Top 6 Mythology Retellings

Today, my second professional short story publication is up on Strange Horizons: “The Siren,” available for free to read or listen to. “The Siren” is about a young woman struggling to cope with the loss of her father and forced to confront that loss, as well as her budding sexuality, when her mother brings home a female lover who is more than she appears to be.

I’m a sucker for mythology, and so a lot of my favorite short stories are retellings of classic myths where we get a different perspective from the one in the original. In honor of the release of “The Siren,” I’ve compiled a list of my Top 6 Mythology Retellings. (Really, because I likely haven’t discovered some of the best mythological retellings, this list could be called 6 Great Mythological Retellings, but that just doesn’t sound as catchy, does it?) Some of these stick closely to the originals, and some veer far from the original’s path – one even draws its myths from the fantasy world of the story – but they all bring something new to the mythologies they were inspired by.

1. “Chivalry” by Neil Gaiman
Smoke and Mirrors: Short Fictions andIllusions
Free audio version: Warning: Contains Language

A dryly hilarious story about an elderly woman who finds the Holy Grail in a resale shop. Once she gets home with it, she is visited by Sir Galahad (spelled Sir Galaad in the story), who offers her several magical items in exchange for the grail, returning again and again to try and convince her. For all its humor – and there is a great deal, as the interactions between the woman and the knight is fodder for funny – the story is also somewhat sad.

2. “Urchins, While Swimming” by Catherynne M. Valente
Free text version: Clarkesworld 3
Free audio version: PodCastle 189

One of the most lyrical stories I have ever read, “Urchins, While Swimming” is based on the Russian rusalka myth. The story begins by depicting the relationship between the narrator and her mother; every night, the narrator’s mother wakes her, singing, and wets her hair. Later, once the mother has died, the narrator tells the story of her childhood to her lover. This cyclical story is split into three parts and reads like poetry.

3. “Selkie Stories Are for Losers” by Sofia Samatar
Free text version: Strange Horizons

A young woman in high school, the daughter of a selkie, befriends and falls for the only other girl who works with her. The two best friends bond over their absent mothers; the main character’s mother has left her, gone back to the sea, and the best friend’s mother is depressed and suicidal, absent in mind. This story captures the feeling of adolescence perfectly, and the voice of the main character and narrator is authentic, her insistence that she will never tell a selkie story heart-breaking, as she does so again and again.  

4. “The Edge of the World” by Michael Swanwick
Free text version: Fantasy Magazine

Three teenage friends who live in the town at the edge of the world discover a staircase leading down. Naturally, they follow it. Some excellent alternate history, talked over by the friends, one of whom is a history buff, enlivens the world of the story, but the story is about the relationship among the friends. Donna has a crush on one of the boys, intelligent but troubled and unmotivated. They discover caves in the side of the world which, myth has it, were carved out by monks who used the power of meditation to make wishes come true. What happens next is a startling end to a vivid story.

5. “Song of the Selkie” by Gina Ochsner
Fantastic Women: 18 Tales of the Surreal andthe Sublime from Tin House, edited by Rob Spillman

Another selkie story. A lighthouse-keeper falls for a selkie; they have two daughters before she disappears back into the sea. The daughters, outcasts at their school, are sent back and recommended for home-schooling. A nun, also an outcast, is sent to teach them. As the father waits for the day his daughters will realize their origins and leave him, he tries to hang on to what he can of his loves lost. A beautifully written story about rejection and loss, made even stronger by the shifting points-of-view.

6. Hadestown by Anaïs Mitchell
Hadestown
Free audio:Youtube
Okay, so Hadestown isn’t a short story; it’s an album by artist Anaïs Mitchell, a folk opera based on the Orpheus and Eurydice myth. But the album itself is a complete story, poignant and wonderful and full of beautiful lyrics and solid characterizations and all the best elements of storytelling.
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