Reviewed by Duncan McKee firstname.lastname@example.org
Here, the World Entire by author Anwen Kya Hayward is a modern reimagining of the Medusa and Perseus myth. Unlike ancient sources like Ovid’s Metamorphoses or Apollodorus’ Bibliotheca that mainly detail Perseus’s quest to retrieve Medusa’s head for Polydectes, Hayward’s novella offers a story from Medusa’s perspective. While that change in the storyline may seem minute on the surface, it makes all the difference for the perception of its characters and the outcome of the novella.
Here, the World Entire definitely serves a larger purpose than simply telling an old myth in a new way. In many ways, Hayward uses the Perseus and Medusa myth as a basis for the discussion of modern themes of trauma and identity that transcend mere Greek mythology. That being said, there is definitely a sense within the novella that Hayward also wants to change the common perception of Medusa and represent a side of the character that is hardly shown in the classics.
The final scene of Here, the World Entire serves as an excellent representation of Hayward’s engagement with Medusa as a character. When Medusa finally leaves her dark cave and comes into the light of the outside world, only to have her life cut short by Perseus’ sword, it is a tragic death – not a triumphant one. Much of this stems from the fact that, in addition to the general character dynamics being different, this scene differs quite a bit from the original myth in which Perseus cuts off Medusa’s head while she is asleep. Here, Medusa makes the active choice to come out of her cave to help Perseus save Andromeda, and it spells the end for her story in a sincerely saddening way. Instead of being a vague entity of the “monstrous feminine” as she was in Ovid’s Metamorphoses, Medusa is now a sympathetic, good-intentioned character who has been consistently victimized by the gods and society just for being a beautiful woman in the ancient world. For this reason, it becomes much harder to see Perseus killing Medusa as a heroic act. In providing an in-depth descriptive of Medusa’s life story, Hayward makes it so Medusa can no longer be presumed evil or monstrous purely because she is portrayed as a required antagonist to the male hero. In that sense, Hayward sheds Medusa’s typical monstrous depiction and highlights the tragic background she already has in order to represent the character in the way she feels Medusa should be.
For the most part, Medusa takes a much more active role within Here, the World Entire than in the original myths. Instead of being merely acted upon, Medusa is a dynamic character with complex thoughts and emotions. Instead of living in a faraway cave simply because that is what monsters tend to or to serve the myth’s plot, Medusa makes the active choice to hide herself away so as to not hurt anyone. Instead of being that “vague entity of monstrousness” that Athena turned her into, we see a Medusa consistently struggling with her mortality and monstrousness, as well as her constantly resurfacing traumatic memories of her rape by Poseidon and her betrayal by Athena. In that way, Hayward capitalizes on many unexplored or nondetailed avenues of the Medusa story in order to deliberately shift the narrative.
It is in this kind of way that Hayward makes most of her alterations to the original myth: making them more like embellishments on previously unexplored aspects of the Medusa story than actual changes. For another example, Perseus as a character in Here, the World Entire is depicted quite differently than the Perseus of the original myths. In his attempts to lure Medusa out of her cave, Perseus mentions several things that do not correspond with the ancient texts, like saying his mother Danaë died or that he wants Medusa to come with him to save Andromeda. Perseus’s true intentions are left somewhat up to interpretation but regardless, we get a much different perception of Perseus while still, interestingly enough, holding rather true to the traits Perseus would have to exhibit in ancient mythology. Assuming Perseus does develop a real connection to Medusa and empathize with her situation, he still must have known that bringing her back home as a friend would never be a reasonable outcome. As a male hero in ancient Greek society, Perseus had no choice but to play his role and “conquer the monstrous feminine.” On the other hand, if Perseus was simply lying the entire time to trick Medusa into coming out of her cave, then Perseus exhibits some cruel cunning here that, were this an ancient myth instead of a modern retelling, would have gained Perseus renown as a brave and clever hero. Either way, whether Perseus merely fell prey to his social circumstances or was himself complicit, Hayward’s reversal of these characters shows just how powerful the lens of the ancient world can be. While Perseus made sense as a brave and noble hero in ancient texts, out of that context in the modern Here, the World Entire, Perseus comes across instead as a betrayer, yet another cruel act the world has let loose on Medusa.
Perhaps the most significant “embellishment” that Hayward makes in Here, the World Entire is her depiction of Medusa’s rape by Poseidon. Hayward certainly elaborates deeply on the source material, such as saying Medusa had just gotten back from a trip to the see the night before her assault, but the overall narrative happens in the same way. The main difference is that in works like the Theogony or the Metamorphoses, Medusa’s rape is described in remarkably less detail. One of the main reasons for this is, of course, that in the context of ancient Greek mythology, it would not be at all unusual for gods to rape or “marry” mortals; such stories are commonplace. Beyond that, since the Metamorphoses’ version of the myth holds up Perseus as a masculine force for good, it would not make much sense to make the monster he sets out on his quest to slay an empathetic character. In the modern day where this paradigm is not as pervasive, however, we are no longer tethered to that need to silence the female (Medusa’s) perspective, and Hayward takes full advantage of that in this novella.
In that sense, Hayward’s version of the Perseus and Medusa story is a complete rewiring of everything the ancient myth represents. While she holds relatively true to the broad story of the original myths, the tone and the ultimate goal of Here, the World Entire is entirely different, in a way that makes it difficult to return to the original story with the same point of view. Returning to Ovid’s Metamorphoses afterwards, one cannot help but question why we so often depict Medusa as evil or why we so often ignore the male-centric nature of ancient Greek society that convinced Athena Medusa should be punished in the first place. Moving onward from Here, the World Entire, the eyes of Medusa will always look a bit more sorrowful than petrifying.
In this modern retelling of the Perseus and Medusa myth, Medusa, after being desecrated by the sea god Poseidon and turned into a dangerous monster by the very goddess who was supposed to be her protector, lives her days in a dark cave where she cannot hurt anyone. When a strange man named Perseus appears at the entrance to her cave seeking her help and refusing to leave without it, Medusa must decide whether to stay in her cave, the one remaining place she can be safe – or where people will be safe from her – or go out into the world again.
For a relatively short novella, Here, the World Entire tackles many significant aspects of the original Medusa story and also shapes Medusa into a much more defined and sympathetic character. Hayward admittedly does deviate a fair amount from the ancient myth with regard to both Medusa’s rape and her interactions with Perseus – the novella cleverly jumps back and forward between Medusa’s past and present through her memories – but she makes these changes deliberately, not from a lack of understanding of the mythology. These alterations serve to flip the goalposts; now that Hayward has embellished these traumas and cast them from Medusa’s perspective, we are able to see Medusa as the victim she really was.
Hayward manages to shed a new light on many themes in the original story, such as how Medusa is punished for her beauty and blamed for her own rape by the goddess Athena, that we would find particularly problematic in the modern age. A strong character but also a victim of her era, Medusa struggles with feelings of anger toward the gods who have wronged her but also guilt and sorrowful wonderings whether her life would have been different if she had not “had her hair down.”
These are the sort of questions and the kind of trauma that Medusa would have been dealing with, just like many people do in the real world. As a well-known character who was punished for her sexuality and quite literally victim-blamed, Medusa is the perfect candidate for a modern retelling of the horrible damage that sexual assault, and society’s reaction to it, can inflict on a person. Hayward executes this in a beautiful way and truly creates a Medusa for the 21stcentury, all without taking the character too far out of her original ancient context.
I would strongly recommend reading this book if you are interested in Greek myth or the Medusa story specifically and are also up for taking on mature and sensitive topics. There are definitely graphic parts within the novella as Hayward engages with those themes of Medusa’s rape and trauma. I might add that those scenes, while a bit difficult to read, are quite well done.
For those interested, I would also suggest reading one of the original sources of the Perseus and Medusa myth – Ovid’s Metamorphoses. Reading that work and then returning to it after Here, the World Entire has been an enlightening experience and has definitely forced me to think of aspects of the story that I would never have initially. Maybe it will change your point of view as well.