Oh ye Gods, tell me your stories.
June 27, 2009 8:47 AM   Subscribe

What are the best books on mythology (all kinds)?

I recently read American Gods by Neil Gaiman, which I adored for its wide variety of mythological characters. While I have a good grasp of Greek and Roman gods (and a bit about the Norse gods as well), I feel like my education is lacking in the areas of Celtic gods, Hindu gods, and all other kinds of deities.

I'd love to read some non-fiction accounts OR re-tellings of myths from any culture. I found the thread on Greek/Roman books for children, but I am more interested in other mythologies.

Thanks for any suggestions!
posted by fantine to Media & Arts (28 answers total) 41 users marked this as a favorite
have you read the scandinavian chronicles?
posted by Think_Long at 9:17 AM on June 27, 2009 [1 favorite]

Joseph Campbell
- The Power of Myth
- Hero With a Thousand Faces
- Masks of God
posted by Roach at 9:22 AM on June 27, 2009 [2 favorites]

The Little Book of Hindu Deities is quite enjoyable & is more extensive and detailed than one would expect
posted by jammy at 9:35 AM on June 27, 2009

another idea: an interesting & lyrical retelling of many Hindu myths is Roberto Calasso's Ka: Stories of the Mind and Gods of India
posted by jammy at 9:42 AM on June 27, 2009 [1 favorite]

I'm using this text next semester for my myth class, and I like both the selection of the myths and the different myth theories: Introduction to Mythology. It's a textbook, so it's pricey, but you can get a cheaper older edition or a library copy perhaps. Be wary that some anthologies, like this one, are bowdlerized to the point of absurdity.

The Norse Myths is a fun read. The prose level is more suited towards teenagers, but it's a good alternative if you don't want to tackle the Eddas.

Over Nine Waves has some nice retellings of Irish Myths.

I've used selections from African Myths of Origin for trickster tales, if you'd like to read more about "Mr. Nancy."
posted by bibliowench at 9:49 AM on June 27, 2009

i can't believe i was beaten to the little book of hindu deities. seconding it, then!
posted by soma lkzx at 9:53 AM on June 27, 2009

The Golden Bough by Sir James George Frazer
posted by pecanpies at 9:54 AM on June 27, 2009

Gene Yang's American Born Chinese has a great re-telling of the Monkey King woven into the overall structure of the story
posted by jammy at 10:00 AM on June 27, 2009 [1 favorite]

As a kid, I loved anything the d'Aulaires wrote, especially the Book of Greek Myths.

Also, Bernard Evslin wrote a great series, the Monsters of Mythology, that packed the legendary heroes and monsters of Greek myths full of characterization, making the stories seem driven more by individual motivations and flaws rather than an ambiguous concept of destiny.

You can't really go wrong with any translation of the Monkey King stories I think. And Laurence Yep gathered folktales from immigrants in Chinatown in Tongues of Jade.
posted by twins named Lugubrious and Salubrious at 10:17 AM on June 27, 2009

Seconding the Crossley-Holland Norse myths book. In fact, all the Pantheon myth series books that I've read have been pretty good.

The Datlow-Windling edited fairy tale series of fiction retellings has some good mythology in it, e.g., Pamela Dean's Tam Lin.
posted by immlass at 10:54 AM on June 27, 2009

Bulfinch's Mythology

Also, I'm sure you aren't looking for a semiotic treatment of modern myths. But I'm going to recommend Barthes anyway.
posted by prufrock at 11:08 AM on June 27, 2009

Roach has the answer that I second. Campbell was an american mythologist, writer and lecturer, best known for his work in comparative mythology and comparative religion. But follow your bliss.
posted by alteredcarbon at 11:36 AM on June 27, 2009

Bullfinch's is the standard.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 11:37 AM on June 27, 2009

"The Mexican Dream: The Interrupted Thought of Amerindian Civilizations" by J. M. G. Le Clezio goes a lot into Amerindian mythology/rituals before the conquistadors got there.
posted by of strange foe at 12:21 PM on June 27, 2009

Nthing the Joseph Campbell books. Another good mythology author is Robert Graves.
posted by RussHy at 1:19 PM on June 27, 2009

Jim Fitzpatrick's version of the Book of Conquests retells Irish myth in the style of heavy metal album covers :D I loved it as a lad.
posted by Abiezer at 1:42 PM on June 27, 2009

Oops, forgot link to main entry at Fitzpatrick's site where has far more insightful things than I to say about the inspirations for his illustrations, plus links to the second volume of what will eventually be a trilogy based on the myths. He's yer man who did the famous Che picture, btw.
posted by Abiezer at 1:53 PM on June 27, 2009

Indian mythology: Mahabharata (fantastic, by the way)

Greek: Edith Hamilton for the classic retellings
posted by nax at 2:52 PM on June 27, 2009 [1 favorite]

For Indian mythology, I'd recommend Myths and Symbols in Indian Art and Civilization as a place to start. It's the work of Heinrich Zimmer, a teacher of and a huge influence on Joseph Campbell. It's a good read that conveys some of the important concepts and characters in the Hindu myths, as well as a taste of their really mind-blowing beauty.

The Book of Hindu Imagery: The Gods and Their Symbols is a way useful little reference book. It covers the major gods and goddesses and goes through the various hand gestures, postures, accessories, and symbols that are associated with them. This is important stuff for learning how to "read" Hindu imagery, which is a vital part of Hindu mythology past and present.

The above-mentioned Ka is a beautiful re-telling of Hindu myths, but I wouldn't really recommend it for beginners. It's poetic and speculative and might seem confusing, jumpy, or just weird if you don't know anything about the stories he's re-imagining.

When it comes to Hinduism, it's really difficult to say exactly where mythology ends and theology begins. Imagine if people had never stopped worshiping the Greek gods, but instead focused thousands of years of philosophical and existential thought on them. That's not far from what happened in India: the Greek and the Hindu gods probably originated in the same proto-Indo-European pantheon, and many figures show strong similarities-- Indra and Zeus, Kama and Eros. If you're interested in getting into the more "religious" side of Hinduism, Diane Eck's Darsan: Seeing the Divine Image in India is a phenomenal and very readable introduction to Hindu devotion and modern "temple Hinduism."

There's also, of course, the Bhagavad Gita. That and the lovely Vaishnavite poems of The Gitagovinda are probably my two favorite religious works ever. Both have been translated quite well by the late Barbara Stoller Miller.
posted by bookish at 6:39 PM on June 27, 2009 [1 favorite]

Roger Zelazny wrote a few things inspired by . I'd recommend Lord of Light, which uses Hindu and Buddhist myths, Creatures of Light and Darkness uses Egyptian mythology, but is less straightforward story, and more about imagery.

And if you want to watch something instead of reading, check out Sita Sings the Blues, which tells a story from the Ramayana through cartoon and 1920s blues music.
posted by fings at 7:06 PM on June 27, 2009 [1 favorite]

Hawaiian Legends of Ghosts and Ghost-Gods - online, free!
posted by rtha at 10:24 PM on June 27, 2009

A Dictionary of Creation Myths covers only creation myths, but expands across a lot of different cultures. It's set in a dictionary format instead of a novel format, but it is fascinating because it lets you see similarities between creation myths. For example, there's an entry called "Creation from Clay" which gives an overview of this type of myth. Then, it has a "see also" list of creation myths that involve clay: Blackfoot, Dyak, Egyption, Hebrew, Polynesian, Sumerian, Yoruba. Each of those have their own entry, giving the story and citing the exact religious text or book that contains the story, for your later Googling pleasure.

History, Myths, and Sacred Formulas of the Cherokees is comprehensive, at almost 400 pages. It is not New-Age adaptations of Cherokee myths and ways; it's the real deal. It was written by James Mooney in the late 1800s/early 1900s. On the linked Amazon page, you can preview the Table of Contents to see how comprehensive it is.
posted by Houstonian at 7:38 AM on June 28, 2009

The Ramayana and the Mahabharata are two of the cornerstones of Hindu mythology. I'm at work, else I'd trawl around for the Amazon links, but if I were you I'd try and get the English translation by C. Rajagopalachari- his are easily the best versions out there.
posted by Tamanna at 9:15 AM on June 28, 2009

Mabinogion Tetralogy by Evangeline Walton (the stories there are heavily based on Welsh mythology)
posted by elisynn at 4:16 PM on June 28, 2009

fings is right about Lord of Light. I think you would enjoy it, when you are in the mood for some more fiction featuring mythological-type characters tied together in an excellent storyline.
posted by beandip at 8:23 PM on June 28, 2009

For Egyptian deities, there is an, unfortunately, out of print book called Egyptian Gods and Goddess by Clive Barrett. Copies are still available through 2nd hand sellers at Amazon...
posted by Hanuman1960 at 6:04 AM on June 29, 2009

Response by poster: These are brilliant. Thanks for all the suggestions! I can't wait to check them out.
posted by fantine at 6:36 AM on June 29, 2009

The White Goddess by Robert Graves is a very fun book to read, similar to The Golden Bough.
posted by palindromic at 1:03 PM on June 29, 2009

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