A big welcome to Alma Katsu who is here counting down the Top 10 Mythical Trips to the Underworld and celebrating the release of The Descent, The Taker #3 (published on January 7, 2014 by Gallery Books). Want to win a copy? Enter via the widget below.
Alma Katsu’s Top 10 Mythical Trips to the Underworld
Underworld myths abound throughout all the cultures of the world. These myths are meant to teach us several lessons, foremost being the finality of death. At the same time, these myths are often highly romantic, sending a hero or heroine into the underworld on an impossible quest: to bring someone you love back to the land of the living.
I knew from the beginning of The Taker Trilogy that it would have to end with Lanore, the protagonist, going to the underworld to beg for the return of Jonathan, the man she had wronged by drawing him into her eternal punishment. Her dilemma is made all the richer by because the only way she can get to the afterlife is with the help of Adair, the man she fears (and loves) the most, the only one with the ability to access the magical world.
Here, in rough order, are my top ten stories about that trip to the next world:
Persephone’s story is the most famous of all the underworld tales and one that is full of love: love of the dark lonely god Hades for Persephone, the love of a mother for her daughter. Demeter’s daughter Persephone was abducted by Hades, the god of the underworld, so that she would be his bride. Demeter petitioned Zeus on her daughter’s behalf, and Zeus determined that Persephone could return as long as she had not eaten the food of the dead. While Persephone had refused to eat for most of her time in the underworld, she slipped up once, eating six pomegranate seeds. Zeus makes a King Solomon-like decision by allowing Persephone to split her time between the world above and the underworld. Every time Persephone is in the underworld with Hades, the mourning Demeter covers the earth in cold and snow, explaining the changing of the seasons.
Orpheus and Eurydice
The story of Orpheus and Eurydice is the inspiration for my book The Descent. When Eurydice, wife of the famed Greek minstrel Orpheus, dies, Orpheus goes into the Underworld to convince Hades and Persephone to let his wife return to him. His songs move them to grant his wish, with a catch: during their trip to the surface, Orpheus cannot look back at his wife. If he does, she must remain in the Underworld. You know what happens next: at the last minute, Orpheus’ curiosity wins out (can you blame him? The Greek gods are a notoriously tricky bunch) and he turns around, only to see his wife’s shade disappear.
Hercules deserves special mention because he goes to the underworld several times, but perhaps the most memorable is his trip to rescue Alcetis, wife of King Admetus—not for the rescue itself, but for the reason Alcetis was there in the first place. Talk about a romantic gesture: when her husband died, she offered to take his place in the underworld—and he let her. Bet she regretted making that offer.
Ishtar and Tammuz
In this Babylonian story, you’ll find echoes of the Orpheus and Persephone myths: Ishtar, the goddess of love and war, descends into the underworld to retrieve her Tammuz, the god of harvest. She passes through seven precincts of the underworld and at each stop is stripped of one her adornments, signifying her sacrifice and her transition from a god to a creature like any other. She dies and is only able to return after the earth mourns her loss and the god Ea sends a man to sprinkle her with the water of life.
Izanagi and Izanami
Izanagi and Izanami, the first male and female gods to be born in Japanese myth. Their underworld story is like a combination of both the Persephone (eating food in the land of the dead) and Eurydice (not looking at the dead one) myths combined, proving that the themes of descent stories are universal: longing for the return of the dead, and the impossibility of that quest.
Psyche and Cupid
Back to the Greeks: Psyche goes to the underworld in one of the trials demanded of her by Venus before she can be reunited with her husband Cupid. In the underworld, she is to steal a vial of the beauty of Prosperina, goddess of the underworld, which Venus claims to need in order to restore her own fading beauty.
In Norse mythology, when the beloved god Baldr dies, Odin’s son Hermod is sent to the underworld to ask for his return. Hel, the goddess of death, says that she will allow him to return if every one on earth and in the underworld, weeps for Baldr. Everyone does except the jealous god Loki, thus ensuring that Baldr remain in the underworld forever.
Aeneas, son of Venus, travels to the underworld to see his father Anchises in this story of filial duty.
The god Dionysos goes to the underworld to retrieve his mother Semele. There is an interesting, though not PG-13 rated, part to this story in which Dionysos vows to partake in certain rites with a man who shows him the way to the underworld, but we’ll leave that story for another day.
A 9th century Welsh poem describes King Arthur’s descent into Annwfn, the underworld, to steal the magical cauldron from the lord of the underworld. Cauldrons are very prominent in the first book of the trilogy, The Taker, so we’re happy to include any story with a cauldron in it.
I’m the author of THE TAKER and THE RECKONING (Gallery Books/Simon & Schuster), the first two novels in a trilogy about desire, obsession and the dark things we sometimes do for love. The Taker, which has been widely compared to the ealy work of Anne Rice, was selected by ALA/Booklist as one of the top ten debut novels of 2011 and translation rights have been sold in 14 languages. The third book in The Taker Trilogy, THE DESCENT, is coming May 2013.
Available on January 7, 2014 by Gallery Books
The final installment in the “mesmerizing” (Booklist, starred review) and addictive trilogy—find out who truly holds the key to Lanny’s heart and whether she’ll ever be reunited with her beloved in this gripping supernatural tale of magic, lust, and longing.
Lanore McIlvrae has been on the run from Adair for hundreds of years, dismayed by his mysterious powers and afraid of his temper. She betrayed Adair’s trust and imprisoned him behind a stone wall to save Jonathan, the love of her life. When Adair was freed 200 years later, she was sure that he would find her and make her existence a living hell. But things turned out far different than she’d imagined.
Four years later, Lanore has tracked Adair to his mystical island home, where he has been living in self-imposed exile, to ask for a favor. She wants Adair to send her to the hereafter so she may beg the Queen of the Underworld to release Jonathan, whom she has been keeping as her consort. Will Lanore honor her promise to Adair to return? Or is her intention to reunite with Jonathan at any cost?
Of all the forces of the universe, the most mysterious, confounding, and humbling is the power of love. The epic story of love and loss, magic and destiny that began with The Taker and sparked a chase around the world in The Reckoning comes to a surprising conclusion with The Descent.
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