The best books with creation myths at the end of the world

Who am I?

I first studied creation myths at the University of California, Berkeley, and my favorite tales about the beginnings and endings of the world soon crept into my fiction. These allusions began as simple nods to the past, but after the sudden deaths of family members and a harrowing wildfire evacuation during a worldwide pandemic, apocalypses seemed very present in my life. I wrote my debut book From the Caves during this time, while attending Portland State University’s MFA program for creative writing, and the books in this list, like my novella, share a specific exploration of the post-apocalyptic, one interested in beginnings and creation at the end of the world.


I wrote...

From the Caves

By Thea Prieto,

Book cover of From the Caves

What is my book about?

Environmental catastrophe has driven four people inside the dark throat of a cave: Sky, a child coming of age; Tie, pregnant and grieving; Mark, a young man poised to assume primacy; and Teller, an elder, holder of stories. As the devastating heat of summer grows, so does the poison in Teller’s injured leg and the danger of Tie’s imminent labor, food and water dwindling while the future becomes increasingly dependent on the words Sky gleans from the dead, stories pieced together from recycled knowledge, fragmented histories, and half-buried creation myths. From the Caves presents the past, present, and future in tandem, reshaping ancient and modern ideas of death and motherhood, grief and hope, endings and beginnings.

The books I picked & why

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Parable of the Sower

By Octavia E. Butler,

Book cover of Parable of the Sower

Why this book?

In Octavia Butler’s essential novel, the main character Lauren reveals a belief system she calls Earthseed, which departs from the religions she was taught growing up in an apocalyptic Los Angeles. When I first read Parable of the Sower years ago, I felt terror and grief for the characters as they traveled the landscape of my childhood—most of my stories now are set on the West Coast. I also felt in the Earthseed writings a sort of peace or balance, and only later learned how mythologies reflect their cultures of origin, that the stories can convey, literally or figuratively, shared values and traumas. If so, then amid personal, cultural, economic, and environmental upheaval, Earthseed is a form of bravery, a beginning and embracing of the future.

Parable of the Sower

By Octavia E. Butler,

Why should I read it?

16 authors picked Parable of the Sower as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The extraordinary, prescient NEW YORK TIMES-bestselling novel.

'If there is one thing scarier than a dystopian novel about the future, it's one written in the past that has already begun to come true. This is what makes Parable of the Sower even more impressive than it was when first published' GLORIA STEINEM

'Unnervingly prescient and wise' YAA GYASI

--

We are coming apart. We're a rope, breaking, a single strand at a time.

America is a place of chaos, where violence rules and only the rich and powerful are safe. Lauren Olamina, a young woman with the extraordinary power to…


The Fifth Season: The Broken Earth, Book 1

By N.K. Jemisin,

Book cover of The Fifth Season: The Broken Earth, Book 1

Why this book?

The term “post-apocalyptic” is a bit of a contradiction, since “apocalypse” traditionally means the end of everything; nothing comes after. Perhaps then “post-apocalyptic” mirrors one of the oldest human impulses, the drive to continuously examine the limits of our existence, or maybe it reveals a newer development in our collective thinking, to better comprehend the social and environmental changes we are experiencing globally. N.K. Jemisin’s The Fifth Season is an intricate example of civilizations recreating themselves anew, after not one but multiple, reoccurring seasons of apocalypses. Each apocalypse impacts the ancient lore of the world as well, illuminating how mythologies can slant societal, historical, and scientific artifacts, and at the same time help communities survive and evolve.

The Fifth Season: The Broken Earth, Book 1

By N.K. Jemisin,

Why should I read it?

18 authors picked The Fifth Season as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

At the end of the world, a woman must hide her secret power and find her kidnapped daughter in this "intricate and extraordinary" Hugo Award winning novel of power, oppression, and revolution. (The New York Times)

This is the way the world ends. . .for the last time.

It starts with the great red rift across the heart of the world's sole continent, spewing ash that blots out the sun. It starts with death, with a murdered son and a missing daughter. It starts with betrayal, and long dormant wounds rising up to fester.

This is the Stillness, a land…

The Plague

By Albert Camus,

Book cover of The Plague

Why this book?

When I read The Plague in my twenties, I was reminded of Dante’s Inferno, a journey through increasingly hellish layers. There are literal layers of suffering in The Plague: a disease forces a city into a strict quarantine, and as resources from the outside dwindle and cases surge, bodies pile up. What has stayed with me all this time, though, is the way the story becomes so tense and pressurized it finally buckles into allegory, as the characters and reader try to make sense of the unrelenting horror. This desperate meaning-making evokes The Black Death, Nazi occupations, but also the book of Genesis. The effect of this constrained story, which must create, if nothing else, room for itself, on or off the page, both fascinates me and haunts me.

The Plague

By Albert Camus,

Why should I read it?

7 authors picked The Plague as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

“Its relevance lashes you across the face.” —Stephen Metcalf, The Los Angeles Times • “A redemptive book, one that wills the reader to believe, even in a time of despair.” —Roger Lowenstein, The Washington Post 

A haunting tale of human resilience and hope in the face of unrelieved horror, Albert Camus' iconic novel about an epidemic ravaging the people of a North African coastal town is a classic of twentieth-century literature. 

The townspeople of Oran are in the grip of a deadly plague, which condemns its victims to a swift and horrifying death. Fear, isolation and claustrophobia follow as they…

The End We Start From

By Megan Hunter,

Book cover of The End We Start From

Why this book?

Megan Hunter’s debut novel is a strange and poetic journey through the apocalypse. The story begins with a young mother giving birth during a cataclysmic flood, and the story recalls flood mythologies and the idea of water as both a source of creation and destruction. In our conversation at Propeller Magazine, Hunter shared other tales that informed The End We Start From and alluded to pregnancy, such as the myth often referred to as The Earth Diver, in which the world grows from a bit of material in primordial waters. The novel’s lyrical prose also gave me permission to experiment in my own writing, to allow language its acrobatics and convey unique experiences of grief and awe.

The End We Start From

By Megan Hunter,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The End We Start From as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A startlingly beautiful story of a family's survival, The End We Start From is a haunting but hopeful dystopian vision of a familiar world made dangerous and unstable.

'Engrossing, compelling' - Naomi Alderman, author of The Power
'I was moved, terrified, uplifted - sometimes all three at once' - Tracy Chevalier, author of Girl With a Pearl Earring

Megan Hunter's honed and spare prose paints an imagined future as realistic as it is frightening. Though the country is falling apart around them and its people are forced to become refugees, this family's world - of new life and new hope…


Beginnings: Creation Myths of the World

By Penelope Farmer,

Book cover of Beginnings: Creation Myths of the World

Why this book?

I first learned about Penelope Farmer’s Beginnings: Creation Myths of the World while reading Megan Hunter’s The End We Start From. In her short book, Farmer has compiled fragments of myths from around the world, and she organized these brief excerpts into sections that describe the beginning of the world, the origin of the earth and Man, flood and fire mythologies, the origin of death and food plants, and the end of the world. To see such different (and, sometimes, intriguingly similar) mythologies from diverse cultures sharing fundamental interests is inspiring in itself, and for such a quick survey of our world’s origin stories, the book is cosmic in scope and a wonderful jumping off place for additional research.

Beginnings: Creation Myths of the World

By Penelope Farmer,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Beginnings as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Stories and poems from many countries explaining the Creation and the different ways people have tried to interpret their world and experiences from the beginning of time.

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in creation myth, plagues, and dystopia?

6,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about creation myth, plagues, and dystopia.

Creation Myth Explore 11 books about creation myth
Plagues Explore 32 books about plagues
Dystopia Explore 242 books about dystopia

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

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