“The free man never thinks of escape.”
Peeking out from a shelving cart, I discovered Ali Smith’s Girl Meets Boy: The Myth of Iphis and was introduced to Canongate’s Myths series. This series so fascinated me that I immediately checked out Smith’s book as well as Jeanette Winterson’s Weight: The Myth of Atlas and Heracles. This series includes a wide ranging group of authors who reinterpret and retell mythical stories. The Myths series’ Introduction states: “Myths are universal and timeless stories that reflect and shape our lives – they explore our desires, our fears, our longings and provide narratives that remind us what it means to be human. The Myths series brings together some of the world’s finest writers, each of whom has retold a myth in a contemporary and memorable way.”
And if this is not enough to spark your curiosity, the list of authors so far participating in the series are Karen Armstrong, Margaret Atwood, AS Byatt, Michel Faber, David Grossman, Milton Hatoum, Natsuo Kirino, Alexander McCall Smith, Tomás Eloy Martínez, Klas Östergren, Victor Pelevin, Ali Smith, Donna Tartt, Su Tong, Dubravka Ugresic, Salley Vickers and Jeanette Winterson.
The other evening I snuggled into a comfortable chair with Winterson’s Weight and finished it a few hours later. It has been quite some time since I have found myself so riveted to a book. Weight retells and reinterprets the story of Atlas and Heracles. For those of you unfamiliar with the original myth, Atlas has been punished to hold the Kosmos for defying the gods, and Heracles (or Hercules) accepts to hold this weight in exchange for Atlas’ help. Heracles needs someone else to obtain three golden apples from Atlas’ garden to finish his twelve trials. Unfortunately, Heracles realizes that Atlas does not have to come back and must trick him into retaking his burden.
I posted Winterson’s introduction the other day, which goes into her explanation of choice and perspective of the myth. Weight occurs almost entirely in the classical period and includes visits from other gods such as Hera and Zeus. Punctuating her story line, Winterson includes philosophical ideas on boundaries, freedom, punishments, human nature, the retelling of the story, and of course weight. Perhaps my favorite part of the novel, or at least the part that brought a grin to my face, is when Laika (the Russian dog sent into space and then euthanized) survives her space journey and finds a new master in Atlas.
I had never read anything by Winterson before, but I found her writing style simply brilliant. The dialog is witty and sharp and she does an excellent job in combining fact, myth, and her own story. I am now very interested in reading more of Winterson’s works as well as picking up another book in the Myths series. For more information on the Myths series, visit their website at: http://www.themyths.co.uk/.