Medusa Retold by Sarah Wallis
I am incandescent with rage
and I can’t understand why they don’t think that’s
all right, / that maybe it’s just a phase, / a stage
of growing up and getting on and accepting things
have / happened /
that weren’t meant to be but just are…
– Medusa Retold
The traditional myth of Medusa is rooted in patriarchal rage and destruction. As Wallis states in the introduction to Medusa Retold (Fly on the Wall Press, 2020), “it is via this male and hero-fixated narrative that we come to know Medusa as a monster” and a side character in her own story.
Wallis takes charge of this notion and transforms the myth of Medusa into a powerful female-led story. Continuing with the transformation of tradition, Wallis’s choice to write Medusa Retold as an epic instead of a collection gives Medusa – told through the story of a girl named Nuala – a space of her own within a form that once tarnished her name and existence.
Nuala is “a loner, doesn’t like the things everyone else likes, she stands out”. She is not a menacing beast, but rather someone we all know:
“She’s older now, a punk princess, in a sea-green
tutu and purple glitter Doc Martens stomping across
the rocks in hobnailed fury at some schoolyard
injustice, a roaring girl, shouting, singing out
Through Wallis’s characterization of Nuala, we see a young woman whose rage is only to be feared by those who deserve to be on the receiving end of it. One of the significant benefits of Wallis’s retelling is the balance of internal and external narratives throughout Medusa Retold that give readers a chance to immerse themselves into how Nuala views the world around her. The epic sets apart internal and external narratives through the usage of italic sections, but these lines start to blur as the story unfolds, reinforcing that our internal lives are inseparable from the outside world.
Throughout this blend of internal and external narrative, we see that Nuala, though seemingly defensive and steely, has an immense love for the people near to her – namely Athena. With the relationship between Nuala and Athena, Medusa Retold is a stunning example of deep female friendships and the cavernous grief that can occur when those friendships are torn apart.
Through Medusa Retold, Wallis turns the myth of Medusa into what it should have been all along: a haunting, heartbreaking, powerful story of love, friendship, and loss.