Tag Archives: mythology

Review: Shen’s “Legendary Ladies” and “Bad Girls Throughout History”

First off, a funny story: yesterday, I was giving my (9th grade) classes a quiz over figurative language (personification, onomatopoeia, metaphor, etc.) and before the quiz, my 4th period decided that Hyperbole is when someone is “just being so extra.” I gave examples that I’ve heard in the halls, like “OMG if I don’t see my boo right now, I’m gonna die” and “ugh, this class is taking, like, forever.” We finished the quiz and I walked by a table group that (sometimes, very unfortunately) has a bf/gf couple, who were playing keep away, or something dumb. I told them to STAHP or they were going to make me throw up, and the whole table group yelled “HYPERBOLE!!! That’s a hyperbole, CT!!” I cackled with laughter and gave them all “Glad Points” as a reward for using their knowledge AGAINST ME.

Now, to the review. As specified in my last post, I asked for these beautiful books for Christmas. Thanks to my mom and mom-in-law, I was gifted both and devoured each in a day. Although they are by the same author/illustrator and, on the surface, look quite similar, they have substantial differences that need to be sussed out. Therefore, I’ll be taking them one by one, starting with my favorite!

Aphra Behn, first female professional writer. Sojourner Truth, activist and abolitionist. Ada Lovelace, first computer programmer. Marie Curie, first woman to win the Nobel Prize. Joan Jett, godmother of punk. The 100 revolutionary women highlighted in this gorgeously illustrated book were bad in the best sense of the word: they challenged the status quo and changed the rules for all who followed. From pirates to artists, warriors, daredevils, scientists, activists, and spies, the accomplishments of these incredible women vary as much as the eras and places in which they effected change. Featuring bold watercolor portraits and illuminating essays by Ann Shen, Bad Girls Throughout History is a distinctive, gift-worthy tribute.

Goodreads.com

Bad Girls Throughout History: 100 Remarkable Women Who Changed the World was published in 2016 and features 100 women spanning many centuries and cultures who did “bad” things (more on that in a bit) or were considered improper by their (and sometimes also our) society. The women are featured chronologically, so our amazing, gender stereotype-breaking ancestors segue gently to modern glass ceiling-breakers.

Now, when it comes to calling these women “bad,” I assumed it would focus on women who did things considered improper for women during their time. However, the term “bad” seems to be used more loosely than I had thought. Yes, of course misogyny runs rampant through each story in some way or other, but not all stories are focused on what these women did in reaction to oppression. Intermingled among the Queens, scientists, adventurers, and visionaries are murderers and thieves. As it should be, “bad” is subjective. I especially appreciate this in reference to my intentions to make this book available as a point of inspiration for the upcoming research unit. ELA is all about the ability to argue and support your point, so if someone wants to argue that Bonnie Parker is a hero, I look forward to hearing that argument.

From the beloved author and artist behind Bad Girls Throughout History comes this lushly illustrated book of goddesses from around the world. Aphrodite, the Greek goddess whose love overcame mortality. Mazu, the Chinese deity who safely guides travelers home. Lakshmi, the Hindu provider of fortune and prosperity. These powerful deities and many more are celebrated in gorgeous artwork and enlightening essays that explore the feminine divine and encourage readers to empower themselves. Ann Shen’s signature watercolors make Legendary Ladies a unique, gift-worthy homage to the mighty women within.

The other book, Legendary Ladies: 50 Goddesses to Empower and Inspire You, focuses on goddesses from various cultures. The book seeks to inspire the reader, so Shen even goes so far as to suggest the strengths of each goddess and when the reader might want to “call on” each one for different benefits. I appreciated the variety of cultures featured in this book and learned a great deal about various origin stories. I honestly wish it had been longer, like its 100-page predecessor, but I imagine a tremendous amount of research had to go into this book; I also imagine that this one stands more of a risk of offending readers, since Shen attempts to add so much variety that she is inevitably treading (bravely, I think) on unfamiliar territory and might risk getting something wrong, here and there.

So, obviously, the showstopper is the illustrations. Each woman listed in both texts has her own accompanying original illustration. Again, the amount of research that must have gone into these is amazing, especially in the goddesses text, since each woman is drawn “in her element.” Shen apparently got her start in illustration and has worked for some impressive, well-known companies, so I like to think that all that experience is what made it possible for her to produce these works of obvious passion. I can’t imagine that anyone would take lightly the responsibility to educate readers about the history of womankind; however, since she does so not only through words but all through illustrations, this book will naturally appeal more to younger audiences, who benefit from visual stimulation for prolonged attention, than those that convey the same information without illustrations. I would gladly, after choosing very carefully, read some of these to student audiences (and might do so in the weeks leading up to the research unit). I honestly wish someone would make a similar illustrated compilation with male rule-breakers.

Now, to discuss the only major issue I noticed. The number of European goddesses vastly outnumbered those of Asian, African, South American, or North American heritage. Legendary Ladies featured one “ancestor” from Native American heritage (I don’t know what to call these characters collectively, since they’re not all goddesses), a few Africans, a few Pacific Islanders, a few more of Celtic, Welsh, Aztec, or Egyptian origin, a good number Hindus, as well as Chinese, but predominantly featured Greek goddesses. On the one hand, I loved seeing them since I have studied Greek mythology extensively, but it seemed disproportionate to the numbers featured for other cultures. I should acknowledge that this might be greatly due, at least in part, to the fact that Greek mythological beliefs were passed to all conquered nations and, although it is not still a practiced religion, the impact of that belief system is still evident in classical texts, as well as all those that were inspired by the classics. I mean, for goodness sake, like I teach each year when we read The Odyssey, Greek mythology still permeates our culture, even Spongebob Squarepants, for crying out loud. Greek mythology is inescapable. But that almost adds to my desire to see less of that which we already know and more of that which is not as well-known globally. Surely there are more African and Native American ancestral ladies that could have been featured?

Obviously, I greatly recommend these texts to anyone and everyone. The illustrations are dazzling and I could look at them all day, but they don’t necessarily mean that this text is directed at younger audiences. These women are painted in a realistic light, for better or for worse, and learning about each one of them is well worth your time.

Has anyone else read these? If so, did you read them just for fun or do you have ulterior motives, like me? Does anyone have any other recommendations for texts featuring compilations of notable men or women?

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Review: Miller’s “Circe” and Lindsay’s Opinion vs. Mrs. C-T’s Opinion

What a beautiful respite from my reading slump! Of course, after my long trek through the desert of boring books, I was over-thirsty for quality and, thus, finished Madeline Miller’s Circe in a few days, so now I’m back to square one. What will I read now?

Hannah finished Circe before I even received it and texted me a few afterthoughts; it sounded like she was somewhat underwhelmed, but I was adamant that I would go into it as a “blank canvas” and let it paint all over me. I was not disappointed.

In the house of Helios, god of the sun and mightiest of the Titans, a daughter is born. But Circe is a strange child—not powerful, like her father, nor viciously alluring like her mother. Turning to the world of mortals for companionship, she discovers that she does possess power—the power of witchcraft, which can transform rivals into monsters and menace the gods themselves.

Threatened, Zeus banishes her to a deserted island, where she hones her occult craft, tames wild beasts and crosses paths with many of the most famous figures in all of mythology, including the Minotaur, Daedalus and his doomed son Icarus, the murderous Medea, and, of course, wily Odysseus.

But there is danger, too, for a woman who stands alone, and Circe unwittingly draws the wrath of both men and gods, ultimately finding herself pitted against one of the most terrifying and vengeful of the Olympians. To protect what she loves most, Circe must summon all her strength and choose, once and for all, whether she belongs with the gods she is born from, or the mortals she has come to love.

Now, I am rather well-acquainted with Circe as a character from Homer’s The Odyssey, which I teach to freshmen every year. I went into this reading hopeful that it would contain something I could incorporate into this year’s unit (more on that in a bit), but due to my recent bad luck with books, my number one goal was to read and be entertained, to enjoy a book as I haven’t done in a while, regardless of academic application potential.

I loved this novel. The story was narrated from Circe’s 1st-person perspective and felt almost like sitting by the fire listening to story time. She was looking back on her life and telling her story to an anonymous audience (me!) and occasionally interjected her past story with musings about how naive she was or how later she would think differently. Due to these brief snaps back to the “present” story time, the vibe of the book was easy-going and familiar, which made it all the more enjoyable.

Considering the fact that most people only know Circe as a witch and temporary love stop on the Odysseus Express, imagine my surprise when the emotions and relationships weren’t 50 Shades levels of cringe. Mythology is fascinating, so we all roll our eyes and shrug at the unhealthy relationships and mistreatment of women, as though they’re just as unbelievable as gods wielding thunderbolts or six-headed sea monsters, but the truth is that misogyny seems to have weathered the test of time in a way that gods and monsters didn’t. I give 100% credit to Madeline Miller for her interpretation of Circe’s story, as well as her story-telling ability. Instead of relating every detail of each copulation session (be it willing or forced, so yes, be trigger-warned), she implies and leads the reader to understand what’s happening, but dedicates her time to the why.

The Odyssey presents Circe as a witch who transforms men into pigs because it pleases her and only Odysseus could outsmart her, changing her heart of stone to typical female emotional mush. FINALLY, Circe is portrayed as an individual, whose life was difficult and complicated long before Odysseus came along and made it more complicated. She is given a why. Why transform the men? Why be there waiting for him? Why be so enamored by a turd like Odysseus? Like all women, Circe is a complicated being and she existed outside of her connection with literature’s most well-known “hero” for centuries. Homer wrote The Odyssey around 800 B.C.E., so we’ve known one side of the story, the male’s perspective, for almost 3000 years. Let’s hear HER side of the story!

Okay, I can feel that I got on my soapbox there. The point was to say that depending on how deep down the Mythology rabbit hole you’re known to go, anywhere between a little to a lot of this novel will be yesterday’s news to you. Spoilers aren’t really that big of a threat, since we know how it will end, generally. However, the refreshing and necessary thing about this novel is that we are given insight into the thoughts, feelings, and motivations of an ancient woman.

So, from what I’ve seen, people have disliked this when they aren’t fans of historical interpretations. Again, this is a tale as old as time, but Miller’s work came from embellishing stories and creating a new perspective. Some times, her embellishments stray from the original and a lot of hard-core mythology junkies reject any creative license. For instance, in The Odyssey, Odysseus is given moly by Hermes, he eats it, drinks Circe’s potion, and is not transformed, thus beguiling her with his “power.” It doesn’t go that way in Circe and I could be mad about it and be all “look at me; I’m so smart; I know the original; this is wrong; I’m right” but what’s the point in that? It’s no fun to be such a know-it-all that you can’t enjoy anything but the original. Chill.

The other thing about that divergence from the original is that it must exist for a reason! That is one of the most well-known plot points; anyone can point it out (so calm down, know-it-all’s), so why would Miller change it? The new version must serve a purpose in telling the audience more about Circe. This is where my mind swaps from Lindsay, the “for fun” reader, to Mrs. C-T, the critical reader. The wheels were turning nonstop towards the end of the novel, to the point where I had to get out some post-its so I could refer to important excerpts later. Here are some teachery thoughts that are still mulling and taking shape in my pre-planning mind (we won’t get to our Odyssey unit until November, so I have time to hammer out details). However, I must say that these sort of critical reading thoughts and questions do not exist exclusively in a classroom; anyone can read, but it is an entirely different skill to read critically, allowing texts to tap into your mind beyond surface-level enjoyment. Even if you are not a teacher or student, even if you don’t enjoy when this reader blog crosses the line over to a teacher blog, I encourage you to take a look at the questions posed below. You don’t have to be a student to continue to challenge your thinking. Now, to the musings:

  1. Read Book 10 of The Odyssey and then read the excerpt of their meeting from Circe. Consider how the two main characters’ vices and virtues are shifted and challenged with the difference in narrative. How are the narrators biased? Which story do you believe? Why? How are you biased?
  2. Our textbook does not include Book 11 (Odysseus’ trip to the land of the dead) but I think it is interesting/important. Last year I just did story time for missing sections and I’ve asked my department chair for a class set of Gareth Hinds’ graphic novel, but if those options fail or fall short, I can use the excerpt from Circe where she gives him guidance.
  3. This one is exciting: include our article about PTSD to read after Odysseus comes home and he and Telemachus slaughter all the suitors and “unfaithful” servants. Also, include the excerpt where Telemachus talks about what Odysseus was like when he came home. Is it human nature to hope “they all lived happily ever after”? Why do so many stories lack falling action and end after the climax? What do you think life was like for Odysseus/Penelope/Telemachus after his return? Why? How does Telemachus’ account support or challenge that?
  4. Include excerpt of Margaret Atwood’s The Penelopiad, specifically including the Chorus from the servant maids Odysseus killed. Then, include excerpt from Circe that gives Penelope’s account of Odysseus’ return. Why is it so unbelievable that Penelope and Circe would meet and interact so positively? How are readers of The Odyssey led to believe these women would treat each other? How does Penelope’s account shift your perception of Odysseus? Recall how Odysseus portrays Penelope in The Odyssey: how does Penelope’s portrayal of Odysseus in Circe and/or The Penelopiad compare/contrast? How do these characters show bias?
  5. After completing the epic, discuss whether Odysseus is a hero. Further discuss whether he fulfills the steps of Joseph Campbell’s Heroic Journey. Can one fulfill the steps but fail to be a hero? Can one be a hero without being “heroic”? Include an excerpt from Circe where Telemachus talks about Odysseus’ life and legacy. Does the inclusion of personal experience and opinion alter your perception of Odysseus’ heroic status? How could it be biased? Can one determine heroic status without the inclusion of personal accounts?

As you can tell, I LOVE to include various perspectives in my classroom. I know that it is human nature to form opinions and, sadly, some people spend more time building their own opinions by ignoring or attacking the opposition and stacking up supporting arguments than by exploring and engaging those adverse opinions in constructive discussion. It is my goal that students learn to explore the opposition as much as their own side, challenging their own biases as well as those of others, and building informed, malleable opinions. Circe will undoubtedly help me work towards this goal.

Hope you enjoyed this and I’d love to hear any and all thoughts!

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Waitin’, Anticipatin’: “The Dinosaur Lords”

This has been on my “To Read” Goodreads shelf almost as long as The Winds of Winter, but the good news is that this one has a light at the end of the tunnel, and that tunnel ends next month, people!!​ By the end of July, we should all be so lucky as to own a copy of Victor Milan’s The Dinosaur Lords, which sounds to me like a colossal combination of so many of my favorite things.

The Dinosaur Lords

Click here for Goodreads

Check it out on Goodreads.com for the full synopsis, but it pretty much had me at, “dynastic rivalries, religious wars, and byzantine politics… except the weapons of choice are dinosaurs.” It sounds as though it will have the political and martial intrigue of the A Song of Ice and Fire Series, with the unknown, threatening power of Jurassic Park, and do I detect a hint of the omnipotent control of Greek mythology? Dare I hope? I’m still reeling from my immersion in all things Jurassic Park lately, so I think this will be a welcome revisit to the exciting subject matter while still promising an entirely new experience. And this cover art. I mean, please.

Publisher: Tor Books
Publication Date: July 28, 2015

Anyway, I’m looking forward to this newcomer and I’d love to hear what you all think. Would you read it? What books have you counting down the days? Did anyone get my 38 Special reference? Let me know!

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