 1994.

———. Tales of the Greek Heroes. London: Penguin, 1958; 2009.

Riordan, Rick. Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief. London: Puffin, 2006.

Wells, Rosemary. Max and Ruby’s First Greek Myth: Pandora’s Box. New York: Dial Books for Young Readers, 1993.

Miriam Riverlea’s PhD is available online here