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





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