Myth Retellings | From Russian Folklore to Norse Mythology and the Classics

karinareads myth retellingsI love reading a good mythological retelling, from Russian folklore, to Norse mythology and the classics, I adore it all. I thought I’d put together some of my favourites in case anyone needs some recommendations.

Russian Folklore

Deathless by Catherynne M Valente
– Set in Communist Soviet Union, Valente expertly mixes various Russian tales to weave a beautifully magic tale with a very real historical back drop. It does help if you know a bit of the history of the Russian Revolution but it should still be wonderful if you don’t.

The Bear and the Nightingale & The Girl in the Tower by Katherine Arden
– Arden also weaves together several Russian myths and legends in this series, touching on Koschei, Morozko and the Firebird. We follow a wilful young girl called Vasya (a popular heroine name in Russian mythology) as she struggles to live among a religious society changing from the old tales to a new religion. I did a full review here, if you would like my more in-depth thoughts.

Russian Magic Tales From Pushkin to Platanov by (ed. by) Robert Chandler
– A collection of Russian folkloric tales from a variety of eminent Russian authors. I picked this up after reading Deathless and found stories that were not only retold there and in The Bear and the Nightingale, but also in other popular fantasy stories (the ACOTAR series by Sarah J Maas for one) that I hadn’t recognised at the time.

Norse Mythology

Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman
– Maybe an obvious one, but this collection retells some of the more famous Nordic myths and includes all the well known favourite characters: Thor, Loki, Fenrir and Odin. I found this to be a really accessible introduction into a relatively less explored/retold mythology. However, after reading this I did pick up some similarities with other fantasy stories I’ve read. See also Gaiman’s American Gods.

The Elder Edda- Myths, Gods and Heroes from the Viking World by Andy Orchard
– This collections brings together 5 tales that inspired Tolkein’s Middle Earth and Lord of the Rings trilogy, featuring tales of chivalry, quests, dwarves, trolls, dragons and most importantly, magic.

Runemarks by Joanne Harris
– Set in a world where the Norse Gods still survive but as outlaws while a new powerful religion known as The Order attempt to eradicate magic. Harris was inspired to write this after falling in love with the legends as a child.

Classical Mythology

For the Most Beautiful, For the Winner and For the Immortal by Emily Hauser
– Emily Hauser is a professional Classicist and you can really tell in these beautiful retellings. For the Most Beautiful retells the Trojan War but from the point of view of Briseis and Krisayis, two women who end up in the hands of the invading Greeks. We see the famous Hector, Paris, Ajax and of course, Achilles. For the Winner retells Atalanta’s story and sees her joining Jason and the Argonauts on their search for the golden fleece. For the Immortal follows Admete and see her interact with Hercules and the Amazons. Hauser’s writing is incredibly evocative and these stories can be heartbreaking.

The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood
– Atwood focusses the novel on Penelope, the wife of Odysseus and mother of their child Telemachus, as she fights off all the potential suitors that come calling after Odysseus’ prolonged absence after the Trojan war. Told in a unique mix of prose, verse and chorus, The Penelopiad really brings Penelope to life and offers an alternative view on the original epic poem.

Circe, Galatea and The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller
– Madeline Miller’s work needs no introduction. Powerfully written, Circe retells the life of sorceress Circe, notably from The Odyssey, from her beginnings living with her father, the sun god Helios, to her exile on the isle of Aeaea. We see a large cast of ancient Greek characters in an epic tale of love, loss and heartbreak. Galatea is a short story on the statue Galatea who is brought to life, and The Song of Achilles is perhaps her most famous work, retelling the myth of Achilles from his cousin Patroclus’ point of view.

The Children of Jocasta by Natalie Haynes
– In The Children of Jocasta, Natalie Haynes expertly brings to life the overlooked females in two well known Ancient Greek tragedies: Oedipus and Antigone. We follow Jocasta (Oedipus) and Ismene (Antigone) in alternating chapters as Haynes weaves a wonderfully immersive and emotive story stripped of magic and focusses on rationalising these myths. See my full review here.

Mythos by Stephen Fry
– A fantastic collection of the Greek myths told from the beginning and covering most of the well known stories. I particularly enjoyed the way Fry placed the myths in context to weave a whole narrative rather than separate stories with no links. This helped me understand the family trees a lot better and the motives of certain gods and goddesses. I also enjoyed how he links some of the ancient words, stories and names to the way we use/infer them in today’s society. I learned a lot more than just the myths in a really fun and engaging way. Check out my full review here.

With special mention to some fantastic novels that draw upon myths, legends and folklore but are not straight retellings…

Trail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse
– This wonderful urban fantasy explores the gods, culture and beliefs of the Diné. The protagonist is Diné, she lives in Dinétah and interacts with gods from Diné myth. It is post-apcolyptic where there has been a big flood that has decimated large parts of the USA but the ‘safe’ area where Maggie lives is contained by a large wall and the gods from legend have come back to cause havoc. I absolutely loved this story and highly recommend it if you would like to discover more myths and legends from a far less retold culture and lore.

The Ninth Rain by Jen Williams
– Now this is very loose, and definitely not a retelling.. but there is a magical ‘tree of life’ that could be linked with the Norse equivalent, Yggdrasil. A fantastic fantasy novel that does pull a lot of influence from old folklore and mythology to create an excitingly fresh fantasy world full of witches, immortal beings and alien monsters.Oh and dragons.

A Promise of Fire, Breath of Fire and Heart on Fire by Amanda Bouchet
– This trilogy does not retell a specific myth or character from ancient mythology, but this fantasy trilogy is set in a magical world where the Greek gods are real and features plenty of cameos from the famous gods and goddesses who crop up to help or hinder our protagonist, Cat, as she accepts her destiny and fulfils her quest. Addictive from the start, a great romp through Greek mythology that will make you smile if you’re already familiar with the legends.

Alice by Christina Henry
– Not a retelling of a myth, but Henry’s dark and twisty retelling of Alice and Wonderland is great. In this iteration, Alice has been locked up in an asylum and the mad hatter is reborn as Hatcher, the slightly disturbed man who is kept next door to Alice and helps her keep ‘sane’. Very disturbing, very absorbing.

I adore books that retell myths and legends and I am always on the look out for new recommendations if you have any. Happy reading!

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15 thoughts on “Myth Retellings | From Russian Folklore to Norse Mythology and the Classics

        1. Of course! I look forward to reading it 😊 it got quite hard to reign myself in before i listed every fantasy book that has a hint of famous mythology in it – as it would be pretty much my entire collection 🙈

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    1. Ooh Alice is super dark and twisty – but refreshing for it. I immediately bought the sequel and Lost Boy as I have such high hopes 😊

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  1. This is a great post! Lots to go on my TBR list – thank you! 😀
    You might enjoy Lindsay Clarke’s The War at Troy and Return from Troy, if you haven’t already read them (?) – Return is my favourite as it tells the story of Odysseus and his crew, which I love. Really well written books. 🙂

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  2. I’m very intrigued by some of these, so I’m sure I’ll come back to this post! Valente is definitely on my TBR, at least.

    I’m interested to see what I think of The Bear and the Nightingale too! I know several people who had issues with it but more people who absolutely loved it, haha.

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    1. Ah Deathless ❤ i’ve not picked up any of her other works as i’m nervous I won’t enjoy it as much. One day I will though 😊

      Yes me too. I can see why some people didn’t like it, and i didn’t enjoy the second book as much despite the appearance of Koschei the Deathless. But I was fascinated by the interplay between the ‘old’ religion and the ‘new’. That was very interesting and made think about what the transition must have been like in real life. A lot to ponder! 😄

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