Writing Prompt Story Starter: Retellings

Shutterstock / TTstudio © retelling

One of my favourite books of recent years is Madeline Miller’s retelling, ‘Circe’.

It takes a minor goddess of Greek Mythology, usually on the sidelines of another deity or hero’s epic tale, retelling it to give her her own story.

It sparked a love for Greek Mythology that has turned into a tiny obsession. Now I can’t get enough of the ancient stories. Weird and fantastical they may be, but they would not be retold today if they didn’t hold something of a human truth in them.

Retelling it your way

So my prompt this week, is to write your own retelling.

Which character do you think deserved more attention? Write it from their point of view.

Maybe the princess saves herself in your version.

What about setting the story in the present day? Or transporting it to another country entirely?

Here are some of my favourite myths to get you thinking.

Hades and Persephone

One day, while Persephone is out picking flowers, she’s tricked and kidnapped by Hades, the god of the underworld.

Her mother Demeter, goddess of agriculture, searches for her daughter with no luck. Eventually, she finds out what has happened – and worse, it has all been approved by Zeus.

Demeter is angry and grieves for her daughter, causing the earth to turn barren. Zeus relents and asks Hades to give Persephone back to her mother.

But Persephone has eaten a pomegranate seed in the underworld, meaning she must remain there.

An agreement is made – Persephone will spend a third of the year in the underworld with Hades and the rest of the year with her mother.

It was believed that this is the reason the earth turns barren in winter – Demeter grieves for her daughter when she has to return to Hades for part of the year.

Orpheus and Eurydice

Talented musician Orpheus and his beautiful new wife Eurydice have only been married two days when Eurydice is bitten by a poisonous snake and passes away.

Overcome with grief, Orpheus travels to the underworld to beg Hades and Persephone to let Eurydice go free.

To get to Hades and Persephone, Orpheus plays his lyre so beautifully that Charon, the ferryman of the underworld, agrees to take him across the river of the dead.

The lyre also comes in handy when Orpheus encounters Cerberus, the monstrous three-headed security dog – he plays a soothing song and it falls asleep, letting him pass unscathed.

Even Hades and Persephone are enchanted by the music and allow Orpheus to rescue his beloved. But they tell him not to look back at Eurydice until they’re safely back on earth.

Eurydice is summoned and Orpheus leads her back to earth, resisting the temptation to look at her all the while. When he sees daylight and plants his feet on the earth, he knows he’s free and he looks back at his wife in excitement.

But it’s a mistake.

He may be safely out of the underworld, but she still has a few more steps to go.

Tragically, Eurydice is pulled back to the underworld and Orpheus is left alone.

Eros and Psyche

When Aphrodite, goddess of love and beauty, becomes envious of a beautiful mortal princess named Psyche, she sends her son Eros (better known as Cupid in Roman Mythology) to curse her.

The plan is to shoot an arrow at Psyche and make her fall in love with a monster, but instead Eros falls for her and whisks her away to a secret palace where she can be safe from his mother.

There is a catch though – a mortal can’t look upon a god. So the two get to know each other without Psyche ever seeing him, and eventually she falls for him, too.

When she gets lonely, Eros allows Psyche to invite her sisters to the palace. They’re suspicious and convince her that Eros won’t let her see his face because he’s a monster.

They concoct a plan – Psyche should attack Eros in the night when he’s asleep. But the wax from the lamp she’s holding drips on to Eros and, seeing the knife she’s holding, he flees in anger.

Psyche is ashamed and heartbroken – he really was who he said he was. She goes in search for him and eventually finds herself at the temple of Aphrodite.

Aphrodite, even less a fan of Psyche now, traps her in the temple and sets increasingly difficult tasks for her. Seeing that Psyche will not give up, Eros realises she really is sorry and helps her invisibly.

Eventually, even Aphrodite has to admit that Psyche must love Eros to put up with all those trials. Psyche is brought to Mount Olympus where she’s made immortal, able to spend the rest of eternity with her love.

Your turn

Of course, it doesn’t have to be a retelling of mythology.

You could be inspired by your favourite classic novel, the way Jean Rhys was inspired to write “Wide Sargasso Sea” after reading “Jane Eyre”.

Pick something that fascinates you and go for it!

To choose another “Friend” Story Starter, click here.

Abigail Phillips

Abbie is the newest member of the fiction team at the "Friend." She loves how varied the role is - every day is different and there is always a new story to read. She is keen to work closely with established writers and discover new writers, too.