Wednesday, 26 August 2015

Feminist Divinity in Modern Mythologies

By Michelle Collins

An enthralled crowd gathered in ACMI’s The Cube to listen to internationally acclaimed authors Samhita Arni and Dolores Redondo, in conversation with Australian author Kirsty Murray. The trio expounded on the subjects of Modern Mythologies and the use of mythological plot and symbolism in Arni’s The Missing Queen, and Redondo’s The Invisible Guardian.

Redondo, accompanied by an interpreter, spoke passionately about how the mythology in her native Basque Pyrenees pre-dated Christianity and how this hadn’t been a ‘superstition’ for her ancestors, but rather their faith. The fact that her ancestors had been burned at the stake during the Spanish Inquisition adds poignancy to her exploration of myth in The Invisible Guardian, the first book of her Batzan Trilogy. Redondo told Murray that she was very cautious of how she explored magic and mythology in her fiction, conscious of being very respectful of this ancient religion.

Meanwhile, Arni reflected on how she used her exploration of the Ramayana epic in her feminist speculative fiction and mythological thriller, The Missing Queen, as a device to question politics and the role of women in modern India. When Murray spoke with admiration on how Arni had managed to take sacred, traditional texts and present them in the context of a funky, modern thriller, Arni responded that this could sometimes be challenging. For example, the epic features flying monkeys and these are represented in her thriller as a parachuting general. In the process of weaving a thriller around a sacred text, Arni was very conscious of exploring how this epic shapes the lives and politics of modern India, and allows the reader to question which re-tellings of the Ramayana influence their everyday life.

Whilst the exploration of myth in fiction was fascinating, what was exceptionally striking was the power of these women to make such a strong and important impact through fiction. The authors’ sound feminist ideologies are immediately evident in their exploration of women in the myths they base their fiction on, and this re-telling or reimagining of these myths is attracting international atention. Arni has been named as one of the twenty young upcoming South Asian writers to watch out for by Elle magazine, whilst Redondo’s The Invisible Guardian has sold over 300, 000 copies in Spain alone. In fact, her book has made the region something of a tourist destination with tours and souvenir shops opening to respond to the increase in tourists coming specifically to discover the ‘invisible guardian’ for themselves.

Redondo concluded question time with the observation that there is a “strong resurgence of magic throughout the world” and that “in times of crisis, we’re looking for the divine,” or for something that will guide us. It is heartening to know that the skills and talents of writers, such as these, are there to guide their readers in this resurgence of interest in mythology, spiritual texts, and their search for the divine.

 Edited by Wayne Stellini

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