Celebrate the release of The Lost History of Dreams by Kris Waldherr by (re)discovering some of these timeless stories in Waldherr’s collection of her 9 Favorite Books Inspired by Mythology. Summon your inner god or goddess, and don’t forget to pick up your copy of Kris Waldherr’s debut novel, The Lost History of Dreams.
Though most readers are introduced to mythology in grade school, its appeal remains timeless. After all, the themes explored in these ancient stories reflect humanity’s core values and concerns: love, hate, power, pride, survival, and so much more. No surprise mythology remains a popular inspiration to novelists everywhere! While I’ve chosen to focus primarily on Greek and Roman myths in this list, it was impossible to resist adding other cultures into the mix.
Without further ado, here are nine favorite novels to help you invoke your inner god or goddess—or find good cause to avoid doing so.
- Circe, Madeline Miller
In Homer’s The Odyssey, the hero Odysseus had the Hardest Time Ever™ returning home to his wife, Penelope, after fighting in the Trojan War. One reason? The enchantress Circe, who transformed Odysseus’s comrades into swine by way of a spell. Miller casts a spell of her own in this sumptuous novel, which unspools the story of Circe from her distinct perspective. In the words of an author friend, “Every sentence in this book is like a string of pearls.”
- The Silence of the Girls, Pat Barker
“But what about the Trojan War?” you might wonder after reading Circe. “Is there a book that explores Homer’s The Iliad from a similar feminist viewpoint?” For a follow-up to Miller’s novel, consider Barker’s The Silence of the Girls, which presents the heart-rending saga of Briseis and other women held as captives during the Trojan War. It’s a mythic rendering for the #MeToo generation.
- Weight, Jeanette Winterson
The books of Jeanette Winterson are dashed with intensity and wit—I’m always amazed at her ability to distill a story to its most potent form. Weight, her recasting of the Greek myth of Atlas and Herakles (better known by his Roman name of Hercules), transforms the cautionary fable into a layered parable that expands in ways you’d never expect.
- American Gods, Neil Gaiman
No list of books inspired by mythology would be complete without an offering by famed fantasy author Neil Gaiman. Of these, his American Gods is both surprising and sweeping in a “what if Loki, Horus, and Odin walked into the bar around the corner?” way. And, yes, American Gods spurred the Starz television series—but read the book first.
- The Gospel of Loki, Joanne Harris
Though Joanne Harris is probably best known for her charming award-winning book Chocolat, which inspired an equally charming film, she’s channeled her adoration of Norse legend into The Gospel of Loki. Harris’s novel explores the story of mythology’s favorite Norse bad boy, Loki, from a first-person point of view. Oh, and he’s an unreliable narrator.
- The Winter Sister, Megan Collins
In Greek mythology, Persephone is the daughter of Demeter, goddess of the harvest. When Persephone is abducted by Pluto to be his bride, Demeter’s mourning for her lost daughter creates winter for the first time. While there are numerous ways to interpret the Persephone myth, The Winter Sister reinvents it by setting it in a snow-laden, modern-day New England. More impressively, Collins’s debut novel is told through the grief-stricken eyes of Persephone’s surviving sister, revealing how loss threads through the lives of the survivors, reweaving their destinies.
- Till We Have Faces, C.S. Lewis
Another sister-inspired mythic novel. This time it’s C.S. Lewis (Chronicles of Narnia) presenting the story of Cupid and Psyche through the perspective of Psyche’s ugly elder sister, Orual, who’s as notorious for her envy as Psyche is for her beauty. Till We Have Faces was Lewis’s final novel; he also considered it his finest.
- Gods Behaving Badly, Marie Phillips
After all this heaviness, how about a light-hearted farce set in contemporary London? Times are tough. Money is tight. As a result, the twelve gods of Olympus are stuck sharing a townhouse while working day jobs. Shenanigans ensue.
- The Lightning Thief, Rick Riordan
Let’s end this list with something for the younger set. The Lightning Thief is the first novel in Riordan’s bestselling Percy Jackson & The Olympians five-demigod book juggernaut. The Lightning Thief introduces twelve-year-old Perseus—AKA “Percy”—Jackson, the demigod son of a modern mortal woman with the Greek god Poseidon. Besides igniting a love of mythology in many a middle grader, Percy Jackson & The Olympians led to Riordan penning a host of related books and the creation of Rick Riordan Presents, a children’s publishing imprint devoted to mythology-oriented books.
Kris Waldherr is the author of the debut novel The Lost History of Dreams, which is a Victorian-set reworking of the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice. The Lost History of Dreams received a starred review from Kirkus Reviews and was praised as “an unexpected delight” by Booklist. Waldherr is also the author-illustrator of Bad Princess, Doomed Queens, and The Book of Goddesses. As a visual artist, Waldherr is the creator of the popular Goddess Tarot. Connect with her on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook @KrisWaldherr and at KrisWaldherr.com.