Social worker by day, writer by night, Luna McNamara is the author of Psyche and Eros, a feminist retelling of the Greek myth of the same name. The book was subject to a four-way bidding war for publishing rights in the U.S., and has received translation deals in 11 different languages -a reception the author certainly wasn’t expecting from a story she started to write during the pandemic to entertain herself and her friends.
McNamara has had a lifelong interest in Greek mythology and was inspired to write the book partly due to her studies of women and gender in religions at Harvard University. In her version of the story, Psyche is re-imagined as a Greek hero, master of blade and bow, battling against her family who want her to conform to a more traditional role. To save her beloved Eros, Psyche must defeat a monster feared even by the gods.
The author chose this particular story for retelling because in the original, Psyche has an unusual level of strength and agency for a female character in Greek myth, and the fact that the original so eloquently displays the vulnerability of falling in love:
“I wanted to hone in on these qualities by connecting Psyche with ancient Greek narratives of the hero, but also calling into question that ideal.
“Are heroes really so heroic? It’s this subversion of patriarchal ideals that makes me comfortable calling the story feminist.
“Psyche develops feelings for a husband whose face she can never see, likemost of us fall in love without knowing everything about a person. And not all such situations end as happily as the myth of Eros and Psyche.”
Feminist retellings of myths have become popular in recent years, with books like Madeline Millers Circe and Pat Barkers The Silence of the Girls being hugely successful.
McNamara thinks that even though sexism was often present in Greek and Roman stories, they still often created compelling female characters. In the sense, the surge in retellings is just fulfilling the potential of the original sources:
“Euripides’ Medea, for example, is so complex in her grief, abandonment, and ultimate revenge that the play is still being performed today, centuries after it was written.
“The women of the Odyssey – Circe, Penelope, and Nausicaa, to name just a few – are nuanced, fascinating, and often far more sympathetic than the titular hero.
“I think modern authors are seizing onto a thread that was always present, and weaving it into compelling new narratives.”
Greek myths have been an evergreen part of popular culture ever since the stories were first told hundreds of years ago.
McNamara thinks the stories have been so long lasting because they can be interpreted in so many different ways:
“The myth of Medusa, for example, was long seen as an example of the (male) hero vanquishing chaotic, monstrous forces, but now Medusa’s story is being reclaimed as a tale of survival after sexual violence, misogyny, and injustice.
“This is in fact a very old game – ancient authors like Euripides, Apollonius Rhodius, and even Homer were adapting myths to their own cultural contexts, and highlighting or downplaying themes accordingly.
“Myths are like crystals – hold them up to the light, and dozens of facets emerge.”
In terms of feminist retellings in general, she thinks they have a small role to play in battling sexism in the real world:
“We need role models for strong, dynamic women and the men who partner with them. We also need histories that reveal a past as complex and multi-layered as our present.
“Don’t you want to hear the perspectives that were left out of history? Don’t you want to hear the voices from the gaps? Don’t you wish to see the received ordinary in a new way, and expand your perception of the world?
“Seriously, I cannot recommend this genre enough, as my overflowing bookshelves can attest! It’s continually surprising and deeply original, not to mention transcendently beautiful in its prose.”
If you liked this article then read Why crime fiction is fixated on women as victims of violent crime or A new side to the story: Why feminist retellings are on the rise next.
Arthur is a journalism student at The University of Sheffield. As well as being a founding member of BLOT, he has also written for Forge Press, Sheff Central and One2Football. His hobbies include climbing, going to gigs and of course, reading.
Favourite genres: Magical Realism and Historical Fiction.