Way Back Wednesday: Persephone in Popular Culture

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There’s a reason myths survive for centuries on end. Something within them resonates with us, so we change them, twist them, adapt them to fit our current mindset and culture. Personally, I think the Persephone myth has resonated so much and sprung so many retellings is because the original tale feels incomplete. We don’t get Persephone’s perspective. I went over the Persephone myth on Monday. Here, I’m going to share some of my favorite variations on the myth. I’m limiting this list to stuff that’s come out in my lifetime. Ovid’s twist on the myth was great and all, but looking at the way we’re transforming the myth now, can tell you a lot about what’s changed from now to then and what hasn’t. The retelling I grew up with shaped my view of the myth and influenced the way I changed my own.

So here are the top five favorite Persephone retellings that influenced my view of the myth when I wrote Persephone. Chime in the comments below with your own 🙂

Beauty and the Beast

Yes, this is based on the classic fairy tail, but the classic fairy tale has strong roots in the Persephone myth (and the Psyche myth and about a dozen others, but right now we’re not focusing on that one) and the Disney retelling took it a bit further. Think about it, you’ve got your beautiful, bright, sunshiney girl (come on, Belle’s color is even yellow) imprisoned over a misunderstanding with a flower. She’s held captive from spring to winter in a dark castle shrouded by magic.

That alone would be enough, but let’s look at the other parallels. You’ve got a massive age difference (Beast was 21 when the castle was cursed. I’m assuming it froze his age in place otherwise what a jerk of a witch to curse an 11 year old for not answering the door for a stranger?) There are major levels of hell happening (or would you enjoy spending twenty years frozen as a fork?). And I haven’t even gone into the magical flower significance thing.

Phantom of the Opera

Okay, so the broadway and subsequent movie of Phantom are adaptions from the book Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux, which is in and of itself a retelling of the Beauty and the Beast fairy tale with an opera house twist. But then it got really popular as an opera so there are some echoes of this in Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. So layers upon layers in this. But it’s absolutely a Persephone retelling, only unlike most of my other examples, the Hades character is considered the bad guy at the end of the movie. Oh sure, the “angel of music” is a tragically misunderstood bad guy, but no one was cool with him dragging Christine to the dark and creepy underworld of the Opera House for a forced wedding. And again, we’ve got a flower of great significance. She’s not flattered by his romantic attentions, she’s terrified. It’s important that there are versions of this myth being retold that acknowledge the darkness of the original myth.

The Forbidden Game series by L.J Smith


I *loved* this book when I was younger. To the point of obsession. Seriously, read it. It’s amazing. Technically, this book was about Norse mythology, but the Persephone/Hades comparison was brought up by the characters in the book and it fit really well. Julian is a shadow man who falls in love with a bright, sunny, Californian native named Jenny. He tricks her and her friends into crossing into his realm through a game. They’ve got until Midnight to win/escape. But if they lose, he gets to keep Jenny’s soul.

So again, you’ve got the naive girl who personifies spring and all things innocent a new catching the eye of a dark soul living in a “shadow” realm. He lures her there through trickery, not unlike the pomegranate seeds Persephone was tricked into eating. And spoiler alert, she escapes, only to realize she’s still bound to him because of something she did while in his realm. There’s also a lot of flower symbolism.

Spirited Away

There’s a lot more undertones happening in Spirited Away than the Persephone myth, so I wouldn’t exactly call it a retelling, but it still has a lot of elements from the Persephone myth. Chihiro’s family is trapped in the spirit realm because they ate the food there. When Chihiro is accepted into the realm, she is given a new name, just like Kora/Persephone.

Legend

This movie essentially is the Persephone myth, only she gets rescued and there are unicorns. Unicorns, by the way, symbolize innocence, so there’s some significance there.

So basically, the Lord of Darkness decides he wants to kill the last two unicorns of the forest (innocence) and bring darkness to all the land. To do this, he needs a certain princess who is pure of heart, to touch the unicorns and make them vulnerable. When the princess sees the unicorns while playing in the forest and touches one, the trap is sprung. The unicorn she touched has his horn cut off and winter descends upon the land with the loss of that innocence.

Later the princess herself is captured and dragged down the the Lord of Darkness’ realm. He’s attracted to her because she’s innocent and pure so he tries to make her his queen. She’s eventually restored to the normal world and winter ends. A lot more happens in Legend, there’s this whole other protagonist and Lilly is an intelligent princess with some major agency. I’m just pointing out the Persephone parallels.

Those were my top five retellings of the Persephone myth when I was growing up. One thing they all have in common is giving the Persephone figure a voice. I really do think the reason this myth is set on repeat in our culture is that it feels unfinished in its original form. What retelling or Persephone inspired story finished the tale for you?

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2 thoughts on “Way Back Wednesday: Persephone in Popular Culture

  1. Pingback: For Real Friday: Persephone | Kaitlin Bevis

  2. Pingback: Way Back Wednesday: Hades | Kaitlin Bevis

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