This is the recs post I promised last week: just a few examples of really great, interesting fanfic which engages with classical myth. Without further preamble, here are the links, in no particular order (though my absolute favourite comes last), with some notes about the stories.
Gods Versus Aliens, by fresne
This is fanfic for the Troy story, especially the Odyssey: the story ends up with Penelope and Circe living together and thus demonstrates how epically (sorry) the Odyssey fails the Bechdel test.This specific story is here because I’ve taught it in my ‘receptions of the Odyssey‘ course for English honours students at Wollongong, but I love all of fresne’s fic. She has a ton of stories on AO3, mostly myth fic, often crossing over the myths of different cultures or playing on the idea of variant myths (see her Firefly version of Cinderella which tries to get in all the known variants of the Cinderella story…). Her writing is really stunning, her jokes are actually funny, and she uses the mythic crossovers to say something both about the myth and about the present-day or fanfictional settings and characters.
The First Place, by lisztful
Hera travels through a contemporary world, gathering several of her children and step-children for a birthday party, where she announces to her children: ‘I fear I’d been made to believe that your father came first. That he made all of us, all of this. In that, I was incorrect… I am the first… I am the beginning. Life springs from me, and always shall’. It’s a really enjoyable, well-imagined story in all its details, and I also find it interesting as an example of my own Theory of Myth In Popular Culture, which is that pop culture tends to use theories of myth to create more stories. So one way that people explain/understand myths is through ‘euhemerism’, where you think of myths as half-remembered, dramatized/religious versions of actual historical facts: the Marvel Comics explanation for the existence of the Greek gods (they are aliens from another dimension, visiting us via a portal on Mount Olympus) uses exactly this technique, but dispenses with the requirement that the ‘real’ explanation should be more plausible than the mythical one. Lizstful is here generating narrative out of comparativism (the idea that the ‘same’ myth recurs across different cultures) and Bachofen’s theory of originary matriarchy (the oldest form of religion, universally and cross-culturally, is the worship of the Mother/Earth-Goddess, and the Father/Sky-God comes in later to instal patriarchy).
songs inside the fog inside the world, by daygloparker
A journalist comes to interview Andromeda (why?), who is a constellation but is also chain-smoking and texting (how? why? when?). I just love the writing here, and the strangeness of it, which really works for me. I think it’s partly because this a very different, very modernist/postmodernist, kind of take on the materiality of the Greek gods and a welcome change from the usual highly sensualized, clearly visualized, almost cinematic versions that I think all derive ultimately from the way the stories are told in Ovid’s Metamorphoses (where an awful lot of ‘canonical’ or well-known versions of Greek myths come from).
Five Times Maia’s Life Was Permanently Changed, by calenlily
J, who was my beautiful research assistant on this project, says this is her favourite kind of feminist retelling: it very successfully manages to weave five quite disparate myths featuring Maia into a plausible, unified subjectivity and biography. It quietly emphasizes the emotional costs to Maia of the events of her mythic biography and the emotional resourcefulness with which she deals with them, and shows how big, ‘mythic’ events take place within the compass of human (female) lives. It makes me cry.
Tea Time, by chellerrific, and Like Mother, Like Daughter, by skypirateb
Chellerrific and skypirateb both write (among other things) lots of domestic fics about the sibling relationships between Rhea’s children, with a particular interest in Hades and Hestia. I don’t think they’re as well-written as some of the other fics in this recs list, but fanfic isn’t just about fine writing, it’s also about a particular kind of passionate engagement with the source material, and I love the way both chellerrific and skypirateb write about this family. Tea Time is a drabble (a fanfictional short form which has to contain exactly 100 words) which just seems to consist of chellerrific giving Hestia a nice experience of the kind that she would like. Which is a fantastic dimension of reading and fanfic – the desire to make characters happy – and also reminds me of Walter Benjamin in ‘Theses on the Philosophy of History’, where he says: ‘The picture of happiness which we harbor is steeped through and through in the time which the course of our own existence has conferred on us. The happiness which could awaken envy in us exists only in the air we have breathed, with people we could have spoken with…’ (translation by Gary Redmond, online here).
Hope Springs Eternal, by quantumwitch
This is a giant (126,000-word) and very famous piece of fanfic (it has its own page on TV Tropes). I love it partly because it is so giant and ambitious, and partly because it combines, to a degree I don’t think I’ve ever seen before, two of my favourite fannish things: (1) philological-style hyperattention to detail in the sources and (2) a complete lack of respect for high/low culture, mainstream/academic ways of measuring cultural capital, and disciplinary boundaries. Summed up for me in the author’s note:
This is primarily a far-too-well-researched-for-its-own-damned-good piece of fan-fiction. It is based largely on two things: Disney’s Hercules and the Homeric Hymn to Demeter. I do draw very marginally upon Ovid’s Metamorphoses (though I avoid him as much as possible) and I have also used bits from Hesiod’s Theogony and fragments of poems from the Orphic tradition. The rest is strictly from my own up-close experience with the gods and goddesses involved, as well as personal theories developed over time
(I think Simon Goldhill would probably just say O TEMPORA O MORES to the idea that you would avoid Ovid but go with Disney as one of your two primary sources for a retelling of myth, but for me it’s more interesting to ask: what makes this possible? What kinds of reading and thinking about story must be going on for someone to write this way?)
Ibra in the Underworld, by meretricula
This is a retelling of the Orpheus/Eurydice story with European football (soccer) players, about whom I know literally nothing except what I discovered from the author’s notes to this story, but it is one of my favourite pieces of fanfic of all time. Brilliant, sharp writing, immensely funny (I expect it would be even funnier if you knew who the people were), and providing a healthy dose of wonder at how it came to be in the world. Lots of classical fanfic tries for the kind of clash of registers and tones (high, colloquial, sweary) that this pulls off, apparently effortlessly.
Refugees, by apolesen
This is a Doctor Who/Aeneid crossover, and a kind of almost essayistic fanfiction that I like: mostly dialogue and internal thought, rather than action, and designed to make a point about the relationships between two texts and characters. I like this one because it uses the comparison to say something about both Aeneas and the Doctor, and, if I’m truthful, because I hope it will make more people get how great Aeneas is, given how many people think the Doctor is great, even though he is not as good as Aeneas, who does not prance about going on about how he is a lonely angel, he just gets on with saving the future again and again and again without any possibility of reward or happiness. (Also, in my book Now and Rome, I referred to Aeneas’s war in Italy and the Roman civil wars of the first century as a ‘Time War’, because of the complicated temporal structure of the Aeneid, so the fact that apolesen makes exactly the same comparison pleases me.)*
Deus Ex, by innocentsmith
This is my favourite piece of classical fanfic. It’s a story about Jeeves, from Wodehouse’s Jeeves and Wooster stories, who turns out to be a Deus Ex Machina, moving at will (or rather on instruction) between different storyworlds: he is also the naval officer who shows up to save the children at the end of Golding’s Lord of the Flies, for instance. What makes it classical fanfic is Jeeves’s encounter with Cupid and Psyche about halfway through the story.
As well as being phenomenally well-crafted, with a mastery of tone and register even better than meretricula’s (the moment where Cupid’s genuinely numinous powers break into a pitch-perfect Wodehouse pastiche gives me actual goosebumps), this story does three of the things things that I love most about fanfic, and it does them superlatively well:
(1) It posits the ability to move between storyworlds. Lots of fics do this, via crossovers, but in this case there’s a structural/literary-critical point to it (the idea that characters with a particular narrative function are the ‘same’ across different stories) which I find deeply satisfying. Thinking of the deus ex machina as literally divine allows innocentsmith to bring the theory of storytelling together with the framework of myth: as a narrative device (deus ex machina), Jeeves is divine (deus ex machina), and the gods are revealed to be the enablers of story as well as interveners in the personal lives of characters.
(2) It points out a hitherto unnoticed point of connection between separate storyworlds. I am now convinced that Jeeves and the naval officer at the end of The Lord of the Flies are the same person, and I can’t account for why: it just has a feeling of absolute rightness. (Similarly, the idea that Bernard Black from the UK sitcom Black Books is a cousin of Sirius Black from the Harry Potter books.)
(3) It takes a line from the source text and recontextualizes it to mean something entirely new but also entirely consistent (it does this in what happens to be my favourite way, too: it makes a common line of dialogue mean “I love you more than ANYTHING IN THE WORLD”). So it doesn’t add something new on to the source text by diverging from it and telling you what would have should have could have happened; it supplements it, by giving you the information you need to properly (or improperly, but that’s part of the game… fanfic is always asking who gets to say which readings are ‘proper’ or ‘improper’) understand the dynamic behind the line.
So those are some of my favourites, though they don’t at all showcase the range of what’s being done in classical fanfic. More recs welcome in comments.
*OH HEY I was just googling for the above story and found this entry on fanfiction.net (one of the biggest fan archives of all time), for a story called ‘Aeneid’ by VirgilxRome:
A fanfic of my favourite story ever, the Iliad, written in the epic style of my favourite author ever, Homer. Contains OCs, and may contain slash later on!
This may be the funniest thing I have ever seen.