In recent years, Hollywood has delivered a spate of revisionist fairy tales:
Maleficent (2014), Jack the Giant Slayer (2013), Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters, (2013), Snow White and the Huntsman (2012), Red Riding Hood (2011), Beastly (2011), Enchanted (2007). Television has hopped on the same bandwagon with fare such as Grimm, The 10th Kingdom, and Once Upon a Time. All of which goes to show that if a tale is well told and has interesting characters, it can be re-spun from a multiplicity of viewpoints and unfold against virtually any backdrop. This month’s lesson plans take a page from even earlier storytellers: the Ancient Greeks.
These discussion questions provide a good foundation prior to choosing which exercises to try first.
1. Which of the Greek gods/goddesses is your favorite and why? (To refresh your memory on who’s who, visit http://greekgodsandgoddesses.net.
2. Each of these mystical celebrities had special powers. In your opinion, which power is the coolest to possess?
3. What is your favorite myth and what is its takeaway lesson?
4. If a movie were made of this myth and you were the director of it, who would you cast in the lead roles?
5. If you lived in Ancient Greece, which of the deities would you most like to have on your side?
DO NOT OPEN (SERIOUSLY)
If you were a newly married couple like Pandora and Epimetheus and a beautifully wrapped wedding present was delivered, the first thing you’d want to do is open it, right? Even if it has a note taped to the top that specifically says DO NOT OPEN? Ignore this instruction and something really terrible could happen.
Your assignment: In your modern version of this myth, Pandora has gone to the nail salon and left Epimetheus at home. Unable to control his curiosity any longer, he opens the box. Uh-oh. Write a three-page scene in which Zeus calls the house and demands an explanation for all of the wicked pandemonium which has just been unleashed on humanity. Rather than take the blame for his own wrongdoing, Epimetheus lies and says it was his wife. While he is on the phone, Pandora comes back early.
A mortal princess’ life shouldn’t be this difficult. It was one thing to make the goddess Aphrodite so jealous of her beauty that she warned all of the eligible lads in town never to ask her out. The next thing was to see her less attractive pair of sisters get engaged and have fabulous weddings. The final straw, though, was when her own parents took her to the top of a cliff and told her not to come back. The last thing Psyche was expecting was to meet the love of her life. Well, not exactly meet him face-to-face. Though he lavished her with gifts and invited her to share his opulent mansion, she was always made to wear a blindfold in his presence so as never to see what he looked like. When her sisters came for a visit and she told them about this odd arrangement, they immediately planted the suspicion in her mind that he was probably a hideously frightening monster.
Your assignment: Write a two page film treatment which updates this love story to the present-day.
“WEREN’T YOU JUST HERE 6 MONTHS AGO?”
When a besotted Hades kidnapped the stunning Persephone and took her to down to the Underworld, her mother, Demeter, was distraught. So distraught, in fact, that she couldn’t keep up with all of her gardening and harvest responsibilities that not only kept the landscape fresh and blossoming but also kept its denizens well fed with fruits and vegetables. Zeus and his wife, Hera, took her aside and said, “Look, we know you’re depressed but you really need to snap out of it and get stuff growing again.” Demeter insisted that there had to be some kind of compromise. In the end, Zeus negotiated a trade-off with Hades that Persephone could live six months of the year below-ground and then come home for six months to see her mom.
Your assignment: All that gardening and harvesting is really a lot of hard work, not to mention that it cuts into the time Demeter would much rather spend watching her favorite soaps. On top of that, Persephone has become quite the demanding houseguest, never helps with chores, and likes to party with her friends. Write a three-page scene in which Demeter tries to convince her daughter that it would be better for her marriage if she spent less time away from home.
SEALED WITH A KISS
Although there’s a strict corporate policy against dating, there’s no question that Apollo and Cassandra would be a golden A-list couple. “Just one little kiss,” he tells her. Cassandra isn’t so sure about that and refuses. To sweeten the invitation, Apollo offers her the gift of prophecy. “Hmm,” Cassandra replies, recognizing that this could be a useful skill set in terms of the stock market, upcoming mergers, and global trade. No sooner does she acquire this new talent, however, she foresees that Apollo is masterminding a hostile takeover that will not be in her own best interests. Upon being rebuffed by her in an unpleasant way, Apollo says, “I’m still going to let you keep the gift but I’m amending part of it. Specifically, no one will ever believe a word you say.”
Your assignment: Write a one-page film synopsis in which Cassandra comes up with a plan for revenge.
DON’T LOOK BACK
When you’re a musician, the right song an open doors for you. In the case of Orpheus, a grieving widower, it not only got him through the gates of Hades, past the three-headed dog, across the River Styx and straight to a meeting with the head of the Underworld. Moved by Orpheus’ impassioned plea and some weepy tunes, Hades finally decides to let the late Eurydice return to the land of the living with her husband. He warns Orpheus, though, that if he looks over his shoulder while they’re making their ascent, Eurydice will instantly be reclaimed and there will be no do-overs. Orpheus, alas, should really have taken Hades at his word on this.
Your assignment: The setting of the two-page film treatment you’re going to write is Berlin in the 1930’s. Your protagonist, Orpheus, is a world-class musician whose beautiful wife disappears one day while he’s at rehearsal with the symphony. His worst fear is that she has been taken by the Nazis and so he goes to the one person that he knows would be powerful enough to get her back. The risk, he is warned, is extremely high. If he is willing to do exactly what he’s told, there is a way that they can both get out of Germany safely. If, however, he falters, questions or tries to alter the plan, Eurydice will be lost to him forever.
As part of my ongoing commitment to supply great lesson plans for today’s classrooms, I always enjoy getting feedback on how the material is used and what kind of new content you’d like to see in future columns. I’m also happy to answer any questions related to specific problems your students may be struggling with. Just drop me a note at or through my website at http://www.authorhamlett.com.
Former actress/director Christina Hamlett is an award winning author, professional script consultant, and ghostwriter. Her credits to date include 30 books, 154 plays for young actors, and 5 optioned feature films.