Follow TV Tropes


Literature / The King Must Die

Go To

The King Must Die is a novel by Mary Renault. Retelling the tale of Theseus in a mundane manner, it spans from his childhood in the court of his grandfather Pittheus of Troizen to his ascension as King of Athens with Theseus himself recounting the tale of his life.

The King Must Die provides examples of:

  • Anachronism Stew:
    • One of the female bull dancers is stated to be Arabian. The first mention of Arabs was in the mid-ninth century BCE, while the life of Theseus was identified by Castor of Rhodes as having been in the thirteenth century BCE, meaning Theseus shouldn't even know what Arabian is.
    • Advertisement:
    • Related to the above point, when the Pharaoh of Egypt is referenced, he is stated to only worship the Sun God and slights others. Obviously, this is a reference to Akhenaten, who ruled from 1352-1336 BCE, the fourteenth century, long before Theseus' time. Likewise, the first contemporary use of the word "Pharaoh" was not until the reign of Merneptah, who ruled from 1213-1203 BCE, and according to Castor of Rhodes, Theseus ruled from 1234-1205 BCE, meaning no one should be using the word "Pharaoh" for another thirty-one years.
  • Decomposite Character: While Asterion is basically the story's Minotaur, Theseus makes reference to a form of Poseidon called "the great black Earth Bull whom, as I heard, the Cretans fed with youths and girls", fitting in with the man-eating portrayal of the Minotaur from the original myth.
  • Advertisement:
  • Demythification: There is nothing overtly magical or fantastic in the book. Even the Minotaur is just a regular man, the Minotaurus being the title of the Heir to the Cretan throne, who is the illegitimate son of Pasiphae and an Assyrian bull-dancer. When Asterion attempts to ascend to the throne as Minos, title of the Cretan kings, he dons a bull mask, for all intents and purposes the crown of the Minos.
  • Fat Bastard: Asterion is described as being as thick as a bullock and he is the main antagonist of the Crete arc.
  • The Napoleon: In his narration, Theseus notes that Asterion was less than six feet in height, not exactly making him the tallest opponent Theseus has ever faced. He is stated to have short legs, a possible contributor.
  • Sadly Mythtaken:
    • Mary Renault treats Atlantis as an actual piece of Hellenic myth, with a location being referred to where Atlantis once was and Crete even being said to have learned things from Atlantis. Plato, for all intents and purposes, invented it for a story.
    • Advertisement:
    • Agamemnon's murder is referenced, never mind the fact that in the actual mythology that was after Theseus' time.
    • Theseus makes reference to the time when Heracles walked the earth. In the actual mythology, Heracles and Theseus were contemporaries, albeit Theseus was a child of seven by the time Heracles had finished his labours.

How well does it match the trope?

Example of:


Media sources: