The New Muses

Reviewed by Elizabeth Hand
Sunday, December 25, 2005


By Karen Armstrong

Canongate. 159 pp. $18

WEIGHT: The Myth of Atlas and Heracles

By Jeanette Winterson

Canongate. 151 pp. $18

THE PENELOPIAD: The Myth of Penelope and Odysseus

By Margaret Atwood

Canongate. 199 pp. $18

The most ballyhooed event at this year's Frankfurt Book Fair was the launch of Canongate's "The Myths," retellings of classic myths by 100 internationally renowned writers, including Chinua Achebe, A.S. Byatt and Alexander McCall Smith, among many others. The first three books in the series -- fictions by Margaret Atwood and Jeanette Winterson and an introductory volume by Karen Armstrong -- have recently appeared in 28 languages from 33 publishers (there are five English language editions) in the biggest simultaneous publication ever.

It's difficult not to recast this achievement in pop-culture terms -- Monster Mythology Smackdown! -- and just as difficult not to add one's own mythic subtext, that of David and Goliath. Canongate was established in 1973, a small Edinburgh publisher specializing in Scottish titles such as Escape From Loch Leven and Scottish Love Poems . Still, even in its early years, Canongate showed a taste for the offbeat, publishing the Glaswegian author Alasdair Gray and the first UK edition of Edward Abbey's seminal The Monkey Wrench Gang . But by the early 1990s, the foundering house was in receivership.

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