THE MYTHICAL QUEST
(British Library 1996)
(USA co-edition)

This book for adults was specially commissioned by the British Library to accompany an exhibition of the same name. It is the only book I have ever written which was published within just a few months of being commissioned - most books take at least a year, sometimes even five years, to see the light of day! I had to research and write very fast in order to meet the deadline.The accompanying exhibition was a display of ancient manuscripts relating to the ‘quest’ stories from around the world which are featured in the book. Alongside my stories, the book includes scholarly articles from British Library curators about the provenance and development of the stories, and an introduction by novelist Penelope Lively wearing her hat of British Library trustee.



CONTENTS

  • The Epic of Gilgamesh
  • Jason and the Quest for the Golden Fleece
  • The Homecoming of Odysseus
  • The Tale of Cupid and Pysche
  • The Legendary Journeys of Alexander the Great
  • The Seven Voyages of Sindbad the Sailor
  • Rama’s Quest for Sita
  • Journey to the West
  • The Life of St. Brendan
  • The Quest for the Holy Grail


When the gods created Gilgamesh, they made him almost perfect. His beauty was blinding like the sun. Like a bull, his strength was insurmountable. He saw everything, knew everything. No warrior could overcome him. No virgin could resist him. People said, 'That man is like a god’ - and indeed the gods had made him two-thirds divine.
But the lesser part of him, that which was human, was afflicted with human weakness. He used his allure, his strength, his power like a brute. The gods sent him to the city of Uruk and appointed him there as king; but he degraded his reign with bride-rape and bloodshed.
Suffering, the people wailed to the gods and their complains were heard. Thus the gods created Enkidu, the wild-man, to be Gilgamesh’s companion, to rein him in and be his soul-mate. They made Enkidu rough and unkempt; but his heart and his soul were pure.
- from
The Epic of Gilgamesh

A king and queen had three daughters. The two eldest had a choice of admirers, and so married as soon as they came of age. However, the youngest princess, Psyche, was so unusually beautiful and sweet-natured that people whispered she was surely divine; and although she was much admired, no man considered himself worthy enough to seek her hand in marriage.
Rumours about Psyche travelled and grew. They reached the ears of Venus, goddess of love, and gnawed at her heart. Venus called up her son , Cupid, and commanded him to punish this upstart beauty by matching her to a foul and unwholesome lover.
Time passed. The king and queen, despairing of ever finding Psyche a husband, consulted an oracle of Apollo. The message that came back to them struck horror into their hearts:
Lead the girl to the mountain top
where the unseen monster lurks.
He will take her for his bride.

- from The Tale of Cupid and Pysche