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.”

1 comment:

  1. Hi Jeff! Just swinging by as part of my Magic Appreciation Tour rounds. I did comment on this post over on Vanna's blog.

    I will add that the concept of sub-creation is right on. The more you develop a world, the easier it is to extend that world. Plus, I find that the creative process is stimulated by the creative process. Ideas generate new ideas. Creating a detailed world seems daunting at first, but I've found that filling in the details becomes much easier once the overall framework is in place. There's less second-guessing of your ideas.