Archives in Comics: Lore Olympus
Updated: Dec 9, 2020
I have a soft spot for the myth of Persephone and Hades. I started voraciously reading Greek mythology when I was around 12 and it's been a steady stream of reinterpretations and adaptations ever since. The original myth isn't a pleasant story. Hades, Lord of the Underworld sees Persephone, goddess of Spring, decides he must have her for his bride, kidnaps her, and takes her to the Underworld. While his prisoner, she mistakenly eats 3-6 pomegranate seeds (depending on how you measure seasons when reading the story), and becomes bound to Hades's domain for half the year. During the time she's with her "husband," her mother Demeter - goddess of the harvest - in her grief, leaves the land barren. But when Persephone returns, the land becomes fruitful and alive. Essentially, it's a story about why the seasons change.
Oh, I should also mention that Persephone is the daughter of Demeter and Zeus. Demeter and Zeus are brother and sister. Hades is also Demeter and Zeus's brother. He kidnapped and married his niece. Eww.
The attachment for myself, and for a lot of writers and artists, is in reimagining the myth outside of its original context. If you knock away the cringe-worthy parts, there's a lot that can be gleaned from the union of characters who literally embody Life and Death. Which brings me to Rachel Smythe's Lore Olympus, a webcomic retelling of the Persephone myth through the lens of modern day sensibilities. While the mortal realm is trudging along its ancient timeline, the realms of the gods are set in what we know as the modern day with all of the technological bells and whistles. But this is the Greek Pantheon, so they're primed and ready to experience the entire spectrum of human emotions and experiences.
In Lore Olympus, Hades is still King of the Underworld and brother to Zeus and Poseidon, but under Smythe's brush and pen he's also the survivor of a traumatic war, son of an abusive father, and a lonely god resigned to the fact that there's no chance he'll find love while ruling the land of the dead. Similarly, Persephone is still Demeter's daughter, but as the youthful goddess of Spring (only 19-years-old) she's a beacon of light and kindness among a Pantheon embittered by over two millennia of history. She's naive to a lot of the politics and social mores of Olympus, and through her Smythe explores issues of empowerment, trauma, and self-actualization to name a few.
In summary: everyone's messed up, Persephone and Hades are adorable, and I could talk about this comic for a very, very, very long time. But we're here to talk about archives. There are two instances where archives show up and both of them are in the land of the dead...I'll leave you to your own metaphorical interpretations.
The first is in Episode 51: Distance. Persephone, now an intern in the Underworld because Hera can't help meddling in the lives of others, is given a short tour by Hecate and an explanation of her duties. They enter the library where the lives of mortals are written in real time as shades watch over the process. When a life ends, the scroll is filed away. So, not really a library. That's an archive. The second instance is in Episode 75: Fate. Hades, informed that he'd previously met Persephone in the mortal realm, but doesn't remember 'cause he was drunk, goes to the realm's Records Department, which happens to be run by the Fates dressed in all their 1980s nostalgic glory! They're weaving memories from magnetic tape and storing them as VHS like the video stores of yesteryear! I love them! Of course, trying to access the memory in question requires some permissions, but the Fates seem amenable to foregoing protocol for some Olympian wine. Everybody's got a price.
While the archives-and-libraries-are-synonymous angle of the first appearance is unfortunate, I can't fault Smythe for her beautiful art and the spirit behind her version of the library of souls. Perhaps it will return in a future episode, but I can't imagine there are a lot of gods and demi-gods checking out the scrolls of mortal lives for some light reading. Unless that's their version of trashy romance novels? It's really the Fates and their Records Department Blockbuster Video that makes my heart sing. No stuffy, austere sticks-in-the-mud; no dusty tomes. Just three radical looking women preserving memories and seeing the future. Just like real archivists.