Mary Renault's Alexander

Recommend, or otherwise, books on Alexander (fiction or non-fiction). Promote your novel here!

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Vergina Sun
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Mary Renault's Alexander

Post by Vergina Sun »

Mary Renault's trilogy on Alexander the Great (Fire From Heaven, The Persian Boy, Funeral Games) is one of my favorite pieces of historical fiction. I've heard many people criticize the trilogy for being an overly romanticized portrait of Alexander. I was wondering what you all thought about the book, and whether or not it embellished Alexander too much.
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Post by athenas owl »

Finally read these books this past year.

Enjoyable, especially the last one. I didn't even get the feel that she was "romanticising" Alexander. He was the flatest and least accessible character in the books, too remote to really like or dislike. But that's just me.

Sometimes I feel that way about him anyway. So many of the people around him are intersting and lively and downright dastardly, but ATG in some ways stands removed from that humanity, good ot bad. We know he did good and bad things, but his essence is still a mystery. That is certainly due in part to his biographers, I realise.

He reminds me of a line from a film "He was the rock others broke themselves upon".
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Post by Vergina Sun »

I never really thought of Alexander as the removed and completely unreachable one, but I suppose you're right. Everyone around him has so much personality, yet Alexander's is so hard to find. He did many things, but we can never really get close to the man himself. I enjoy your insight.
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Mary Renault's trilogy

Post by ruthaki »

I have admired Mary Renaults historical fiction books for years and have learned a great deal as a writer of historical fiction (dealing with similar topics) from reading and re-reading her books, to see how she crafted the history with the fiction.

I think the best of the trilogy was Fire From Heaven. I didn't care for Funeral Games as she didn't develop the characters that well and to me it was too much a 'documentation' of the events. My novel "Shadow of the Lion" covers the same period as Funeral Games but I have taken care to develop the main characters and tell the story in a multiple point of view. Alexander's son, Alexander IV plays a major role in it as it started out to be a juvenile historical mainly about him, but as the story is much too political I started over and chose a Multiple point of view so you get the perspective of Alexander from all different characters including his enemies.

I'm on the back stretch right now. It's been a long project, researched and partly written while living and travel in Greece and some of the areas of Asia Minor, with lots of help and encouragement from classical scholars, archaeologists and friends. I hope I can do it justice and make Ms Renault smile from her place in author's heaven.

By the way, read her other books too. The Mask of Apollo is excellent.
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Post by Vanessa Howard »

I enjoyed the books a good deal - how do you give shape to the mind of ATG? Perhaps the distance she characterises him with is the most credible over the gulf of time.

‘The Last of the Wine’ is a moving read - set in the Peloponnesian War. I have not read her biog, 'The Nature of Alexander', and would be grateful for thoughts on whether it is worth tracking down.
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Post by marcus »

Vanessa Howard wrote:‘The Last of the Wine’ is a moving read - set in the Peloponnesian War. I have not read her biog, 'The Nature of Alexander', and would be grateful for thoughts on whether it is worth tracking down.
Hi Vanessa,

I've always had a big soft spot for The Nature of Alexander. It was the first non-fiction book about Alexander that I read, after enjoying Renault's Alexander trilogy, and I can safely say that it was those four books that got me interested in Alexander to begin with. It all started with Renault (as I'm sure many other people can say, too).

So I would always recommend it ... although one has to add the usual caveats about the stance she takes, as with almost any book about Alexander.

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Post by Vergina Sun »

I certainly plan to read more of Mary Renault later.

Fire From Heaven really did it for me, and is probably my favorite of the trilogy. Yet once again, if you think about it, Alexander did seem at least a bit unreachable. He's the one who was grave most of the time, and I really wanted to get inside his mind, but couldn't. Maybe it is because of the time gap, but i don't know. It might just be me. :)
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Mary Renault's trilogy

Post by ruthaki »

I forgot about the Nature of Alexander which was also one of the first that I read.
I haven't looked at it in a long time and must browse through it again.

Regarding her take on Alexander in Fire From Heaven, I thought she basically captured the character of him in his childhood and youth okay. Remember she is writing fiction and that was her perception of him. One thing I've noted in my own writing was that in the first half of my novel Shadow of the Lion I had the child (Alexander IV, but I use his Persian name "Iskander" unless the Macedonians are speaking to him in which case they call him "little Alexander") I had him acting and thinking too old for his age. So this has to be corrected. (In the first part of the novel he's only age 1- 3). I patterned some of the child's behavior on one of several precocious little fellows I used to have in the daycare I supervised. I've also had kids of my own. As far as I know Mary Renault didn't so maybe she didn't have a realistic 'pattern' to go by and it was strictly creative imagination from what she had read Alexander was like. I didn't find it a problem though and was quite drawn into the story.
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Post by aleksandros »

I was first attracted into the historical novel world by the gates of fire. Since then i tried to feel again that very first pleasure of dippin in distant times...
I am really interested in Alexander and i think i know some historical facts pretty good.
I read Steven Pressfields books on Alexander and they were prety lame...
Should i read the Fire From Heaven or The Nature of Alexander first??
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Mary Renault

Post by ruthaki »

I don't think you can compare Mary Renault with Steven Pressfield because they both write different styles. I happen to reall like Pressfield's books even though many of the historians on this site pan him. I think he makes historical fiction, the story of Alexander and other historical fictions he's written accessible to the average reader who isn't familiar with HF. (His Gates of Fire was the best and for it he was awarded honorary citizenship of Sparta).

The Nature of Alexander is more non-fiction so if you aren't familiar with Alexander, I'd read that first. It's not a lengthy book and it will help you get the background of this fascinating character. Then read Fire from Heaven. "The Persian Bo" is good but in a different voice. But I absolutely didn't like Funeral Games as it is to much like a documented version of all her latter research (her last book, in fact, and it shows.) I was disappointed in it from the start and though I refer to it frequently because I'm writing the same historical period, I still don't think it's that good of a book.
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Post by aleksandros »

Are you a writer? Whats your name?

I am surprized that your interested in the succesors' period. I think it is the most exciting period in ancient times. Unfortunately here in Greece only few are truly aware of the events of that period. Even the scool history books spend a page or two scornfully portraying a declining era of hellenism.

Are there any other good novels on Alexander's childhood?
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Re: Mary Renault

Post by marcus »

ruthaki wrote:The Nature of Alexander is more non-fiction so if you aren't familiar with Alexander, I'd read that first.
Hi Ruth - it's always interesting to see other people's opinions ... my advice would be to read Fire From Heaven first! :shock:

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Post by marcus »

alexanthros wrote:Are there any other good novels on Alexander's childhood?
Not that I'm aware of.

I think that Nikos Kazantzakis's novel about Alexander covers his childhood, at least in part, but it isn't a patch on Renault (and, to be honest, I thought the whole thing was a bit rubbish). I think it was written as a children't book, however, which Renault's wasn't; that might account for some of the differences. (I still think it's a bit rubbish for a children's book, btw.)

Other than that, I'm not even aware of any other bad novels on Alexander's childhood. To be honest, we know so little about it that there's not really much else that could be said or done about it.

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Post by Vanessa Howard »

I think that's why it is hats off to Renault - she was very knowledgeable but was working with limited source material so her account is all the more impressive for it's fictionalisation.

Am I right in thinking that she was taught by Tolkien at some point? May have imagined that - the mind boggles!
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novels about Alexander's childhood

Post by derek »

The Lion of Macedonia by John Mcleod is a full-length novel about Alexander's childhood and teenage years. It's self-published so you won't find it in bookstores, but Amazon lists it.

I wrote it so it's not for me to judge whether it's any good or not, but it's certainly complete. I don't think there's much I left out.

Derek
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