Clemence McLaren

ClemiMclaren“As a child hooked on the myths, I always wondered what the mythological characters were feeling about what was happening to them. That dimension was missing from so many of the written sources. When I became a teacher, I used to tell these stories to my students, always embroidering on the characters’ personalities. (I still tell stories to my students.) My students actually encouraged me to start writing them down.”

McLaren is referring to the myths of classical Europe and the body of literature that grew out of them. The Iliad is considered the first epic poem in Western civilization. Ascribed to the Greek writer Homer, it tells the story of an actual historical event that occurred during the Trojan War. For many years, McLaren and her husband worked as teachers in exotic locales across the globe. Their experiences living in rural Greece, near the island where the warrior of The Iliad, Achilles, was born, gave her the inspiration for her first book, Inside the Walls of Troy: A Novel of the Women Who Lived the Trojan War. McLaren once told SATA that Inside the Walls of Troy took her more than ten years to write.

Aphrodite’s Blessings: Love Stories from the Greek Myths. Told once again from the female point of view, these stories feature the heroines Atalanta, Andromeda, and Psyche and details how each of the three women find true love. Atalanta is the swiftest runner in her native Arcadia. Whoever can beat her in a footrace will win her hand in marriage, but those young men she outruns are put to death. Atalanta tries to dissuade racers, not wishing more young men to die, but Prince Milanion insists on a race. He strews golden apples in Atalanta’s path, making her pause to admire them and allowing him to win the race and her heart. Andromeda is sacrificed to a sea monster because her mother’s vanity has offended the gods. But Perseus, whom she has seen in her prophetic dreams, saves her from death. In the third tale, although Psyche loses her lover Eros by following the bad advice of her sisters, she eventually wins him back when the two lovers admit they have both made mistakes.

Dance for the Land, which is set in her adopted home of Hawaii. The plot centers around Kate, a California girl with a father of Hawaiian heritage. Kate’s life enters a new and difficult phase when her father decides to return with the family to his homeland. She must give up her dog, her school, and her friends in California, and deal with new troubles in a school where Hawaiian children tease her because of her mixed heritage. But then Kate discovers hula, the traditional Hawaiian dance, and she begins to gain acceptance from the other children at school. While the girl is dealing with the problems in her own life, her father and uncle argue about Hawaiian politics, specifically the issue of whether the islands should become a separate nation. Janice M. Del Negro, writing in the Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books, stated: “Politics is secondary to relationships here: characterization is sharp, with the emotional core of each scene played out honestly and sincerely.” Bill Taylor, writing for the Hawaii Island Journal, praised McLaren, who “tackles the issues of racism and cultural elitism head on and does it very well.” A critic for Publishers Weekly also found that “McLaren does a commendable job of presenting and explaining Hawaiian politics.”