Author + Illustrator Ann Shen on Mythology, Goddesses, and Legendary Ladies
Women-centric publishing is having a glorious moment in the sun. Stories of powerful, interesting, and inspiring women are more resonant than ever, and Ann Shen is a leading voice in this space. With her first book, Bad Girls Throughout History, Shen paved the way for an illustrated approach to dynamic female stories—and after the runaway success of this title, it is with great excitement that we welcome her second book, Legendary Ladies.
While Bad Girls Throughout History featured real-life stories of real-life women, Legendary Ladies showcases the forces of mythological women. Featuring fifty different goddesses, myths and legends, this beautiful book is a cornucopia of Shen’s signature illustration style accompanied by engaging stories about each figure. We sat down with Ann to get the inside scoop on Legendary Ladies and how it was made.
How did you first get interested in mythological/legendary women?
My first introduction to mythological women would be mermaids—I loved mermaids in animated films like Peter Pan and The Little Mermaid. Like many little girls raised on a healthy dose of fairy tales, I wanted to be a mermaid for the longest time. Then I remember studying The Odyssey in middle school, and that was my introduction to Greek mythology. Mythology is wild—they’re stories passed on through generations that explained how the world works. It gives us such insight to what was important to each culture, and what shaped the world we live in. When I first learned about Athena, the Greek goddess of wisdom—a female deity who was worshiped for her mind—my own world was expanded. She was my favorite for a long time. When my editor approached me about possibly developing a book about mythological women, I was so on board; there hasn’t been a modern book that covered mythology in a fresh, approachable way in a long time, and I love sharing stories like this.
How did you decide which women to include in the book?
Since mythology really tells the story about different people and their cultures around the world, I wanted the book to reflect that diversity. Representation always matters. In my research, it was fascinating that in almost every culture, there are female deities who ruled everything from creation to mercy to death itself—far beyond what you’d expect were under traditionally “feminine” domains. So I curated the list down by organizing them under categories of domain to showcase the diverse range of stories, and so readers may easily reference the book when they’re looking for divine guidance through different times in their life.
Who is one of your favorite mythological women in the book and what are a few things you hope to bring into your life from her story?
Artemis is one of my favorites from the book, though there are so many. She’s the Greek goddess of the hunt and the moon, and at the age of three asked her father, Zeus, for a bow and arrow, a tunic, and dogs so she could go live off in the forest alone. Ever since then, she’s been a protector of women and young girls before marriage, as well as a skilled huntress who doesn’t let anyone mess with her. I think that her fierce independent spirit is something that inspires me in my life—that we are in control of our own destinies and that we are the ones we are waiting for, and that we are here to help guide and cherish the wild authenticity of the people around us…and especially the young people who come after us.
How was creating this project similar to creating the Bad Girls project? And how was it different?
Legendary Ladies is similar in format—presenting information in an easy to digest way that makes it fun to learn and share. This project was still about sharing women’s stories, but we go way back to the beginning and the stories get more fantastical and legendary. That made the artwork process so much more fun because I got to bring in symbolism and whimsy. In Bad Girls, I was very careful to be respectful and honor the portraits of these venerable, historical women; in Legendary Ladies, I dove deep into my imagination on how to represent the pure power, confidence, and love of these goddesses.
Do you see this book as a sequel to Bad Girls? Or is it positioned differently in your mind?
I see it as a companion book; if anything it’s a prequel to Bad Girls, since these are the original women! We all know vaguely of these myths and names, and a lot of their influences still live on in our modern lives, but it’s good to know where it all comes from. You have to know where you come from to know where you’re going to go, which was also the purpose of Bad Girls Throughout History.
What message do you hope people take away from this book?
That the divine feminine has always been a part of the story and the creation of our world, and that we have the power to be the heroes of our own lives too. We are the descendants of these wild, willful women, and the universe is here to support you.
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You can find Ann Shen’s Legendary Ladies here.
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