What if the gods of ancient Greek mythology lived among us? Where would they live, how would they get by, and as immortals what would they do to pass the time? In Marie Phillips’ novel, Gods Behaving Badly, she explores this possibility.
The gods no longer live upon Mount Olympus; instead they all share a run-down, dilapidated flat in one of London’s less savory neighbourhoods. They’ve been living there for hundreds of years and retain only the bare minimum of their godly powers. Aside from their immortality, they’ve become very much like regular people. They’ve even had to get jobs.
Apollo is a failed actor reduced to performing as a TV psychic (and a poor one at that). Aphrodite makes a living as a saucy phone-sex operator. Artemis is a dog walker. Dionysus operates an underground nightclub. Life for the gods has become pathetic and boring.
But their hard times have not taught the gods humility. They still believe that they’re better than mortals and don’t understand why they have to play by the same rules as everyone else.
With nothing but time on their hands, the gods have become bored. After being slighted by Apollo, Aphrodite concocts a scheme to get revenge upon him. Aphrodite enlists the aid of her son, Eros (who has become a born-again Christian). While Apollo is filming the pilot for his latest TV show, Eros shoots him with an arrow of love which will cause him to fall madly in love with the next person he sees — a very plain mortal custodian (cleaner) named Alice.
To complete Aphrodite’s plan of revenge, Eros is then supposed to shoot Alice with an arrow that will cause her to hate Apollo. However, Eros, being a good Christian, decides to give Apollo a fighting chance and does not end up shooting Alice. He decides to let the fates decide how things will play out.
Through a series of unfortunate and carefully orchestrated events, Alice looses her job only to find another as a house keeper in the very flat where the gods live – putting her back in Apollo’s life. Aphrodite takes great pleasure watching Apollo faun all over this mortal who clearly wants nothing to do with him.
When Alice spurns Apollo’s advances leaving no doubt that she will never love him, Apollo tricks Zeus into killing Alice. This only makes Apollo feel worse because now the love of his life is dead. Seeking to make himself feel better, Apollo visits Alice’s boyfriend, Neil, in order to apologizes for his part in her death.
Neil, who has been jealous of Apollo since the first time he saw him, does not believe his claims of godhood nor does he accept his apology. To prove his point and his sincerity, Apollo extinguishes the sun. However, because his power is so severely diminished, Apollo falls into a coma before he can reignite the sun.
Neil, contacts the other gods and with Artemis’ help ventures into the underworld where he must confront Cerberus, the three-headed dog, the River Styx, and even Hades himself if he ever wants to be reunited with Alice or awaken Apollo so that he can reignite the sun.
Gods Behaving Badly isn’t my typical forum, but it was highly recommended to me by many people who known how much I like D&D, classic mythology and fantasy fiction. I find the very idea of the god themselves walking the Earth and occupying the same streets as the mortals they once ruled over intriguing.
Within the first few chapters you see how far the god have fallen from their place in the heavens. Not only have they taken on regular jobs, but the jobs are in many ways demeaning to them and the portfolios over which they once ruled so completely.
The in-fighting and practical jokes that happen between the gods is reminiscent of the behaviour you’re likely to find in a college dorm or in a large family with many children. Because the gods all share the same fate there is a sense of camaraderie, but there is also extreme jealousy and bitter hatred.
At first I was expecting this to be reminiscent of other D&D novels featuring gods as characters. I couldn’t have been more wrong. As much as I enjoyed the Avatar trilogy and other books in which the gods walk the realms and interact with mortals, those stories are nothing like the tale I found in Gods Behaving Badly. The most notable difference is that in the D&D stories, even the ones where the god have lost their power, mortals still have faith in these deities. In this novel the people of our real-life modern society no longer worship these gods of yesterday. Although they were once all-powerful, now they are little more than regular people.
This book is a fantastic read. The characters, both mortal and immortal, are believable and real. I was also really surprised at how funny this book was. The banter and bickering between the gods is great. Each god clearly has their own voice and it’s reflective of their portfolio.
Athena, goddess of Wisdom, speaks in large words and the other gods don’t understand what she’s saying. Aries can turn two best friends into bitter rivals just by being in the same room as them. Aphrodite makes the other god uncomfortable by answering calls on her mobile headset and saying the most filthy things imaginable at the most inopportune times.
I must caution readers that this book is clearly written for an adult audience and not the PG-13 rating that most Wizards of the Coast novels shoot for. There are a few sex scenes that are described in vivid detail (most involving Aphrodite in some way or another) that may not be suitable for younger readers.
Deities & Demigods
When I read a book I always try to get a mental image of what the characters look like. For me that was easy in this particular case. I immediately thought of the sketches by Jim Roslof from the original AD&D Deities & Demigods (later republished as Legends & Lore). Regardless of how the characters were actually described, this is how I have always imagined these gods to look like.
When I was writing this review and began looking for more information about Roslof I was saddened to learn that he died earlier this year. Wizards of the Coast published an article on March 23, shortly after Roslof’s death honouring and remembering this great artist that made so many great contributions to the D&D art gallery.
Coming Soon to Your TV
Ben Stiller’s production company, Red Hour Films, has optioned “Gods Behaving Badly” and is working to bring the book to the small screen as a television series. No further details are available at this time, but I for one eagerly await any news of casting. With the right actors in the roles of Artemis, Apollo, Aphrodite and the other gods in the flat, this series could be an instant hit.
The other important factor will be whether or not this series ends up on regular network television or on cable. Although it could work as a family-friendly drama/comedy, I think any TV adaptation of this book would be a lot stronger if it couldhold true to the original source material and not have to be cleaned up as regular TV requires.
Gods Behaving Badly: 10 on a d10