The Owl Service – Alan Garner

0006742947.01._sx142_sy224_sclzzzzzzz_We’ve got owl plates that apparently turn into owls, a whole British Romeo and Juliet-ish across classes love story in a cottage in Wales on summer break, and the ancient Welsh myth of Blodeuwedd. I suspect I would have gotten a lot more out of this story when I was in the midst of my Celtic mythology obsession, and was therefore a lot closer to the source material, but I mostly found myself confused.

Blodeuwedd was a woman created of flowers, made to wed one man, but who falls in love with another. In this book, the story has carried on through the ages, and step-siblings Allison and Roger, as well as Gwyn, the son of the house keeper, are fated to play the parts of this tragic love triangle. It ends very abruptly – there’s all this building of tension, and then it’s just over. Like I said, I think I would have enjoyed it more if I were still immersed in the source material.

Nordic Gods and Heroes- Padraic Column

Read for the Once Upon a Time X Reading Challenge.

This is a nicely redone edition of a 1920 Dover compilation (originally entitled The Children of Odin).   It covers the range of Norse mythology – from the creation of the world, Odin’s many adventures, Loki’s many adventures, and Sigurd and the Twilight of the Gods.

If you want a reference so you can figure out who’s talking about who in these myths, or even The Avengers – this book is a great one to have around.

Parallel Myths – J. F. Bierlein

Read for the Once Upon a Time IX Reading Challenge.

I started a tradition a few year back to try and read a more scholarly book in one of the Once Upon a Time challenge categories.     Here’s this year’s selection – a collection and comparison of similar mythological themes across world cultures.

If you’ve studied mythology at all, the obvious story to be included in this list is Flood myths – turns out they have them in both the Middle East, and American Indian cultures.    But there are others, stories of Love, and Heroes, and how we all universally struggle to explain death and what happens after that.

There’s also a section about more modern interpretation of myth – that’s the driest reading in the book, but still interesting, if you’re into this kind of thing.   That is really what this book comes down to – if you’re really interested in this subject matter, it’s a good overview.   If you’re not so interested in thinking about why mythology stories are the way they are, you’re probably best off skipping this book.

Gods and Myths of Northern Europe – H. R. Ellis Davidson

Read for the Once Upon a Time VIII Reading Challange.

While this book is now fifty years old, it’s still regarded as a good overview of Norse and German mythology.

This is a scholarly work, so don’t go in expecting just stories.     There’s an overview of the Northern European worldview, and chapters dedicated to various gods.   (Odin and Thor get their own chapters – everyone else is grouped according to function.)     It’s quite accessible – I’d definitely recommend it if you want a greater background on characters you’ve heard of before.   (For instance, I didn’t realize that Thor’s wife is Sif, which lent me a whole new level of understanding to the current Marvel movies – not a comic book reader either, if that would have given me more depth of understanding.)

I’ll be keeping this book in my reference library – it’s one of those that’ll be good for checking into literary allusions to make sure I’m getting context.

A Tangled Web – Mercedes Lackey

This is a novella from the 500 Kingdoms series, in which the Tradition forces people into certain paths  based on fairy tale characters, sometimes to good, sometimes to bad.    In this story, we’re dealing with the Greek pantheon, and it turns out that they’re half-Fae, and as soon as they have enough people that believe them to be gods, the Tradition picks up from there, and assigns them roles.

Persephone, Demeter’s daughter, is being courted by Hades, king of the Underworld.   Persephone knows full well who he is, even though Hades has taken some pains to conceal his identity, because they both know that Demeter will never allow the match.   Turns out Demeter is quite the smothering mother.    Persephone and Hades come up with a plan to “kidnap” her in such a way that Demeter will have to go along with it, but things go awry when the goddess Brunhilde, who’s just come to Olympia for a visit, is kidnapped instead.

I really liked this story because it turned Persephone’s role completely on its head.    I know that the original myth was a explanation for winter, and makes perfect sense in the context of the time, but since this series is about the reimagination of fairy tales, this was a great way to go with that story.

Celtic Myth and Religion – Sharon Paice Macleod

A LibraryThing Early Reviewers Book.

This book is a good overview of the various mythologies and beliefs of the Celtic world. It touches on the old gods and goddesses, folk traditions, the roots of the Arthurian legends, and some interesting ideas about shamanistic practices. It’s got a more scholarly than new –agey tone to it (a definite pitfall of some Celtic-themed books).

Since it really is mainly an overview, I did come away wanting more, but one of the appendices is Suggested Reading and Further Study, and the Bibliography is enormous, so I’m looking forward to exploring more from both those lists.

Daughter of the Forest – Juliet Marillier

Read for the Once Upon a Time Reading Challenge.

Sorcha is the youngest child of the Lord of Sevenwaters, and the only daughter. With their mother dead, she and her brothers mean everything to each other, and her brothers have protected her as she’s grown up.

Their lives are shattered when their father takes a new wife, an evil enchantress, who spells Sorcha’s brothers. The Lady of the Forest, the queen of the Fair Folk, finds Sorcha in her hour of need, and tells her that she is the only one that can break the spell on her brothers, and she must remain completely silent while she works to break the enchantment.

Fate then throws her into the path of a Briton Lord, who brings her back to his lands. While there, Sorcha comes to love this lord, one of her people’s sworn enemies, and her task to save her brothers grows even harder as this love grows.

I loved this book. It’s a take-off on the Celtic legend of the Children of Lir, where the step mother changes her step children into swans, but Sorcha’s task to end the enchantment is an innovation of this story. Sorcha is a lovely character, and her journey, as she really grows up, while completing the impossible task of saving her brothers, kept me glued to page. I already have the next book in the series, which is the story of her daughter, and I can’t wait to see what the author does with this tale next.

Orphans of Chaos – John C. Wright

Read for the Once Upon a Time V Reading Challenge.

Somewhere in England is a boarding school that is far more than it appears. The staff is large, but there are only five students, and life at this boarding school is all that they’ve known. Now teenagers, they’ve begun to see the school for what it is – a prison.

The five have incredible gifts – Victor can rearrange matter, Amelia sees in four dimensions, Vanity can find secret passageways where there were none before, Colin is psychic, and Quentin is a warlock. After piecing together the many clues they’re able to gather separately, they begin to realize that they’re probably not human.

I really loved this book. It’s straight out of a particular mythology, done in a great, modern way. The cliff hanger at the end is beautifully done, and I can’t wait to see what happens next.

The Palace of Illusions – Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

1400096200-01-_sx142_sy224_sclzzzzzzz_Read for the Really Old Classics Challenge.

The extra credit assignment for the Really Old Classics Challenge is to read a retelling of a classic. The Palace of Illusions is a retelling of the events in the Mahabharata, one of the great epic works of ancient India, and a major work of Hindu mythology.

The Mahabharata is mostly concerned with the dynastic fights between the Kaurava and Pandava families for the throne of Hastinapura. These men are cousins, so it’s a story of family alliances and betrayals, interspersed with the consequences of the interference of the gods with the affairs of these men. It’s an absolutely fascinating story. (I have to admit to only a cursory familiarity with ancient Indian history/mythology, so the story was all fresh to me, which it certainly wouldn’t be to a Hindu reader.)

This book has parallels to The Mists of Avalon, as the author has taken one of the female characters, Panchaali, the wife of the five (yes, five) Pandava brothers, and told the story through her eyes. I know how I felt about reading the Arthurian legend through the lens of the women in the story, and I imagine the experience of reading this book is similar if you’re steeped in the background story. Panchaali is not always sympathetic, but her story is compelling, and pulled me through the book.

This is an absolutely lovely story, filled with beauty, and utter despair, and everything in between. I highly recommend it to anyone that wants to sample the literature of India, with a modern twist.