Imagine heading to a dive bar for some raunchy stand-up. When you get there, you realize the inside of the bar is actually a cavernous library full of imposing columns and scholarly tomes. That’s what reading Zeus Grants Stupid Wishes feels like.
This irreverent little collection of myths made me laugh until my shoulders shook and my boyfriend looked over at me in concern. It shocked me, provoked me, and educated me much more than I would have predicted.
Cory O’Brien is a scholar like you’ve never read before. His foreward proves he knows his stuff, referencing years of study and Joseph Campbell-fanboy status. But his approach is unique—he wants to demystify these stories and keep it real for modern day readers. O’Brien cares so much about mythology and anthropology that he refuses to gloss over ancient stories with the lazy, snooty airbrush that is so common today, and instead represents these tales in all of their absurd, violent, sexual glory. Though his collection of myths is far from comprehensive, it is more honest than any I’ve read.
Even the titles of his adaptations are more elucidating than many other translations. Some of my favorites: Hephaestus Gets Dicked Around a Lot, Chang’e Is a Substance Abuser, Ganesh is the Very Definition of an Unplanned Pregnancy, and The Moon is Made of Meat. And it gets even more real. Take, for example, his preface to the Ancient Egyptian chapter: “the ancient Egyptians/liked to tell some seriously messed-up myths/they’ve got all the essentials:/ booze, blood, and jerkin’ it.” The stories don’t disappoint—they go on to tell us about how Ra “F*CKS HIS OWN SHADOW UNTIL HE GETS PREGNANT” and that all humans are descended from either spit or puke.
You may notice from the first quote above that these myths are told in a form that parodies the ancient style and line breaks. His traditional stories and extensive research paired with expletives and pop culture references (he notes that a dance-off between Hindu gods Kali and Shiva was probably the invention of Bollywood) keeps the work fresh and ever-surprising.
O’Brien does not hesitate to apply his impiety to any and all cultures, and is sure to offend all kinds of people. He calls out the Christian God for requiring too much sleep, paints the Hindu gods as crazy murderers, states that Japanese people have always been totally weird, and ridicules the ancient Romans for being unoriginal copycats. Though this book will certainly raise some hackles, its difficult not to be seduced by a complete lack of propriety.
If you’ve been wanting to brush up on your folklore but don’t care for total snoozefests, this is the book for you. If you don’t care about myths but love laughing, this is the book for you. If you believe in the modern anti-intellectual movement, this is the book for you. If you love politeness...maybe go find some old Dear Abby reruns.
And now, for the food! I was inspired by the lack of euphemisms in Zeus Grants Stupid Wishes (like how in the Bible to “know” someone is to bang them). So I thought it would be fun to take a bogus recipe-name and make the “real” thing.
Enter: Baked Alaska, the real story. Alaska is known for super dangerous deep sea fishing and alcoholism, NOT beautiful desserts. I hope you enjoy this vodka-marinated salmon, adapted from John Rose’s The Vodka Cookbook. (Yes, I own that. Not sorry.)
THE REAL BAKED ALASKA
- 2 salmon fillets, or 1 large one that serves 2 people
- salt and pepper
- 1/4 cup vodka
- 2 large lemons
- 1/4 olive oil
- 1 medium carrot, sliced into ribbons
- 3 green onions, sliced longwise into ribbons
- 2 minced garlic cloves
- 4 medium-sized pats of butter
- 4 tablespoons dry white wine
Put your vodka and olive oil into a resealable plastic baggie. Take half of one of your lemons and squeeze the juice into the bag. Sprinkle your salmon fillet(s) with salt and pepper and place it in the bag. Marinate for 2 hours.
Preheat the oven to 350ºF.
Place two sheets of aluminum foil on top of each other on your countertop — they should be about 2 feet long. Make a row of your sliced carrots in the center of the foil, and top them with your green onions and garlic. Place your fish on top of the veggies.
Season the fish again with salt, pepper, and thyme to taste. Next, squeeze the other half of one of your lemons on top. Place your pats of butter on the fish, and then drizzle the wine over the top.
Grab another piece of foil (a similar length) and place it on top of your beautiful Alaskan packet. Roll up the sides up so no liquid will be released, but still leave a small vent at the top.
Bake your fish for 35 minutes. Feel free to make a bigger dent in that wine bottle (or vodka!) while you wait. Serve with lemon wedges.