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The King Must Die by Mary Renault

The King Must Die (1958)

by Mary Renault

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: Theseus Myth (1)

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
2,048454,843 (3.99)135
  1. 40
    The Odyssey by Homer (alalba)
  2. 40
    Black Ships by Jo Graham (_Zoe_)
    _Zoe_: Both take a legendary/mythological story and bring it to life in a plausible historical world.
  3. 20
    The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller (wrmjr66)
  4. 20
    Song of Troy by Colleen McCullough (_Zoe_)
  5. 10
    The Mark of the Horse Lord by Rosemary Sutcliff (gwernin)
    gwernin: A view of sacred kingship among the Celts.
  6. 00
    Goddess of Yesterday by Caroline B. Cooney (cmbohn)
    cmbohn: Another look at ancient culture and their relationship with the gods.
  7. 00
    The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins (sturlington)
    sturlington: The tributes of the bull dancers are similar to the tributes to the Hunger Games and Collins has said she was inspired by the Theseus myth.
  8. 12
    The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley (krasiviye.slova)
    krasiviye.slova: Similar decline and fall of the matriarchy theme, with different spins.
  9. 02
    Memoirs of Hadrian by Marguerite Yourcenar (Waysider)

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» See also 135 mentions

English (45)  Spanish (1)  All languages (46)
Showing 1-5 of 45 (next | show all)
This was an interesting take on the story of Theseus and the Minotaur. It makes the story almost plausible. ( )
  RobertaLea | Mar 3, 2019 |
This is Renault's retelling of the story of Theseus and his rise to power as king of Athens. It is loosely based on Greek mythology, but the events have been fleshed out and modified to tell a compelling story.

Overall, I found the book to be an interesting take on the Theseus myth, and it was certainly entertaining. However, where the book fails is its writing style. Renault is not descriptive enough for my tastes, and I was not left feeling as if I had actually lived the tale. Likewise, her prose was neither poetic nor profound, which could have helped to make up for the lack of descriptiveness. It was worth it for the unique twists that she gave to the Theseus story, but it is not a particularly well written book ( )
  seascape | Sep 19, 2018 |
I read a bunch of Mary Renault's books, including this one, as a teenager more than 30 years ago, and remember liking them a lot. Reading Circe by Madeline Miller recently - which features a cameo from Theseus and Ariadne - made me go search out a copy of this from my local library. It definitely holds up, as a forerunner for our current crop of re-telling myths and classics, and on its own as an insightful novel that provides one plausible version of the reality behind the legend. ( )
  keywestnan | Jul 23, 2018 |
Mary Renault's The King Must Die takes place in a world where the rules are in flux. We're in Ancient Greece, and a matriarchal society with an earth-based religion is in the process of changing to a patriarchal one that worships sky gods. She uses this background to re-tell the Greek myth of Theseus. Briefly-ish, the myth version goes as such: King Minos of Crete angered Poseidon by refusing to sacrifice a particular bull. To punish him, his queen, Pasiphae, is made to be overwhelmed by lust for that bull. She engages Daedelus, the legendary craftsman, to build a cow she can fit inside to, er, consumate her love. What results is a half-bull half-man monster that eats human flesh: the Minotaur. Daedalus is commissioned again, to build a maze, the Labyrinth, in which the beast can be hidden. Crete is a powerful city-state and demands tribute from other Greeks: seven young men and seven young women to be given to the Minotaur every year. Theseus is the son of the King of Athens, and is one of the youths sent to Crete. When he arrives, Minos' daughter, Ariadne, falls wildly in love with him and gives him a ball of yarn that he can tie near the entrance of the maze so he can find his way back out. She also gives him a sword, which he uses to kill the Minotaur. He flees with Ariadne, but abandons her on an island on his way back home. Theseus forgets to change the color of his sails when arriving back in Athens to signal his father that he's returning home safely, and his father commits suicide in despair over his "death". There's more, but that's the portion covered in this book.

Renault takes that structure and constructs a story that could have been the basis for the myth. In her tale, Theseus is raised by his mother, a priestess devoted to the earth goddess, and her family outside of Athens. As a teenager, he starts to return to Athens to be reunited with his father, who nearly kills him accidentally. He does volunteer to be sent to Crete, but for different reasons: in this version of the story, based on something more like actual history, the young people are sent to Crete to become "bull dancers", a team-based sort of sacred ritual bullfight. The labyrinth is the enormous palace of Minos, Ariadne is a priestess. Although the Olympians are mostly taken out, Theseus is gifted with an ability to sense pending earthquakes, kind of big deal in a seismically active region.

Reading this book actually reminded me a lot of my slog through The Masks of God by Joseph Campbell, a series which details the development of religions all over the world. Campbell traces the same transition in Western religious belief that Renault highlights, with earlier people just starting to form groups based around farming often believing in an earth goddess, who required human sacrifice in order to produce agricultural bounty, while later societies with more stratification turned to worship mostly-male sky gods. Renault portrays a Greece which is dealing with this exact movement, with Theseus himself working to convert a city where he finds himself from the latter to the former. The story is entertaining enough and Renault's prose is solid, but Theseus is a bit of a Mary Sue. He always has the right answers, for the right reasons (in his mind anyways), always does the correct thing. It made him kind of boring as a character...I wanted him to face more conflict from within, struggle against forces internal as well as external.

Theseus is motivated strongly by devotion to his religious beliefs, especially his sense of moira, or fate. This got to me thinking about the role of religion in public life. In Theseus' world, religion is a constantly part of daily life, both inside and outside the home. Today's Western world, on the other hand, is becoming progressively less and less religious. This is often treated as a reason for some sort of moral decline, which I find obnoxious as a non-religious but perfectly moral person. But it does have me wondering about something else that comes up often in The Masks of God: ritual, and its purpose of enforcing social structure and rules. We have some secular rites of passage: drivers licenses, high school graduation, college graduation, but these lack the solemnity of religious ceremonies. I certainly don't think that secular culture is incapable of creating meaningful rites to acknowledge maturation, but I don't think it's necessarily done so effectively yet. Anyways, to close out with the book itself: it's a decent read, but not a can't miss, and I don't feel any compulsion to seek out the sequel. ( )
  500books | May 22, 2018 |
An Amalgam of Myths Written as History

This book had been on my list to read for some time. After a short struggle to get into the rhythm of the writing, I finally found myself getting used to the names and stories contained in this very good retelling of the myth of Theseus. The author does a great job of integrating the seen and unseen worlds of Ancient Greece.

The novel is a series of stories following Theseus' life from his early years, travel to Athens to meet his worldly father, and his arrival in Crete as a sacrificial Bull Dancer. This last section was extremely well written and riveting to me.

Once or twice, I found myself a bit confused as to the meaning or outcome of a section and wondered if I'd missed something, or perhaps the author was being too subtle. Overall, though, I enjoyed the book and will be reading its sequel as well. ( )
  Zumbanista | Mar 26, 2016 |
Showing 1-5 of 45 (next | show all)
Renault comes up with many ingenious and plausible solutions to the riddles posed by trying to place the legends into a historical context.

You’ll find excitement and beauty, philosophy and action, danger and fulfillment — all the very best qualities of a myth retold.
added by elenchus | editEmerald City Book Review (Mar 15, 2017)
added by Shortride | editThe New York Times, William du Bois (pay site) (Jul 14, 1958)
A novel to be read with pleasure and great excitement.

» Add other authors (8 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Renault, Maryprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Bianciardi, LucianoTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
DESMONTS, AntonioTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Dyer, KrisNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Goldberg, CarinCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Hughes, BettanyIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Mirlas, LeónTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Rush, JohnCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Rychlíková, OlgaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Scarpi, N. O.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Oh, Mother! I was born to die soon;
but Olympian Zeus the Thunderer
owes me some honor for it.

--Achilles, in the Iliad
First words
The Citadel of Troizen, where the Palace stands, was built by giants before anyone remembers.
But it is death for men to spy on women's mysteries.
They were so stupid that they thought women conceived by their own magic, without help of men. No wonder a woman seemed so full of power to them! If she told a man no, who but he would be the loser? She by her art could conceive from the winds and streams, she owed him nothing.
We have taken the bull by the horns; we have leaped for you and not run away; we always gave you a show.
It is grief to a man to look on mysteries he does not understand.
"Moira?" he said. "The finished shape of our fate, the line drawn round it. It is the task the gods allot us, and the share of glory they allow; the limits we must not pass; and our appointed end. Moira is all these."
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Wikipedia in English (1)

Book description
Easy read.  Provides an interesting look into the world of Greek Myths.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0394751043, Paperback)

The story of the mythical hero Theseus, slayer of monsters, abductor of princesses and king of Athens. He emerges from these pages as a clearly defined personality; brave, aggressive and quick. The core of the story is Theseus' Cretan adventure.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:10:06 -0400)

(see all 5 descriptions)

The story of the mythical hero Theseus, slayer of monsters, abductor of princesses and king of Athens. He emerges from these pages as a clearly defined personality; brave, aggressive and quick. The core of the story is Theseus' Cretan adventure. Best Books for Young Teen Readers. A historical adventure story based on the legend of Theseus. Followed by The Bull from the Sea (1962). Also use: The Mask of Apollo (1988).… (more)

» see all 2 descriptions

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