The King Must Die is the story of the early years of Theseus, the legendary king of Athens. Set in pre-classical Greece and told by Theseus himself, the novel chronicles Theseus’ childhood, adolescence, and early manhood as the fatherless grandchild of King Pittheus of Troizen. As a young man, Theseus leaves Troizen in search of his father, King Aegeus of Athens, and in the process becomes involved in a lifelong struggle against the worship of Mother Dia, or Demeter, the goddess of fertility. The novel also describes in vivid detail Theseus’ adventures as a bull-dancer in Crete and his triumphant return to Athens.
Setting is of great importance in The King Must Die, and Renault organizes her novel in sections named for the places where events transpire. Book 1, “Troizen,” introduces Theseus as child in the court of King Pittheus, focusing on his difficulties with not knowing who his father is and his hope that he may be the son of the god Poseidon. He reveals to the reader his bravery, his sensitivity about his small stature, his highly sexed nature, and his desire to excel. The section culminates in his mother’s revelation that Theseus is the son of the king of Athens. As a result, he decides to journey to Athens to reveal himself to Aegeus.
In Book 2, “Eleusis,” Theseus accomplishes the dangerous crossing of the Isthmus, which joins the Peloponnesian Peninsula with Greece. When he arrives at Eleusis, a town outside Athens, he is forced to kill Kerkyon, the young husband of the queen of Eleusis, and to marry the queen. This marriage will ostensibly only last one year, when Theseus will be killed by the...
(The entire section is 678 words.)