IJB Shout-out

Antipodean Odyssey goes to the International Jugendsbibliotek.

Blutenburg Castle on a rare cloudy day.

Imagine a 13th-century castle stuffed to the brim with children’s books. With a swan named Ludwig guarding the moat outside, and swallows nesting in the entryway.

Imagine spending time in a serenely orderly reading room, surrounded by the best scholarship in children’s literature, and selecting picture books, pop-up books, novels, collections, and more from the hundreds of thousands of texts in the catalogue to the point that you can hardly see over the piles that arrive on your desk.

This was my happy lot in the past two weeks. I pored through the catalogue and, thanks to the help of the wonderful librarians in the lesesaal (reading room), found book after book after book that will play a part in the Our Mythical Survey, and form part of the Guide I’m writing with Miriam Riverlea.

I found myself enchanted and distracted and led in all sorts of directions, from the aesthetic to the narrative. But I held firm, and did my best to gather some exquisite works for inclusion and discussion. Here’s three wow moments from many!

Ariadne’s Goose

 My first wow moment was opening ‘Le Fil D’Ariane,’ by Dominique Feraud, which retells the story of Theseus, the Minotaur, and Ariadne’s Golden Thread. Its subtitle reads: ‘ou jouer le jeu pour vivre le mythe’ (1994). (Ariadne’s Thread: or, play the game to live the myth, but it sounds better in French!)

As you read, or listen, you can play along on a games board that is included with the book: the Game of the Goose (one of Europe’s oldest boardgames, and worthy of much further exploration). The idea of a book that is a game isn’t new, but such a beautiful experience reveals that picture books are an aesthetic experience, and also that reading and play can be intimately intertwined.

Carte in Tavola

My second wow moment was opening two more boxes. These ones contained Ulisses, la Maga Circe e le Sirene by Lucia Scuderi, and Teseo e Arianna by Nicoletta Ceccoli, published by Italian company Fatatrac. These are a series called ‘carte in tavola,’ where the words are on one side of a card, and the picture is on the other side. As you read, you then put the card on the table, picture side up, to build up a snaking rectangle that forms a larger picture. Something about playing with the story as you read it, tell it, or hear it, is quite profound. It reminds me a little of the Japanese Kamishabai approach to storytelling. (I’ll be talking about these lovely works in Warsaw in a couple of weeks.)

Hummers and Stingers

 My third and biggest wow was to find that the excellent staff of the IJB had prepared a superb exhibition on the subject of insects:  Summende Staatenbauer und Pikende Plagegeister: Insekten und Spinnentiere in Kinder- und Jugend Büchern, a title that almost defeated my high school German, but with a little help from the web, basically translates as Buzzing Builders and Piercing Pests: Insects and Spinning animals in Children’s and Young Adults’ Literature.

I was led up the stairs to the exhibition room where I discovered not only that they had illuminated the mythological elements of insect-related storytelling (La Fontaine, Aesop, Toni Morrison), but that they had displayed a whole host of children’s books, from all over the world, devoted to understanding and sharing the lives of insects.

So here’s a shout-out to this wonderful exhibition, and a hearty recommendation for anyone passing through, well, anywhere, to take a detour to Munich and the joys of Schloss Blutenburg and the Internationale Jugendsbibliotek.

— Elizabeth Hale



The Origins of Love . . . Cupid and Psyche in the Young Adult Novels of Jendela Tryst

Who said Saturnalia should stop with the New Year? Not Antipodean Odyssey., certainly. We’ll continue sharing our discoveries across the summer. Here’s Lisa Maurice, who is a Senior Lecturer in Classics at Bar Ilan University. She’s the brains behind The Reception of Ancient Greece and Rome in Children’s Literature: Heroes and Eagles (Brill 2016), and as part of the Our Mythical Childhood project is overseeing Our Mythical Education, which will gather classical curriculum and pedagogical material from around the world. The discovery she shares is  The Origins of Love series of teen novels by the American writer Jendela Tryst — Elizabeth Hale

The Origins of Love . . .

I think one of my most interesting finds in the mythological realm is Jendela Tryst’s recent version of Apuleius’ Cupid and Psyche, a trilogy of young adult novels entitled The Origins of Love. Great reading for teens who have an interest in mythology, the first volume, Struck: Eros and Psyche – A Myth was published in 2014 and the second, Scorched, in 2015, and the third, Rupture, in January of this year. With each book running to close to 200 pages, this retelling is a thoroughly twenty-first century approach to the story.


Jendela Tryst’s website explains her approach to mythology and her reasons for writing:

Jendela Tryst worries that humanity is in trouble. The world has become too cynical. By marrying ancient traditional tales with modern values, she reminds readers that love is older than ancient scripture, and that true love may even outlast the androids destined to replace us. Within every book, a little bird called Hope sings on.

This combination of myths and contemporary values has led to a refreshing and wholly believable world in which the Greek gods, and the mortals with whom they mix, are fully fleshed characters and wholly believable. The advertising blurb to the first volume of this modern and lovely narration runs:

He thought he knew everything about love, until she made him redefine it.
When Eros, the devil-may-care god of love is pricked by his own arrow, he falls for the most unsuitable of mates, a mortal woman he has been ordered to destroy.

Without knowing Eros’s true identity, spirited, intelligent Psyche shows the god just what it means to be on the receiving end of his arrows, with all its sweet pain and torment, and all its rapture.

The laws forbid their union, and Aphrodite, goddess of beauty and passion, is determined to see Psyche destroyed. Furthermore, the two must deal with their own doubts about themselves and each other which threaten their fragile relationship. Will Eros and Psyche become the canon of all that love has the potential to be, or will they follow a tragic path, with lessons learned too late to save them?

Meanwhile the back cover, which pre-empts the rest of the trilogy, runs:

While Eros battles rebels against the forces of Olympus, strong-willed Psyche must journey through inferno to prove her worth.  Time is running out for two determined lovers whose growing strength challenges the gods. Eros and Psyche’s inspiring devotion arouses unlikely allies, culminating in an alliance that threatens ancient traditions. Can a seemingly impotent god and a young mortal woman surmount immortal deities or will their love be buried in the destructive rubble of fear and ambition?

It is immediately apparent that this is a very different kind of retelling from most of the adaptations of the tale for young readers. The gods themselves are not only anthropomorphized as one would expect, but fascinatingly three dimensional and, while still retaining their otherworldliness and godliness, they are in many ways, “human”. In fact, as in some other recent cinematic portrayals, their lack of humanity is contrasted negatively with that of mortals.


The Enduring story of Cupid and Psyche

This Psyche is also not a princess but a farmer’s daughter. Her beauty is unconventional and the physical descriptions of her that speaks of her skin that is “not quite bronze and not quite gold”, and long hair that is dark brown, with natural red and blond streaks in it, perhaps owe more to Tryst’s Indian heritage than to Hollywood ideals of beauty. Her Psyche is also a thoroughly modern woman, despite living in Bronze Age Greece (the Trojan War is taking place at the time of the events of the story) – she is “strong-willed”, “spirited” and “intelligent”, and this is a match of true love, and of justice and freedom from oppression, as part of a much wider universal story. The book is also far more graphic in its sexuality than most juvenile versions of the story. It is beautifully told, truly a rendering for the twenty-first century, and yet, paradoxically, in some ways it seems very close to the feeling of the original in its sophistication and creation of a fully developed world. — Lisa Maurice



ps, you can find out more about Jendela Tryst and her website at http://www.jendelatryst.com/, and the books are available on Amazon as both print and kindle editions.