Ariadne, Theseus, and the reader—and a giveaway!

by Tracy Barrett

Recently an interviewer asked me why young readers would be interested in historical fiction, specifically, how a teenage girl today could relate to Ariadne, the priestess of the moon-goddess (and future goddess herself) in Dark of the Moon. The story is set in the Bronze Age, after all—how much can a modern sensibility resonate with it?

This was an odd question to me—and I imagine it’s also odd to most readers of this blog—so I found it hard to answer. But I’ve had the chance to think it over, and if I were to be asked the same question today, I’d probably answer something like this:

We sometimes need a little remove from our own time, place, and circumstances in order to understand them. It’s similar to the way studying a foreign language helps you better understand how your own language works. We’re just too close to our own language—and our own setting—to be able to see it clearly. But if we step back a pace, we quiet what Lionel Trilling called “the buzz of implication.” Our own issues come into focus in a different (not necessarily better, just different) way from a different vantage point.

Ariadne faces a struggle that many people face: She agonizes over whether she should she do what is expected of her, or forge her own path. She’s also conflicted about how much she owes to her family, her faith, her country, and how much she owes to herself. And on a more personal level, does she love Theseus, or is she merely swept off her feet by the first boy who sees her as a girl and not as a goddess-to-be?

King of Ithaka is also set in the past (in this case, the Iron Age). My protagonist, Telemachos, lives in a time of war, and he has to discover how to be a man despite an absentee father. Tell me those aren’t common issues of young men in many countries today!

I don’t write for a didactic purpose; I don’t expect my readers to take Ariadne or Telemachos as a model for their own behavior. But—to go back to the language analogy—just as studying dangling modifiers in Latin can help us recognize them in English, seeing how characters in historical fiction (or fantasy or science fiction) confront familiar issues might lead to a clearer understanding of the reader’s own questions and conflicts.

Giveaway! Leave a comment for a chance to win a copy of the newly-released paperback of Dark of the Moon! Winner chosen at random from commenters on November 27.


Tracy Barrett is the author of numerous books for young readers, most recently Dark of the Moon (Harcourt) and The Sherlock Files series (Henry Holt). She lives in Nashville, TN, where until recently she taught Italian, Humanities, and Women’s Studies at Vanderbilt University. Visit her website and her blog.

  • Elena

    Sounds like a really neat book! Maybe I’ll let my teenagers read it when I’m finished…. :)

    • Tracy Barrett

      Let me know what they think, Elena!

  • Lauren Cocilova

    Books? Oh yes, please!! :-)

  • Megan Trotter

    Sounds like a great story, and I am particularly fond of Greek myth retellings. ^_^

    • Tracy Barrett

      They’re an endless source of inspiration, aren’t they?

  • Kat

    That is such a bizarre question… next they’ll be asking why a young reader would relate to Harry Potter since, y’know, magic isn’t real? But I like your answer very much.

    • Tracy Barrett

      I know, Kat–it really baffled me!

    • Tracy Barrett

      Kat, a roll of the 20-sided die came up with you as the winner of the giveaway! Please email your mailing address and signing instructions to me at TracyTBarrett at yahoo dot com.

  • Susannah

    I’m always looking for books that my middle school students will enjoy (and learn from). I agree with the questioner that one of the trickiest parts is getting the hook right, but this one has it. Rick Riordan’s series have opened the gates to fiction about classical myths. Historical fiction that places the stories in the time period isn’t actually that big a leap – in fact, it’s the next logical step for a lot of kids. I’m excited to read this and share it with my voracious readers.

    • Tracy Barrett

      It might be a bit bloody for some middle-schoolers, Susannah, so be sure to check it out first! Readers of more tender sensibilities might prefer my King of Ithaka (, inspired by the voyage of Telemachus in the Odyssey.

      • Susannah

        Thanks for the warning! I’ll check it out! :)

  • Sonia Furtado Neves

    This not only sounds like a book I’d like to read now, it sounds like one I would have devoured in my teen years!

    And it does sound like that interviewer is oblivious to how compelling not just historical fiction, but also fantasy and science fiction can be for youngsters – part of the attraction, for me at least, was precisely the fact that I *did* feel transported somewhere else, but I certainly still related to the characters!

    • Tracy Barrett

      Exactly, Sonia! You put it very well; wish I’d said it like that in the interview!

  • Alexandra K

    “Just as studying dangling modifiers in Latin can help us recognize them in English…” Absolutely! The vast majority of the English grammar I know come from taking Latin. Ahem.

    A couple of years ago I went on a dig at a bronze age site in Greece, and I’ve been wanting to learn more about Mycenaeans/Minoans ever since. So I’ve been keeping an eye on this book for a while. :)

    • Tracy Barrett

      I envy you your digging experience, Alexandra! I’ve just observed them from the edges.

  • sandhya

    A good post. I am a regular reader at this blog, a history buff, but have never commented.

    I had been thinking along a parallel thought for some time now- I live in India, and when we read fiction written by our own authors, there is the sense of certain things, beliefs and customs that are taken for granted. When a foreign author writes a story on the background of my country, on the other hand, the familiar (to me) is visualised by them from a completely different perspective, giving the writing a clarity of vision that I had not thought of.

    Love historical fiction, and would love to get my hands on this book.

    • Tracy Barrett

      Wonderful, Sandhya. I love that perspective.

  • Karrie Zylstra Myton

    I enjoy reading about history for some of the same reasons you mentioned above. It also makes me take a close look at my mortality when I realize those characters (or actual historical figures) face many of my same fears and joys.

    Ariadne intrigues me and so does Telemachus. I imagine my 13 year old son might also be intrigued. He loves his iPod but also learned a bit of Greek to help himself get into the Riordan series;)

    • Tracy Barrett

      He learned Greek on his own??? Wow!

  • Na S.

    I do think being removed from what we’re familiar, whether it be place, time or something else can help us understand better. It can be a nice change and be useful.

    • Tracy Barrett

      It’s like standing in a high place to see your home–it looks different, and sometimes you can see how it all fits together from there.