For the Winner: A Novel of Jason and the Argonauts
Myths are stories that are told and re-told over centuries. Each generation takes the same basic tale but turns it into something relevant to them. For the Winner tells the story of one of the most famous of the Greek myths, Jason and the Argonauts, from the perspective of the only woman on the expedition, Atalanta. In Hauser’s re-telling, Atalanta is a princess whose father, disappointed at the birth of a daughter, exposes her on a mountain to die. Instead, she is found and brought up by a poor but loving family. At eighteen, she learns of her adoption and heads to the city to prove herself. When she arrives, she finds that the king is poised to give his kingdom to his sadistic nephew Jason, but only if Jason fulfils a prophecy and brings the king the Golden Fleece. Atalanta, disguised as a boy, manages to get aboard Jason’s ship, the Argo, with the intention of beating him to the Fleece so that she may claim the throne instead.
In many ways, this is a classic re-imagining of the myth, complete with self-obsessed, capricious gods using humans as chess pieces. Jason is little more than a caricature of a Greek hero, blinded to normal human decency by his obsession with glory and a desire to revenge himself. It is Atalanta, determined to prove herself every bit as good as a man, who turns this into a story which speaks to us. She fights for the throne not because she wants power for its own sake, but to protect those weaker than herself. Despite the will of the gods, she is very clearly in charge of her own destiny. It is this mixture of feminism and self-determination which makes For the Winner a very modern and relevant novel.