“How to Survive an Epic Journey” is a wonderful example of why I am always down for a female focused take on Greek mythology. In this story, Tansy Rayner Roberts provides a rousing, subversive tale of the Argonaut’s adventures, told by Atalanta; a female member of the crew. From the opening framing device of a tavern tale, told by a woman confidently calling for wine and honey cakes, Atalanta’s energetic, cutting voice rings out loud and true. Straightaway, it is clear that the reader can expect excellent storytelling from a woman who is not afraid to upend the precious legends of heroes.
This story is packed full of so much interesting feminist detail that it’s hard to know what to focus on. Let’s start with the fact that one of Atalanta’s main intentions is to correct the prevalent versions of the Argonaut’s tales:
Jason ruined everything for his crew: the quest, the prize, even the legend that followed. We hoped to do great deeds, and be remembered as…
Yes, all right, I’ll say it. Heroes.
Instead we ended up as supporting characters in Jason’s tragic romance with himself.
Atalanta aims to reclaim her rightful place in the tales, expose the shortcomings of some of the ‘heroes’, and dispel certain myths about another big female player; Medea
However, Roberts’ retelling also concentrates on bringing Atalanta to life; giving her a distinct personality, and making her more than a device for correcting past tales. With her love of the Argo, practical feelings for her married lover Meleager, and thirst for adventure, Atalanta is a vibrant character. And the same can be said of Medea; a quick thinking, ruthless, ‘monster’ of a woman. The friendship between the two women adds another feminist dimension to the story, although I wished a little that this relationship had been more firmly established earlier. And the fact that their stories extends past the boundaries of Jason’s and Meleager’s lives on the Argo pushes against the idea that Ancient women’s stories must be tied to men, and wink out when the men disappear.
“How to Survive an Epic Journey” is a strong example of how myths, legends, and Ancient stories can be rewritten with women in mind. Pair this with stories like “Daughter of Necessity” by Marie Brennan if you need more of the women of Ancient Greece.