November 23, 2012

Musing Mythology

By Tracy Barrett

My two most recent young-adult novels are retellings of stories that many readers know very well: King of Ithaka is the story told in Homer’s Odyssey, but from the point of view of Odysseus’s teenage son, Telemachos. Dark of the Moon recounts the tale of the Minotaur, the monstrous half-man, half-bull confined under the labyrinth in Crete; we learn this story through the words of 

Ariadne, the Minotaur’s sister, and Theseus, his killer.

I’m sometimes asked why I like to retell familiar stories from an unfamiliar point of view. I suppose it’s because the untold story is always the one that interests me. The bit players—sidekicks, family members, sometimes even those in more-pivotal roles, such as mentors, villains, best buddies—are usually flatter than the protagonist. This makes sense; authors have to make sure that the focus stays on the main actor. But nobody is a secondary character in her own life, right? I’ve always been intrigued by the idea of taking the clues provided by the author—knowingly or not—and fleshing out a character and a story from them.
Besides, the characters whose stories I explored in those books (Telemachos, Ariadne, and Theseus) just cry out for dramatization for teen and adult readers. For example, Telemachos was raised by a single mother after his father failed to return from war. He has to learn for himself how to be a man. How many hundreds, even thousands, of young people find themselves in that situation?

Ariadne is forced to choose between remaining true to her beloved mother while protecting her equally beloved brother, and being true to herself and to a foreigner who has introduced strange new ideas into her world. This is one variation of a choice that many teenagers face as well.
 And Theseus—he has been brought up in a macho society where he was bullied for being different. He’s surprised to learn that the small and shy Ariadne is in truth very strong, and that he himself has an unexpected tender, nurturing side.

Often, when readers encounter a story that’s too close to their own experience, they don’t see it as well as when they take a step back and see a situation similar to their own, but with enough differences that the story doesn’t collapse into a lesson. I’m convinced that this is why teens are so crazy about fantasy, science fiction, and—maybe to a lesser degree, but it’s still there—historical fiction. They can see themselves at a remove, and explore different issues without feeling like they’re taking a stand.
Tracy Barrett has written nineteen books, both fiction and nonfiction, for readers in elementary school through high school. She loves history and mysteries, which are combined in her Sherlock Files series, which has been translated into three languages. The first book in the series, The 100-Year-Old Secret, has been nominated for nine state awards. She also loves Greek myths and has written two books that retell Greek myths in new ways, King of Ithaka and Dark of the Moon. She lives in Nashville, Tennessee.My web site is
My blog is
My twitter handle is @writingtracy
Dark of the Moon "deft, dark, and enthralling" (School Library Journal)

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