Update on Myth Reading Group sessions

In line with the University’s decision to implement ‘Enhanced Protection’ measures, all Myth Reading Group sessions are suspended.

The University of Essex has suspended all face-to-face delivery of teaching as well as all public events and gatherings. We are not, therefore, currently planning any sessions in this term and the Summer Term.

We would like to thank our contributors and members for their support during this academic year.

Titian, Noli me tangere (1512) National Gallery

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Myth and Childhood in Philip Pullman

Roundtable Discussion
Myth and Childhood in Philip Pullman

Myth Reading Group
Wednesday 12 February 2020
1.15 – 2.45 pm
Room NTC.2.07

Leonardo da Vinci, Lady with an Ermine (1489–90). [Public Domain]

In this roundtable session we will discuss the use of myth in Philip Pullman’s acclaimed trilogy His Dark Materials (1995-2000) and we will consider some of the literary influences behind it, from the biblical story of the Fall and Milton’s Paradise Lost to William Blake. The books focus on Lyra’s childhood adventures and her battle with the Magisterium.

Pullman’s recent trilogy, The Book of Dust (2017- ) also derives inspiration from myth and religion while it delves deeper into the existence of daemons in Pullman’s universe. In La Belle Sauvage (2017) infant Lyra travels inside a canoe during a biblical flood while in The Secret Commonwealth (2019) adult Lyra makes an epic journey from Oxford to the East.

You are welcome to bring your lunch to the session.

Primary Reading:

Secondary reading:

Additional sources:


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Seminar on the Oedipus Complex

This Thursday, 6 February, the Department of Psychosocial and Psychoanalytic Studies will host a seminar with the title ‘The Oedipus Complex: Focus Of The Psychoanalysis/ Anthropology Debate’.

The event starts at 5 p.m., is free to attend, but prior registration is advised. Follow this link for full details.

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Myths in the voices of children

Myths in the voices of children
Students from Ipswich Academy

Myth Reading Group
Wednesday 5 February 2020
1.15 – 2.45 pm
Room NTC.2.07

Nicolas-Guy Brenet, Apollo Crowning the Arts (1771) [public domain]

This session will include a short performance of an original script written by Year 9 and 10 students from Ipswich Academy. The script is derived from the work the students have been doing as part of their extracurricular Classics Club. The play explores how mythical figures can be adapted by children in order to express contemporary concerns and their views of the world.

The second part of the session will concentrate on a discussion of the value of including the study of mythology in secondary education, especially in terms of enhancing the students’ cultural capital. The students will introduce their views on the importance of ‘translating’ Classical Greek myths in a contemporary setting. The performance and the discussion will be facilitated by the students’ teacher, Dr Stefanie Savva.

You are welcome to bring your lunch to this session. Please note the room change from last term.

Essential Reading:

Further Reading:


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Intertextual references and myths in The Handmaid’s Tale

Carla Scarano D’Antonio
(University of Reading)
Intertextual references and myths in The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

Myth Reading Group
Wednesday 29 January 2020
1.15 – 2.45 pm
Room NTC.2.07

“Handmaid under the Eye”, 03/11/2008
Artist: Segeton, Public Domain

The session will analyse the myths and fairy tales present in Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. These include ‘Little Red Cap’, ‘Cinderella’, Leah, Rachel and Jacob’s story from the Bible, the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice, and ‘The Clerk’s Tale’ from Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer.

In Atwood’s novel, the protagonist, Offred, challenges the narratives of Gilead using intertextual references in a parodic way to expose the incongruities of the dominant society and offer possible alternative visions. The intertextual references deconstruct stereotypical conceptions and binary oppositions emphasising transformation. This implies a tenacious process of survival in a constant metamorphosis and saving human culture in a wider perspective. In this sense, Atwood uses postmodern techniques that simultaneously challenge and confirm the narratives of the dominant society.

Atwood’s technique of both referring to a physical world and revisiting myths, fairy tales and classics of literature gives space to a re-thinking of the rules and roles in the dominant society and questions the readers’ position in this world as well as power relations in society.


  • Selected extracts from Atwood and others:
    • Margaret Atwood, Second Words: Selected Critical Prose (Boston, MA: Beacon Press, 1984), p. 348.
    • Margaret Atwood, True Stories (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1981), p. 69.
    • Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid’s Tale (London: Vintage Books, 1996).
    • The Holy Bible: Authorized King James Version (New York, London, Ontario: New American Library, 1974), Matt 13.
    • George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four (London: Penguin Books, 1954), 198-199.



  • Grace, Sherrill E.  and Weir, Lorraine, ed. by, Language, Text, and System (Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press, 1983).
  • Howells, Coral Ann, The Handmaid’s Tale: York Notes Advanced (London: York Press, 2003).
  • Sheckels, Theodore, F., The Political in Margaret Atwood’s Fiction: The Writing on the Wall of the Tent (Farham: Ashgate, 2012).
  • Wilson, Sharon, Rose, Margaret Atwood’s Textual Assassinations (Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 2003).


Carla Scarano D’Antonio obtained her MA in Creative Writing at Lancaster University and is working on a PhD on Margaret Atwood at the University of Reading. She and Keith Lander won the first prize of the Dryden Translation Competition 2016 with translations of Eugenio Montale’s poems. Her research is funded by Canada-UK Foundation.
carlascaranod.co.uk | carlascarano.blogspot.com

You are welcome to bring your lunch to the session.

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Narnia: Reshaping Myth for Children and Adults

Dr Jeremy Solnick
Narnia: Reshaping Myth for Children and Adults

Myth Reading Group
Wednesday 11 December 2019
1.15 – 2.45 pm
Room NTC.3.06

Lucy enters the Wardrobe (image from WikiNarnia)

C. S. Lewis and his close friend, J. R. R. Tolkien, were instrumental in the development of the genre of modern fantasy writing and they were also innovative in reshaping classical and religious myth for the purpose of the stories they sought to tell. But as Tolkien said, “history often resembles ‘Myth’ because they are both ultimately of the same stuff. […] They have been put into the Cauldron (of story) where so many potent things lie simmering agelong on the fire.”

This week we shall discuss how C. S. Lewis set about using elements of myth to create his own stories for children and adults in his Narnia Chronicles, why he did this and whether he was successful.  We shall make reference to chapters from “The Magician’s Nephew” and “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” and also to C. S. Lewis’ essay “On Stories” and Tolkien’s essay “On Fairy-Stories.”

References: J. R. R. Tolkien, “On Fairy-Stories,” in Tree and Leaf (London: Allen & Unwin, 1964), 31.


You are welcome to bring your lunch to the session.

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Roundtable Discussion: Myth and Childhood

Roundtable Discussion: Myth and Childhood

Myth Reading Group
Wednesday 13 November 2019
1.15 – 2.45 pm
Room NTC.3.06

John Bauer – The Princess and the Trolls (1913) [Public Domain]

In this session we invite our members to consider the idea of the “changeling,” and other instances of child abduction by fairies and supernatural beings. The trope of fairies stealing human children and replacing them with a changeling, a fairy child, is not new. In A Midsummer Night’s Dream Oberon and Titania argue over a changeling boy which has been stolen from India; in Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s poem “Erlkönig” (1782), a child is stolen by the “Elf-King.” We encourage attendees to think of texts that engage with this aspect of myth and childhood.

Suggested texts:

  • Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, “Erlkönig” (1782) [Web link]
  • Sir Walter Scott, “On the Fairies of Popular Superstition,” Introduction to “The Tale of Tamlane,” Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border, Poetic Works (Edinburgh: Ballantyne, 1833), vol. 2, pp. 317-321. [Web link]
  • Walter Gregor, “How to Find Out a Fairy Changeling,” Notes on the Folk-Lore of the North-East of Scotland (London: Folk-Lore Society, 1881), pp. 8-9. [Web link]

You are welcome to bring your lunch to the session.

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The Kathakali Man: Childhood in The God of Small Things

Dr Leon Burnett (Essex)
The Kathakali Man: Childhood in The God of Small Things

Myth Reading Group
Wednesday 6 November 2019
1.15 – 2.45 pm
Room NTC.3.06

Kalamandalam Gopi As Dasharadhan

Kalamandalam Gopi as Dasharadhan (Creative Commons)

Arundhati Roy’s novel, The God of Small Things, winner of the 1997 Booker Prize, explores the theme of childhood as experienced by non-identical twins of opposite genders in a small, southern Indian community that is engaged in the process of adapting to changing values. In Chapter Twelve of the novel, the twins attend a kathakali performance that encapsulates in an indirect, that is to say a symbolic, manner the dilemma of modern India in having to choose between retaining its spiritual capital, saturated with religious and mythological values, or cashing it in in pursuit of secular goals.

You are welcome to bring your lunch to the session.

Primary Text:

Notes to the text:

The God of Small Things

Arundhati Roy’s first novel tells the story of non-identical twins from the dual perspective of their childhood and their adult life, when they are re-united after a long separation. The narrative, set in a small community in Kerala, weaves between these two periods.

Chapter 12 (Kochu Thomban)

The grown-up twins, Rahel and Esthappen (Estha), female and male, attend a theatrical dance performance (kathakali) of scenes from the Mahabharata, scenes that they had witnessed earlier as six-year-old children. Kathakali is a traditional dance form, originating in Kerala, in which colour and gesture are integral to the stories that are told, but the traditional genre has been undermined by competing demands of the modern world. The Kathakali Man has known better times, but, although “stoned” during his performance, he remains true to his vocation. To him, his stories are “his children and his childhood”, but he has become “unviable”, “left dangling somewhere between heaven and earth”. He “tells stories of the gods, but his yarn is spun from the ungodly, human heart”.

The performance takes place in the kuthambalam, the temple theatre, in the little town of Ayemenem and lasts the whole night. Its narrative alludes to the meeting of Karna (“Karna, melancholy son of Surya, God of Day. Karna the Generous. Karna the abandoned child.”) and his mother Kunti, impregnated by Surya, who is also the mother of the Pandavas (“her five other, more beloved sons”), who will be Karna’s enemies in the impending war between the Pandavas and the Kauravas in which the Indian epic culminates. She has come to exact a promise from him. In the course of the night, the scene shifts from the episode of Karna’s Oath (Karna Shabadam) to that of the brutal killing of one of the Kaurava brothers, Dushasana (Duryodhana Vadham).

In the chapter, there is a continual interplay between the myth that is being enacted and the life-story of the fictional twins as Rahel watches with “the memory of another mother”.


Book 5 describes two meetings where Karna learns about his birth. The first meeting is with Krishna, the second when his biological mother Kunti comes to meet him for the first time.

Book 8 gives an account of the Kurukshetra War.

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The Childhood of the Hero in the Acritic Tradition

Dr Leon Burnett (Essex)
The Childhood of the Hero in the Acritic Tradition

Myth Reading Group
Wednesday 16 October 2019
1.15 – 2.45 pm
Room NTC.3.06

Digenis Akritas

Postcard: Digenis Akritas Embroidery Mary Galani – Kritikou (Museum of the Acritans of Europe)

The new term begins with the new theme of Myth and Childhood. As is traditional, our first session will be led by the founding director of the Centre for Myth Studies, Leon Burnett.

In this session we consider the exceptional circumstances and attributes of the child who is destined to be a hero in literary works that originated in an era when tales of legendary exploits sought to consolidate a unifying ethos. The main text, from the Welsh Mabinogion, and the supporting texts, from the Finnish Kalevala and Tennyson’s Idylls of the King, share common ground and a common purpose in re-establishing in the nineteenth century a national awareness that ultimately derives its inspiration from an archaic, pan-European mythological belief in child gods.

Excerpts from:

  1. Mabinogion, First Branch, Pwyll Prince of Dyfed [main text]
  2. Kalevala, Runo 31, Kullervo [supporting text]
  3. Tennyson, Idylls of the King, Part One, The Coming of Arthur [supporting text]

You are welcome to bring your lunch to the session.

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Myth Reading Group: Call for Proposals, Autumn 2019

Centre for Myth Studies — Myth Reading Group

Call for Proposals: Myth and Childhood

Little horse on wheels (Ancient Greek child’s Toy). From tomb dating 950-900 BC. Kerameikos Archaeological Museum in Athens. Wikimedia Commons.

We are pleased to announce that we are now accepting suggestions for texts to read for our new theme, Myth and Childhood.

We invite proposals from anyone who is interested in any aspect of myth and childhood and can address the theme from a mythological perspective across cultures, periods, and media.

In the Homeric Hymn to Hermes, the newly-born god steals Apollo’s cattle and soon after that, he devises the first lyre using a tortoise shell. In addition to mythical accounts of childhood, writers of children’s literature often use myths to create imaginary realms for their young audiences, such as in Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials (1995-2000) and his most recent trilogy (The Book of Dust, 2017- ). We welcome proposals on mythical childhoods and myths in children’s literature. Please contact us with your suggestions for texts to read and discuss in the Autumn term (mythic@essex.ac.uk).

The Myth Reading Group is open to anyone with an interest in myth. We meet on alternate Wednesdays during term time, between 13.15 and 14.45 at the University of Essex Colchester Campus, North Teaching Centre, Room N.T.C 3.06. Our sessions include a short presentation of up to 30 minutes, followed by discussion or a reading session.

Our first session will take place on 16 October. Myth Reading Group sessions will run during the Autumn and Spring Terms. Attendees are welcome to bring their lunch and drinks during the session.

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