Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Telling and Retelling: How the Werewolf and Atlantis Myths Fit So Well Together

Well today I'm celebrating my first ever Guest Blog Post on Vanna Smythe's Blog! Read below


As the author of the MAVONDURI TRILOGY, its origins are an interesting story for me to tell. But that’s not what this post is ALL about. This is about how fantasy, as a genre, can retell ancient myths in new and exciting ways, using two mythic archetypes as specific examples. I’ve always found both the Atlantis myth and the werewolf myth extremely fascinating for different reasons, but it wasn’t until I began writing Mathion that I found that I could retell both of these myths in one story.

I’ve done my fair share of research, and found that almost every ancient culture has or had some kind of shapeshifter (i.e. “werewolf”) myth and an Atlantis (or Deluge) type myth. Coincidence? Perhaps, but I’ve never thought so. Both of these mythological archetypes are so ubiquitous in human culture that I thought there had to be a connection. And it was through writing Mathion that I found a way to make that connection. In their most basic forms, they run thus:

•In the Atlantis/Deluge myth, you hear of a prosperous island empire that is consumed by the sea. But it’s not that simple, and this is where the “proximity phenomenon” comes into play. Those cultures that are closer to the source of the myth will be able to convey more detail concerning the real events that inspired the myth (Atlantis), whereas those further away are less detailed (deluge).

•In that same vein, we have a similar derivation with the werewolf myth. Whether or not it is specifically a “wolf”, the idea of a human being able to assume the form of an animal is one of the most common and pervasive myths in human culture. It could be a wolf, yes, but in Norse cultures there were tales of “berserkers” and further east there were legends of werepanthers and other similar shapeshifter myths. In the Americas the most noteworthy shapeshifter myth is that of the Navajo “skinwalker”.

So what could be the ultimate “source” of these two myths? Well, upon finishing my research I came to the conclusion that the sources are one and the same: these shapeshifters inhabited a vast landmass in the middle of the ocean, and upon its destruction they spread out over the world and these “myths” emerged in our cultural subconscious.

The idea of “reinvented (or lost) history” is among the oldest in terms of the fantasy genre. I myself have always found that an immensely interesting aspect of it, and when the opportunity arose to reinvent history myself, I took it and started running with it. To take an icon of horror and set it in the fantasy genre opens up so many more doors in terms of character than if you were to put it in any other medium.

Finally, I would just like to say this: if you are writing or are going to write a fantasy story, and in particular an EPIC fantasy story, I believe there are three central “tenets” you as an author should follow. Not have to, mind you, but should. They are:

•The Map- this is the world in which the Tale is told, and it goes far beyond just the actual map found in the book itself. It comprises the history, cultures, languages and even religious ideals that add depth and legitimacy to the world in which your characters inhabit. It’s very important that there be a cohesion within the Map (place names, language, etc.)

•The Quest- this is the tenet which allows both author and reader to be introduced to and explore the world in which the Tale is told. It also can reflect your Hero’s inner journey and be just as, if not more perilous.

•Sub-Creation- this tenet has its ultimate source in the father of modern fantasy, J. R. R. Tolkien. The art of sub-creation isn’t a conscious one, but it emerges as a result of the depth you add to the Map, to the extent that you begin to “discover” certain aspects of the world that were not consciously created but fit within the context of it. Some of the best fantasy worlds and stories are a product of sub-creative processes and as a result have such a realistic feel to them that there is no need for a suspension of disbelief.

In the end, “to create a convincing story, you’ve got to know what you’re talking about in every detail.”

Saturday, February 4, 2012

CHRONICLE Review: One Young Man's Despair is his Greatest Power

Ok so I just left the theater, and the one thing on my mind is how resonant CHRONICLE will be for many teen moviegoers. Let me explain.

CHRONICLE is a radical new take on the superhero genre, which adds great depth to the concept of what great power can do to an individual. This story is all about Andrew Detmer, a kid who's basically been handed a crap sandwich all his life. It's told through his eyes (or in this case his camera) and his profound despair is the driving force of the film.

From the start, I could tell that there was this malevolent darkness that was constantly at war within this young man. Dane DeHaan's performance is meticulously nuanced and emotionally gripping, as we see him struggle with his situation and the people around him. His father is an abusive alcoholic and his mother, the only person who shows him any real affection, is the only thing that keeps Andrew's darkness at bay. In a sense, she's his ray of hope, the only light in his world. And when she's finally taken away, there's nothing that can stop Andrew. One thing I hated in my theater showing was how the audience applauded his death. I view Andrew's story as incredibly tragic, and a statement of just how far one person can be pushed before they give in to their own darkness.

Alex Russell and Michael B. Jordan play Matt Garetty and Steve Montgomery, respectively, and add a sharp contrast to Andrew's introverted nature. Steve is the cookie-cutter "popular guy" who, through his shared experiences with Andrew, tries to help him loosen up. Matt is Andrew's cousin, a philosophizing good dude who nevertheless has to reel Andrew in from time to time. Both are social, fun-loving high school seniors enjoying the hell out of life, and throughout the film they try to get Andrew to do the same. Their performances, especially Russell's, add fun and sincerity to the movie, but in the end this is Andrew's story.

Andrew, trying to find a sense of reason to his life, begins documenting it. We see early on that not only is his home life a mess, but his ENTIRE life is. Picked on at school, scorned by girls, the only friend he seems to have is his cousin. Matt brings Andrew along to a rave, but after several incidents Andrew ends up outside crying. It's then that we meet Steve, who comes across as a grade A douche at first, wanting to use Andrew's camera to film this "thing" he and Matt have found. They come across a strange glowing crystal of unexplained origin, which gives them powers. At first they exhibit only telekinesis, which they use to play pranks on unsuspecting strangers to great comedic effect. But as their story progresses so do their abilities, especially Andrew's. While all have the abilities of superstrength and flight (which is very well executed with the "shaky-cam" technique), Andrew hones his "muscle" further than the others, finally having an outlet for his despair which, while not always apparent, is very pervasive throughout the entire film. And he soon is stronger than all of them.

Despite all this superhero stuff, the film actually delves into their high school life, including Andrew's brief taste of "normality" i.e. popularity, but quickly disintegrates when relations with a certain pink-haired girl goes awry. And it's at this point the darkness within Andrew erupts. Taking matters into his own hands, he confronts his father in a scene that had me on the edge of my seat. Without going into too much detail, the movie culminated in a battle between Matt and Andrew on the streets and in the skies of Seattle, and we see that Andrew's despair can cause catastrophic destruction, both within his soul and to the world around him.

In the end, this movie is a gripping treatise on the concept of despair and how it can tear apart everything one holds dear. The addition of superpowers, and the "found footage" approach to the story, makes this film by Josh Trank and Max Landis a thought provoking and gripping film about a young man who seemingly has nothing to console him and all the power in the world, yet in the end he is so blinded by his despair that he doesn't get to hear three words that would have prevented all of this:

"I love you."