Recollection Wednesday: The Penelopiad (or writing a familiar story from a different POV)

The Penelopiad
The Penelopiad

I love Margaret Atwood.  I enjoy almost everything she writes.  She writes about women as complex beings capable of a myriad of emotions, motivation, biases, and anything else that makes us each unique.  It is done with feminist themes, which makes it even more interesting for me.  A Handmaid’s Tale remains one of my favorite books to this day.  The Penelopiad is on the other end of the Atwood spectrum for me.  I didn’t really like it.

Oh, don’t get me wrong.  It is good.  It’s just not what I needed and the way I needed it.

I like reconsidering classic stories from a different point of view.  The Trojan War stories focus on the men more than women.  The women who get the most attention are Cassandra and Helen.  Very little literary attention is given to Penelope, the long suffering wife of Odysseus.

I am intrigued by her story, but Atwood did it as a true Greek tragedy.  That is: complete with Greek chorus.  That chorus happens to be the biggest mystery of her story: the 12 maids hung for her sins.

Changing POV is tough.  You can pick a poorly defined character and give them more.  When you don’t have much to work with, you turn to why they are who they are in the moment you see them in the original story.  You can pick a major character who we only see through the eyes of another.  I think it is far easier to do with stories when only hear one voice.  When one character drives the narration, you have room to create characters who the original narrator never saw in that way.  You can give them complexity and be true to who they were in the original.

Does Atwood do this?  Not as well as I hoped. I picked this book for today’s entry because it was one I kept mentally coming back to as I read Revealing Hannah: The Myth of Cassandra.  They are not the same.  One is a different point of view, while the other is similar to a modernization.  I just kept thinking of how much depth people can add to characters when we consider them in both ways.  Not only who these characters would be and what would motivate them in a modern world, but how modern perspectives change how we understand them.

It made me wonder about other classic characters.

What characters would you like to see reconsidered through the lens of the 21st century?  Tell me in the comments.

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