The God Beneath The Sea

Title: The God Beneath The Sea
Leon Garfield and Edward Blishen
Illustrated: Charles Keeping
Series :
First of two books – followed by “The Golden Shadow”
In Short: A re-telling of some of the most famous Greek myths as a single narrative.  Intense, lyrical and satisfying.

Other books by author: Leon Garfield – “Black Jack” , “Devil in the Fog”



“The God Beneath the Sea” is the first in a series of two books in which the Greek myths are re-told as a single, continuous narrative by  Leon Garfield and Edward Blishen.  They explain that they wanted to rewrite the “haphazard sequence of tall tales”  as these myths are usually presented, to recapture the profound impact the stories had on them when they first read them as children.

“We had been deeply affected by the Greek myths.  It seemed to us that from those great stories we had drawn some of our earliest and most powerful impressions of the nature of human destiny, and of the quality and force of human passion.”

I also loved these myths when I was a child, and it was with great pleasure that I got re-acquainted with some of my old favourites:   Prometheus and his gift of fire, the kidnapping of Persephone, Pandora’s box among many others.  The authors succeeded in connecting the stories one to the other in a very satisfying way so that there is a logical flow.

Leon Garfield and Edward Blishen write in a style which verges on epic poetry.  I have a mental image of them  ripping a dull film from our world and revealing the bright young landscape of the mythical beginning of time.

Then there are the illustrations by Charles Keeping.  His dark ink splattered drawings complement the writing perfectly.  Here are the horses of Apollo:


And here, the terrible Cronos, eating his children in an attempt to avert fate:


These stories have no easy moral lessons.  You may find yourself uncomfortable with this world in which passion flows unbroken from  rape into seduction, and wisdom grows from love, born from revenge.  The stories seem to thrive on contradiction and depict a world in which “time and nature were still young and loose in their dominion.”

Here is Aphrodite, the goddess of desire who has just risen out of the sea:

Presently she stopped and turned.
The beasts whined and moaned.  Their savage heads swayed this way and that, and their eyes grew huge and golden.   Then each with his own kind padded away into the shadows, accompanied by dreams.
Here in secure darkness, they groaned and roared as they coupled, each with its dream.  Then Aphrodite laughed – and the sounds of the forest died away into a soft,  purring sleep.  Only the birds still sung, but piteously, for they were torn and injured from the sharp branches and, as they fluttered helplessly after the goddess, they dappled the leaves with their blood.

And I leave you with another passage, this time describing the goddess Demeter’s love for her daughter Persephone:

“Poppies were her favourites, and she loved to gather them among the fields of Enna, in Sicily, with her little court of nymphs.
Sometimes Demeter would come in search of her, the goddess would see nothing but the nodding cornfield speckled with scarlet blossoms. She’d call: “Persephone – Persephone! Core, my child!” But there’d be no answer.

Then perhaps a crow would fly up…and all at once the myriad flowers would seem to explode into the air in a scarlet storm. With shrieks and fearsome cries, Persephone and her wild nymphs would rise up and pelt the laughing goddess with poppy-heads till she sank, helpless with laughter, amid the bending spears of corn. Then she’d open wide her golden arms and Persephone, still fierce with flowers, would fly into that citadel – and be armisticed with kisses.”

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7 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. fuzzycricket
    Apr 03, 2009 @ 17:54:36

    This sounds like a fantastic retelling of these myths. I was looking for a book like this. Thanks for the fantastic review! I really liked your thoughts on how these stories thrive on contradiction.

  2. mashadutoit
    Apr 03, 2009 @ 18:00:11

    Thanks for your kind comment. And the second book, The Golden Shadow is really good as well.Hope you have a chance to read them!

  3. GeraniumCat
    Apr 05, 2009 @ 15:17:13

    I’d never heard of these two books but I too loved Greek myths as a child, and your review suggests that I would enjoy this. The illustrations are wonderful, I’ve always admired Keeping’s work. Thanks for your review!

  4. Lahni
    Apr 06, 2009 @ 23:22:08

    Sounds interesting. I might have to add this one to my TBR list!

  5. Me
    Apr 09, 2009 @ 14:50:24

    I will jump on the bandwagon of YEA Greek Myths!!! Can’t wait to read this one myself

  6. Trackback: On Philip Pullman – the author ‘who hasn’t forgotten why people need stories’ | Save Kensal Rise Library!
  7. abdelrahman
    Dec 03, 2011 @ 15:30:08

    I’am a big fan of the greek mythology and I love reading AND PLEASE WOULD SOMEBODY TELL ME . how to read it online ? because we don’t have these kinds of books in out country -__-

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