Background Story for The Hollow
By Clare B. Dunkle. New York: Henry
The Story of Persephone
every culture describe a member of the "other" race
seeking a bride. Often these girls are human, but they aren't
always. In many tales, a human man captures a mermaid or some other
magical girl and then forces her to marry him. She often escapes
to her own culture in the end.
The most famous and elegant of these capture tales
is the Greek myth of Persephone and Hades. The Hollow Kingdom
is not a retelling of this myth, but there are strong parallels
between them. Here is a version of that myth so that readers can
decide for themselves what similarities and differences exist between
the two stories.
The world of the ancient Greeks was
ruled by three great brothers: Zeus, the Thunder God, who held dominion
over the sky; gray-haired Poseidon, who possessed the wide oceans;
and Hades, who took the whole rocky earth for his kingdom and ruled
over the Land of the Dead. While Zeus was supreme in the pantheon
of gods, his brother Hades was pleased with his own choice: all
the riches that could be mined belonged to him, and every mortal
came under his power sooner or later. But it was true that the dark
caves of the underworld were a depressing place, and not many of
his fellow gods enjoyed his company.
The gloomy Hades watched the progress
of his brothers with envy. Zeus had for his queen the Goddess of
Wives herself, and he enjoyed the loving attention of many women.
Poseidon, married to the gentle Amphitrite, had so many children
that they filled the vast limits of the sea. Hades himself had no
wife, but he had fallen in love with a girl who was unlike him in
every way: Persephone, the daughter of the goddess Demeter, who
made the grain ripen and the trees give fruit. Like one of her mother's
plants, Persephone loved the sun and fresh air. She was always outside,
picking flowers or dancing for the sheer joy of being alive.
Did Hades try to speak to Persephone?
Probably not. He could have pointed out that it was from his earth
that her flowers grew, but his dignity wouldn't allow him
to chase after her. She was young, and he was much older: dour,
dark, and strange. Most of the gods were a little afraid of him,
and in all likelihood, Persephone would have avoided him at gatherings.
Still, Hades was a royal god, one of the three rulers of the world.
He deserved a queen, and he was determined to have exactly the one
Persephone and her maidens were dancing
one day in a bright, wind-swept meadow when the ground cracked open
at their feet. Through the wide fissure sped four black horses pulling
a chariot, the Lord of the Dead at the reins. He seized the frightened
Persephone and carried her down into his own land as her companions
scattered in terror. The crack in the earth closed up behind them,
shutting out the light.
Hades conducted Persephone through
his great, dim palace, where disembodied souls flickered like so
many candle flames. He led her from one murky cave to another, proudly
showing off all of his wealth and the remarkable features of his
underground realm. Finally, he crowned her and placed her on an
ebony throne as the shades of the dead rustled and whispered together.
No one knows what the young girl thought as she sat there beside
her grim husband, but the shock and grief must have been terrible.
Certainly her mother Demeter grieved
for her. The goddess of growing things walked the earth as an old
woman, and all the plants in the world began to die. Humans and
beasts starved and prayed for help to the gods, and Zeus himself
was forced to intervene. The ruler of the gods issued a decree:
Hades must return the stolen girl so that her mother would once
again produce the life-sustaining crops.
Angry and dismayed, Hades turned
to his only friend, Hermes, the cleverest of the gods. It was Hermes
who brought the souls of the dead to their destination, and it was
Hermes who was to take Persephone back home. While her husband saw
to the packing of farewell gifts worthy of his queen, Hermes walked
with Persephone in her underground garden. As he distracted her
with talk of the outside world, the trickster god picked a pomegranate
and gave it to her. Persephone had never before been able to bring
herself to eat the food of the dead, those offerings left by sad
relatives on altars and at tombs. Now, hungry and excited, she ate
six pomegranate seeds—and belonged forever to the Land of
Once again, Zeus had to resolve the
crisis, or all life on earth would have perished. He ruled that
Demeter and Hades must share the unhappy girl. For six months of
each year, Persephone lives with her mother while the crops grow
and flowers bloom. And for six months, she lives with her husband
Hades, bringing a touch of springtime to that sad dark realm below.