Books inspired by mythology

From Grecian gods to Herculean heroes, mythology continues to offer endless inspiration for contemporary writers. The following novels retell ancient stories, their authors bringing fresh eyes and modern twists to the legends we know so well.

7 books inspired by mythology

The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller

Winner of the Women’s Prize for fiction 2012

We are all familiar with Achilles – particularly with his heel. The name Patroclus is less well-known. In The Song of Achilles, however, Madeline Miller assigns the leading role to Patroclus, a young prince exiled to Phthia. Patroclus and Achilles strike up a friendship and as time passes, their relationship transforms into love. Miller’s novel is a remarkable reimagining of the heroes behind the Trojan War, and calls into question how we tell old tales in a modern age.  


Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie

Winner of the Women’s Prize for fiction 2018

In Home Fire, Kamila Shamsie places the story of Antigone in contemporary London. The protagonist is Aneeka, whose twin brother, Parvaiz, leaves home to join Isis. In his wake, the family descends into turmoil as loyalty is pushed to its limits. Aneeka faces the dilemma of young Antigone, forced to choose between law, faith and family. Shamsie addresses issues of identity for British Muslims, writing with eloquence and delicacy. 


Pandora by Susan Stokes-Chapman

Pandora’s infamous box warns us of the perils of curiosity and so it is with the protagonist in Susan Stokes-Chapman’s Pandora. Set in Georgian London at Dora Blake’s late parents’ once-famed shop of antiquities. Dora lives with her unpleasant uncle, a man who is not known for his trustworthy character. She is intrigued when a mysterious ancient Greek vase is delivered and locked in the basement away from prying eyes. Unable to resist the temptation, Dora sets in motion a chain of events that brings to light conspiracies and revelations that unearth the dark secrets that her uncle has been hiding.


Circe by Madeline Miller

Shortlisted for the Women’s Prize for fiction 2019

In Greek mythology, Circe, daughter of Helios, is an enchantress known for her tendency to turn men into lions, wolves and pigs. In her masterful novel, Madeline Miller reimagines the life of the goddess, allowing her to tell her own tale, rather than serve as a single stepping stone in Odysseus’ journey. The novel manipulates an ancient story; Miller’s depictions of heroes such as Odysseus and Jason are carefully constructed and she balances their merits with flaws. Circe herself is recognisable as the witch of famous myths, but she is also relatable to the modern reader.


The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood

In Homer’s account in The Odyssey, Penelope, wife of Odysseus is portrayed as the quintessential faithful wife. The Penelopiad begins with Atwood imagining Penelope in the Underworld thousands of years later, telling the story of her life, with interjections from a Greek chorus line. In this Feminist retelling, we are expertly shown the extreme double standards suffered by the women in ancient Greece, with Penelope revealing the truth behind some of Odysseus’s greatest heroic triumphs and the reality of her long wait for his return. A masterclass in the importance of perspective.


The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker

Shortlisted for the Women’s Prize for fiction 2019

Pat Barker’s The Silence of the Girls offers the perspective of Briseis, a young woman abducted by the Greeks after the destruction of Lyrnessus. At the Greek camp, Briseis becomes a bargaining chip between Achilles and Agamemnon. The novel shines a spotlight upon the experience of lesser-known women from The Iliad – women other than Helen of Troy. Briseis’ account is visceral and moving. Barker does not shy away from depicting the realities of the female experience so often over-shadowed by the limelight men. A powerful and original novel, The Silence of the Girls is a must-read for anyone interested in mythology. 


Stone Blind by Natalie Haynes

Longlisted for the Women’s Prize for fiction 2023

In Stone Blind, Natalie Haynes presents us with a retelling of the well-known myth of Perseus and the Gorgons and calls into question what it really means to be labelled a ‘monster’. Medusa’s stone-creating snake hair, is a myth designed to strike fear into the hearts of the reader. But did you ever consider how she came to be that way? Haynes masterfully pulls on all the threads of Mount Olympus to weave together a tapestry that will bring its immortal inhabitants to life in glorious technicolour. The injustices will make you weep, but there is lightness and humour here too. By the end of the book, the monster might not be who you thought it was.


Do you like to revisit ancient civilisations in your reading? Do you have a favourite myth, or favourite retelling? Join us on our social platforms and let us know!

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