“I like telling stories of women who act on their passions.”
“I like these strong female characters.”
“When I talk with readers I feel an enormous appetite in women to explore both their strength and their emotional connectedness, which still tend not to be honoured in the dominant culture.”*
Any one of these statements would have drawn me to Kim Echlin’s work.
In combination, I’d be inclined to add her to my MRE authors’ list (except she’s already there).
Truthfully, the myths and hymns of Inanna would have appealed anyhow: 4,000-year-old stories about a goddess who was widely worshipped for several thousand years? What’s not to like?
But in the hands of a favourite author, translating and arranging, this work is double-happiness on the page.
These are ancient Sumerian stories, rooted in the land between two rivers — the Tigris and the Euphrates — which is now called Iraq.
There, the Sumerian priestess Enheduanna wrote dozens of hymns there to Inanna.
(Enheduanna may have been the world’s first poet, certainly one of few female scribes, writing in cuneiform, with a stylus pressing her words into damp clay slabs.)
In the foreword, Kim Echlin explains that she discovered Inanna when looking for myths to tell to her own daughters, Olivia and Sara.
“As soon as I read Inanna’s stories I loved them. Though she is four thousand years old, she is still full of the kind of energy that makes the world new. She is fearless and strong and resourceful and creative.”
Gathering together all the scraps that she could find, combining them in a way which suggests an overarching narrative, Inanna takes shape in such a way that her story is clearly still relevant for readers today.
“My daughters have always liked stories about adventurous characters who come up with amazing solutions to tricky situations. One of them likes marriages in her stories and the other likes battles. Inanna’s stories are full of all these things. [...] She can do anything and she is not afraid to try.”
When Inanna begins, she is a young girl; throughout the volume, she grows and changes.
“In time she would be great.
She would wear the heavens on her head like a crown
and the earth on her feet like fine sandals.
Mountains would bow low to her.
She would dare to go down to the dark underworld
and find her way back.
She would have great power.
Only she would be able to make man into woman
and woman into man.
Only she would destroy what should not be destroyed
and create what should not be created.”
This slim volume manages to situate the reader historically and culturally in short order.
A family tree at the beginning outlines Inanna’s heritage (daughter of the moon couple, Nanna and Ningal, etc.) and there is also a concise glossary at the end which explains terms like me.
[Me refers to powers specific to Sumerian culture. "Their possession implies both absolute power and absolute responsibility for their implementation in the world." Then she gives an example of this from the narrative, which I'll avoid because it contains spoilers.]
“Inanna sailed away on the Boat of Heaven.
She stole the holy powers.
She had truth.
The marriage bed was not wide enough for her.
Heaven and earth were not wide enough for her.
Inanna wanted to go to the underworld.
She wanted the divine power of the underworld.”
As one would guess from the author’s comment above, and the two exerpts shared, there is love and adventure in Inanna’s life.
The tagline “the greatest story ever told” would fit well here, though these stories predate the Bible, the Koran, and the myths of Greece and Rome.
Filled with women who act on their passions. With strong female characters. With stories that explore women’s strength and emotional connectedness.
(Kim Echlin’s other works also contain strong female characters — two legged and four legged (her Elephant Winter won me over from the start). Dagmar’s Daughter is also mythic fiction. And I would love to buy a copy of her Elizabeth Smart: A Fugue on Women and Creativity for every woman I know who writes.)
Inanna is an essential addition to every mythic reader’s shelf, to every young woman’s canon.
Day 37 of 45: There are so many great works on storyspinning, myths, legends, fairy tales and folktales (you can search by these terms on their website) available from Groundwood Books / House of Anansi that it was incredibly hard to narrow my choice, but I’m so glad this one was included.