Tuesday, July 14, 2009

It will be legen... (wait for it) ...dary: myth and legend at CG

I recently read the mythologically-inspired grown-up novel House of Leaves, which is based on the story of the Minotaur and Theseus. (Check out my favorite Minotaur reference ever, Martha Graham's -- ahem -- epic choreography "Errand into the Maze.") The book itself consists of more than seven hundred pages, three narratives nested inside each other, hundreds of footnotes, indices and appendices, and the most creative/schizophrenic text design ever, so that the labyrinth is recreated on the page. Naturally, I called my Classics major cousin for help.

Luckily, you won't need a ball of string (or my geniusy cuz) to get through these fun reads based on myths and legends from around the world. You might need a flashlight, though; some of these adventures will keep you up all night!

The Ear, the Eye, and the Arm by Nancy Farmer fuses ancient lore with futuristic technology. At the end of the 22nd century, the children of Zimbabwe's most prominent general run away, and their parents hire a unique team of detectives to find them. The Ear, the Eye, and the Arm have special abilities, borne of radiation poisoning, which make them ideally suited to such work. As they track the siblings across Zimbabwe, we see the startling contrasts of their reality: wealth and abject poverty, technology and mysticism, tradition and innovation. The children, especially thirteen-year-old Tendai, must learn to reconcile these extremes as they prepare to lead the next generation.

More like this to try:
- Shadow Speaker by Nnedi Okorafor-Mbachu

T.H. White wrote the quintessential Arthurian novels and, with them, defined legend-based fiction. The Sword in the Stone follows the young orphan Arthur, a.k.a. "the Wart," through his apprenticeship with backwards-aging wizard Merlyn. A wacky series of magical adventures teach the Wart to think critically and consider alternate perspectives (even that of a fish in the moat). After the Wart has pulled the sword from the eponymous Stone, proving himself next king of England, The Once and Future King delves deeper into the legends. It reveals the history of Arthur's prophesied birth, the hopefulness of the Round Table, his doomed romance with Guineveire, and the betrayal by his witch half-sister Morgan le Fay and their devious son Mordred. Hilarious and heartbreaking in equal amounts, White's reimagining is a legend in its own right, forming the basis for the Disney animated movie The Sword in the Stone and the musical Camelot.

More like this to try:
- T.A. Barron's The Lost Years of Merlin series
- The Dark is Rising sequence by Susan Cooper
- Here Lies Arthur by Philip Reeve
- Tomorrow's Magic and Yesterday's Magic by Pamela Service

American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang is composed of three very different narratives: Jin Wang, the only Chinese-American in his school, a television show featuring an absurdly racist caricature, Chin-Kee, who ruins his all-American cousin's life every time he visits, and the legend of the Monkey King whose hubris must be humbled. These narrative mesh together in surprising, hilarious, and heart-breaking ways that only a graphic novel can. See some of Gene Luen Yang's comics online, read his interview with the Rog, or check out his new short graphic story collection The Eternal Smile for even more charmingly self-deprecating humor and witty wisdom.

Where the Mountain Meets the Moon has been described by the author/illustrator herself, Grace Lin, as a sort of "Chinese Wizard of Oz." Minli has grown up hearing tales of the Old Man in the Moon, who knows the answers to all questions and helps those who are brave enough to ask. Accompanied by a dragon who can't fly and a magical goldfish, she embarks on an epic journey to find the Old Man and in hopes of reviving Fruitless Mountain, refreshing the Jade River, and reversing the fortunes of her impoverished family.

More like this to try:
- The Five Ancestors series by Jeff Stone
- Eon: Dragoneye Reborn by Alison Goodman
- City of Fire by Lawrence Yep
- The Color of Earth and The Color of Water by Kim Dong Hwa

Theodosia, of Theodosia and the Serpents of Chaos and Theodosia and the Staff of Osiris by R.L. LaFevers, always seems to be getting into trouble in the Museum of Legends Antiquities where her parents are archeologist-curators. More accurately, trouble seems to find her, since Theo's the only one who can see black magic still clinging to the artifacts her parents excavate! The Heart of Egypt and the Staff of Osiris entangle Theo in a struggle with dark curses and secret societies that threaten not just her family, but Britain itself.

More like this to try:
- The Egypt Game by Zilpha Keatley Snyder

Inspired by many folkloric traditions...
Of course, no discussion of myth-based books would be complete without Mr. G's American Gods. (I'm starting a new party game: "Six Degrees of Neil Gaiman." ...I'm only half kidding.) When immigrants relocate to America, starting with Norse explorers and nomads from across the Bering Strait, they bring their myths and legends with them – along with their gods, goddesses, and mythological creatures. Now new powers of technology and media challenge ancient, almost-forgotten deities for America's devotion and their very survival.

More like this to try:
- Oracles of Delphi Keep by Victoria Laurie
- Gods of Manhattan by Scott Mebus
- Fablehaven by Brandon Mull
- The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel series by Michael Scott
- Impossible by Nancy Werlin
- Wild Magic by Cat Weatherill

For the mythology buff in your life (even if that person is you!) trying pairing one of these books with:
- In Zeus on the Loose, use the powers of other gods and goddesses and your own mighty math skills to capture the runaway Zeus!
- Sift through the Mummy Rummy card deck to build ancient treasures -- watch out; other players can steal your antiques! -- or take your opponent for every last card in Egyptian War, which combines two classic card games, War and Egyptian Ruffle.
- Lift the Lid on Mummies contains everything you need to make your own mummy, from gauze for wrapping, amulets for protection, and even canopic jars (urns to store the "organs" in).
- Encode letters to your friends in the ancient Egyptian written language with a Fun with Hieroglyphics stamp kit!
- Decorate your sanctuary (or your refrigerator) with pages from a Greek Gods and Goddesses or Chinese Dragons coloring book.

Of course, there's much more where this came from -- stay tuned for more mythology recommendations (we haven't even gotten to Norse or Greek and Roman yet!) or ask a CG staffer in the store for her favorites.

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