Greek Myths and Children of Icarus

Caighlan Smith wrote her first novel, Hallow Hour, in her final year of high school in St. John’s. Inspired by her love of fantasy and the supernatural, Smith’s work combines the fun and action of video games with the urgency of post-apocalyptic survival. She is studying English at Memorial University of Newfoundland. Hallow Hour, the first book in the SURREALITY series, was signed with a publisher when she turned 19. To date, she has written 14 novels and one novella. Her great loves are reading, gaming and, of course, writing. Smith’s newest YA Fantasy novel Children of Icarus is now out in the UK with publisher Curious Fox and will be released August 1st 2016 in North America by Switch Press. Pre-order it via IndigoBarnes & NobleWaterstones, or Amazon.

A blonde young woman stands in a garden.

Caighlan Smith

Oh, where to begin? I do so love my Greek mythology. I have a few favourite myths, starting with the one where the goddess Demeter put the mortal kid she was babysitting in a fire, and expected his parents to be cool with this because “duh, it will make him immortal”. I also like the myth where Ariadne, after being ditched by her supposed boyfriend Theseus (Greek heroes for you) ends up getting to marry Dionysus, who is basically the god of partying. I think there’s a great moral in that one, somewhere. Also, the myth about the deaths of Castor and Pollux. Despite being twins, they have different fathers—because myth logic—so Pollux is a demi-god and Castor just has a very cool name. In one version of the myth, when they’re “killed” Pollux is set to go off to Mount Olympus, Castor to the underworld, but Pollux won’t abandon his twin so he convinces his dad Zeus to let him share his immortality with his brother. They then become the constellation Gemini (which is my sign!).

As for favourite Greek heroes, that would be a toss-up between Ajax the Greater and one of the only female heroes, Atalanta. Ajax was just an all-around entertaining guy. When (spoiler alert) Achilles is killed during the Trojan War, Ajax and Odysseus compete for the magic god armour of Achilles. Ajax is strong, but Odysseus is wily and ultimately convinces the Greek army to give him the armour. As one would expect, Ajax takes this incredibly well; he decides to murder his commanders. Thanks to some godly intervention, Ajax murders a flock of innocent sheep instead but, believing he’s killed his friends, immediately regrets what he’s done and falls on his own sword. It’s poetic and awful, yet somehow I cannot take this myth seriously. Is it because all of this happens over a suit of armour? Is it because Odysseus is such a little trickster yet always ends up winning? Is it because of the sheep? It’s probably because of the sheep. But the reason I love Ajax has nothing (not much) to do with the sheep, but what happens next; many years later, Odysseus takes a trip to the Underworld, because why not? There he encounters his buddy Ajax, along with a host of other very chatty dead Greeks. But Ajax does not say a word. It’s his first chance to talk to a living person in forever, find out what’s happening in the world, maybe explain his crazy sheep slaughter, and what does he do? He says nothing. No matter how much the widely loved Odysseus attempts to let bygones be bygones, Ajax cold-shoulders him to the end. I can’t help but respect this guy’s capacity to hold a grudge. If it were me, and I were a spirit stuck in Ancient Greek purgatory, I probably would not have that resolve.

So then there’s Atalanta. Her father was not a cool guy, as he left her outside to die as a baby. Luckily, she was saved by a bear and grew up, supposedly, to have bear-like tendencies, which is probably something towards which more of us should aspire. She was also a huntress, sworn to the very awesome goddess of the hunt, Artemis, who also loved bears. So many bears! Proving to be even less of a cool guy than he already was, Atalanta’s father reappeared after she’d done some adventuring and decided she had to get married. Oh, ancient mythology, treating us women so well. The thing was, Atalanta didn’t want to get married, so she set up a competition for her suitors: if they could beat her in a footrace, they could marry her, but if they lost they were killed. Sounds fair to me! Unfortunately, Atalanta was eventually beaten by this guy who got godly assistance (which I’m pretty sure qualifies as cheating). On the plus side, their marriage eventually ends with them being turned into lions. Kind of disappointed it wasn’t bears, but I guess there are already too many myths about those. There’s another myth about Atalanta, in which she tried to join the crew of the Argo, but Jason wouldn’t let her because she was a she. Speaking of Jason and favourite heroes, he is one of my least favourite heroes, if not the very least. He’s hardly a real hero—he needed a crew full of other, actual heroes (Hercules, Castor and Pollux, Theseus, and literally dozens of others) in order to get a wad of fleece. Sure, it was magical, Golden Fleece, but basically every inanimate and animate object in mythology is magical. One of Ajax’s sheep victims was probably magical. Jason could have just asked Ajax for some fleece.

On the topic of magical fleece and creatures that may have produced it, you know one creature that definitely didn’t produce fleece but was still super magical? Cerberus, my favourite Greek monster. Any three-headed demon dog that guards the gates of hell yet can be placated with honey cakes is perfect in my book.

Speaking of my book, Children of Icarus draws a lot of inspiration from Greek mythology, given my adoration of it. It takes place in a labyrinth, for starters, and any Greek mythology geek worth their ambrosia will now be thinking of Daedalus, the inventor of said labyrinth. Of course, referencing Icarus probably also brings Daedalus to mind, given the former is the latter’s son. But the references don’t stop there; I actually based several of the characters off of Greek heroes, though I won’t yet say who and which. There are also monsters, because what book inspired by Greek mythology wouldn’t have monsters? While there may not be any three-headed mutant dogs (yet??) there are many creatures reminiscent of those found in Greek myths. So all of this is to say that if you’re a mythology geek like me, you’ll probably recognize a lot of stuff. BUT if you couldn’t care less about Ancient Greece, worry not! The allusions are a bonus. There’s plenty of survival fun to go around. The protagonist ends up trapped in the aforementioned labyrinth, which should have led her to Alyssia—paradise. Instead, she and a group of youths must struggle to survive against the monstrosities and horrors plaguing the labyrinth. Even if there were honey cakes to be had, they would do no good.

A story of survival, friendship, and coming of age, Children of Icarus is an irresistible offering – commercial, accessible, familiar feeling, yet simultaneously startlingly different. The story is set in the city of Daedelum, where, every year, children pray for the honor of being chosen to enter the labyrinth – the unmapped and mysterious maze that surrounds the city walls. The children are promised that their journey through the labyrinth will be guarded by angels, and those who make their way through will win the chance to ascend to paradise. But traveling the labyrinth is not the honor it is promised to be. The main characters are two 16-year-old girls who are chosen to journey to the land of the angels. Their lives, dreams and beliefs come crashing down when they enter the labyrinth. As the plot unfolds, the reader is immersed in the nightmarish atmosphere of the inescapable labyrinth. Claustrophobic, haunting, enthralling, inspiring – Children of Icarus is a book to set your heart racing.

Readers, what are your favorite Greek myths? TWO lucky commenters will receive a copy of Children of Icarus.


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KATE LECHLER, on our staff from May 2014 to January 2017, resides in Oxford, MS, where she divides her time between teaching early British literature at the University of Mississippi, writing fiction, and throwing the tennis ball for her insatiable terrier, Sam. She loves speculative fiction because of what it tells us about our past, present, and future. She particularly enjoys re-imagined fairy tales and myths, fabulism, magical realism, urban fantasy, and the New Weird. Just as in real life, she has no time for melodramatic protagonists with no sense of humor. The movie she quotes most often is Jurassic Park, and the TV show she obsessively re-watches (much to the chagrin of her husband) is Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Her personal blog is The Rediscovered Country and she tweets @katelechler.

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9 comments

  1. It’s hard to pick one.
    I like the story of Orpheus And Eurydice. As most of them, it is a sad story.

  2. Great essay, and I love your point that the Greek myths can be really strange! (So many sheep, so much fleece.)

  3. Nathan gebert /

    Honestly there is a lot. But love the Icarus story. Has such practical application in regards to all humans imo. With too much freedom you just may fall.

  4. Daniel Moscoso Huerta /

    Mine are the trojan war, the horse and the mighty heroes that fight in it. Great article! Greetings from Peru!

  5. Sharon Browning /

    My two favorite Greek myths? Wow…. um…. hard to pin down. Pandora and her jar would be one, for sure – I’ve always been drawn to that cautionary tale. For the other? I guess today I’d say the story of Hephaestus, deformed and abandoned, but returned to create works of great beauty and strength, marrying the goddess of Love and then not rolling over and playing dead when she cheats on him. What’s not to like in that tale, eh?

  6. M. Robinson /

    Daedalus and Icarus
    Pandora’s Jar

  7. For those who are interested, Jana has an interview with Caighlan Smith (and is giving away another copy of the book) here: http://www.fantasyliterature.com/author-interviews/caighlan-smith/

  8. M. Robinson and Nathan, if you live in the USA, you win a copy of CHILDREN OF ICARUS!
    Please contact me (Marion) with your US address and I’ll have the book sent right away. Happy reading!

  9. M. Robinson /

    Thanks!

    Mythical timing, too, I’ve almost finished The Devourers by Indra Das, which I highly recommend.

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