Tag Archives: myth

Celtic Mythos – Inroad to a Bigger Universe

Quincy 2

A guest post by Quincy Allen.

When I was in my teens I discovered Celtic mythos through the works of Kenneth C. Flint. Specifically, I picked up the first paperback edition of The Riders of the Sidhe and quickly became enamored. I tore through it, and the sequel, and the third installment as soon as they were released. Along the way I started digging into Celtic legend and developed a taste for something very different (and even taboo) in the environment that spawned me (see my previous post “Seeking Wisdom and Import from Bastions of the Banal,” for some back story there).

As a child I was interested in pretty much three things beyond sci-fi: dinosaurs, astronomy, and Greek mythology. Let’s just say that in the house where I grew up an active religious revolution was being waged (it was the 70’s after all), and I had to find data-fodder for that revolution-wherever I could.

Those three topics were the only ones that didn’t brush up against “things taboo,” but they did offer a fairly logical young mind the means by which to debate literal interpretations of your favorite, Western staple of theology. They were considered “meat and taters” to white suburbia rather than heresy, so traditional censorship didn’t occur. This essentially made Flint’s work a sort of “forbidden fruit,” and I sure as hell ate that apple… and the core… and the stem.

What appealed to me most about Flint’s series-and the Celtic legends of the Tuatha Dé Dannan and Fomorians- was that it offered a sense of grandeur to the notion of “old gods,” and they were gods that pre-dated the New Testament. Additionally, like so many other ancient mythologies, they were wiped out almost completely by the Roman Empire. I must admit that I found some appeal in the Celtic mythos for just that reason.

Like virtually all mythologies, there was a strong sense of good versus evil. However, unlike what I had been previously exposed to, there was an absence of “specific moral behaviors” and a broader exploration of seeking freedom in the face of oppression. This had great appeal to that young, logical, and increasingly egalitarian mind. It set me down paths of investigation into Norse mythos and that of the American Indians. In later years I explored ancient Tibetan, Chinese, and Japanese mythos, realizing that the world and its rich history was exponentially larger than the meat and taters I was raised with. I had irrevocably developed a taste for international cuisine when it came to reading.

And then I discovered The Many Colored Land by Julian May.

I can only guess what paths led her to creating that rich, vibrant series. But the net result was that she took the Celtic mythos and dropped it smack dab in the middle of some of the best sci-fi I’ve ever read. Without delving too deeply into the story, metapsychic humans of the future find a gateway to six-million years into the past. There they discover two alien races-exiles from another world-which are the source legends for the Tuatha Dé Dannan and the Fomorians.

These “elder” gods, both good and evil, became contemporary figures to me, and the heroes destined to fight tyranny were people with whom I could relate. I suspect that at least some of my penchant for questioning authority stems from and was fed by this series. I suppose that’s part of the reason why I loved Flint’s series but kept rereading May’s year after year. The Many Colored Land, set me in her world with a context that related to modern precepts, whereas The Riders of the Sidhe felt more like reading ancient legend. Both are wonderful explorations, but May’s felt more experiential rather than Flint’s historical.

Either way, there is something to be said for knowing and writing about the myriad mythologies that abound in human culture. It is perhaps a bit ironic that in the final analysis, we are left with the thought, “Nihil sub sole novum,” which translates as, “There is nothing new under the sun.” I’m sure you’ve heard it, and you can find it in Ecclesiastes, a Latin transliteration of the Greek translation of the Hebrew Koheleth. The trick is taking what was old and making it read as if it’s fresh. Flint did it. May did it, and the rest of us should to strive similarly.

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 Quincy Allen has been published in multiple anthologies, online and print magazines, as well as in one omnibus. His steampunk version of Steampelstiltskin is under contract with Fairy Punk Studios, and he’s written for the Internet radio show RadioSteam. His novel Chemical Burn-a finalist in the Rocky Mountain Writers Association Colorado Gold Writing Contest-was first published in June 2012, and has been picked up by Fantastic Journeys Publishing. His new novel, Jake Lasater and the Blood Curse of Atheon, will be on sale this summer, and he’s writing an off-world steampunk-esque novel called Paragon. You can follow his ongoing exploits on Facebook and at his website.

 

 

 

 

Shapeshifting: Mythical and Modern

Guest Post by Tristan Brand

As someone who spent seven years studying math, I’m interested in patterns. My favorite type of patterns are the unexpected ones. Seeing similarities emerge when previously you saw only differences is really neat.

Now, as much as I know you’re all hoping I’m going to spend the next thousand words discussing some very exciting developments in algebraic number theory, I’m going to apply this concept instead to myths.

One of the cool things about mythologies is how diverse they are, culture to culture. Though the Greeks, Norse, Egyptians, and Celtics all had their own pantheons of gods, each were different in their personalities, powers, and how they interacted with mortals.

From this diverse set of myths, we see patterns, similarities. Cultures whom never interacted with one another – who never even knew of the other’s existence! – came up with some of the exact same ideas. There’s a term for this; cultural universal. An idea that occurs in essentially every known human culture.

One of those cultural universals is shapeshifting.

Now, if I were to guess where these cultural universals come from, I’d conjecture they emerge from common human experiences. We’re all bipedal, two-armed, two-eyed omnivores. Surely that would have to lead to some similar developments. We all talk; we all walk; we all eat. What we don’t do is turn into wolves and run around in the night making trouble.

Yet, apparently, we all tell stories about exactly that.

Maybe this is less surprising than it seems. Humans’ connection with animals in the real world is as ancient as our myth. We’ve depended on animals to survive; dogs protected our homes, horses carried us through terrain we’d never survive on our own while oxen hauled our belongings; cows gave us milk and chickens gave us eggs. Even when animals aren’t doing our work for us, we’ve always kept them around for companionship. They had pet cats in ancient Egypt, who no doubt knocked over their fair share of cups of water and urns containing your ancestors organs.

This connection to animals seems to lead to a couple things. First, we begin to anthropomorphize the animals close to us. The trusty oxen you’ve used to haul your equipment for the past two years suddenly becomes Eddie. You start to ascribe moods to him as you would a human – happiness, sadness, boredom, anger. Maybe you even start talking to him, something I may or may not do with my own pets.

Second, we look at the traits animals have and wonder: what would it be like to run like a wolf? Smell the scent of your prey in the night? To swim like a fish. People have looked up at birds and wondered what it was like to fly for centuries before we ever developed the technology to do so.

But as the universe did not grant us such traits, so we did the next best thing: we imagined. We thought of men and woman transformed to these animal shapes. What would they experience? What would they see? What would they do?

We imagined, and we told stories. The Greeks told of Circe turning Odysseus’s men into pigs. The Celtics told of Llwyd ap Cil Coed, who transformed his wife and attendants to mice to eat the crops of rival Dyfed. The Norse told of the god Loki, who took the form of a mare to sabotage a man building a wall.

Shapeshifting is still prevalent in modern stories. Though shapeshifting itself is a shared idea among every culture, the way each individual storyteller handles it is different. It can impact a story in a thousand different ways.

One common approach is when then main character is unwillingly transformed into an animal. A classic example is in Roald Dahl’s novel The Witches, where the main character, a young boy, is turned into a mouse early on. Another, perhaps less known example, is The Dragon and the George by Gordon R. Dickson, where a man is transported to a fantasy world and transplanted into the body of a dragon.

Often in these stories, the main plot question becomes “How do they become human again?’ Additionally, we get to see the characters struggle with their new forms, learning new senses, new body parts. Other conflicts appear that would never matter to a human – like a mouse having to evade mouse traps, or a dragon having to deal with a new propensity toward freshly killed meat.

In other stories, the character controls when, and sometimes even what, they can change into. The wargs in George R. R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire series can project their mind into that of animals at will. The were-wolves in Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files series control when and how they turn into wolves.

Usually when shapeshifting is a choice, it becomes less of a plot question and more of a tool that the characters use in chase of the rest of the plot.

Another way shapeshifting changes in a story is how other characters within the story view shapeshifting. Is it considered a gift or a curse? Is it something that can be done openly or must it be hidden? The answers to these questions will help shape the world around your story, and make shapeshifting a natural part of that world. A great example of this is in Robin Hobb’s Tawny Man trilogy, where people with a power called the Wit can bond with animals – and even inhabit their bodies. The disgust others in story-world have toward this practice motivates a number of important plot points.

These examples only shallowly explore how shapeshifting affects stories. Every author has a different take on it. Some of them will resonate more than others, and will be read by our children and our children’s children and so on. Today’s stories slowly become tomorrow’s myths. I bet a thousand years from now, when humanity has travelled to the stars, they’ll still be telling stories about shapeshifting.

Maybe by then we’ll have even figured out how to shapeshift for real.

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Tristan Brand is an aspiring fantasy author and technical writer. When he’s not obsessively checking the mail for his long-overdue invitation to wizarding school, he can be found playing StarCraft II, practicing classical piano, or reading a good book. He keeps a blog at www.TristanDBrand.com, does a web-show with his friend called Why We Like It (http://day9.tv/d/b/why-we-like-it/), and can be found on twitter as @TristanDBrand.

Writing in Our World Instead of Another

A guest post by Michael A. Rothman.

For a fantasy writer, it’s very convenient to create your own world – because you follow the rules that you set. Much like the famous Twilight Zone saying, you control the horizontal and vertical.

However, what if you want to embark on a journey that isn’t quite set in the mundane world you’re familiar with, yet you might be exploring some of our world’s mysticism? Things like numerology, religion, and legends are all fodder for creative authors to take advantage of.

Why would someone choose to dive into what is essentially someone else’s world? Use its characters and storylines?

PartingSea

The answer is rather simple – people are already familiar with the beliefs of certain religions. That being said, if your story relates in some way to something familiar, you’ll have a premade audience that will instantly relate in some fashion to your work. Think about it. How many people are familiar with the parting of a particular sea, or the turning of water into wine?

WaterToWine

These images are only the beginning, consider other concepts that have been leveraged such as fortunetelling or numerology. In the case of numerology, Dan Brown in the oft-cited bestseller, The Da Vinci Code, uses numeric sequences as clues. He poses many what-if’s that people could go ahead and investigate on their own.

In fact, I just recently finished a manuscript that leverages numerological concepts that follow both a religious and numerological theme. The earliest forms of the bible were written in Aramaic (same lettering system as Hebrew). From this, a numbering system that assigned numbers to letters and words was formed and is oftentimes referred to as gematria. Many studies associated with the bible and its hidden meanings use gematria as a form of numerology. An example of such a thing would be where I use an upcoming villain’s name as a code. His name is Bedsem. It’s a play on words in another language, but suffice it to say that I’ve used the gematria system to associate a numeric value to it. One that people might recognize with a simple illustration.

Bedsem

Yes, I’m guilty as charged. I’ve crossed several genres of religion and “sciences” to associated my villain’s name with what is oftentimes posed as the ultimate villain.

Consider that with numerology, you have the ability to pose many “what if” type of questions to the reader. Take certain “coincidences” in the world and make them go “hmm”.

A word of caution, though. Some people might take offense.

Let’s face it, as authors, we will inevitably write something that people will take offense with. I recall having a scene in one of my earlier books where I had two twelve-year-olds holding hands when one of them decides to give the other a kiss on the cheek.

Wholesome, right? Not a big deal, you’d think?

Well 99% of the responses came back on stating how refreshing and wholesome the book was and how nice it was to have something that was “safe” for the kids to read, yet was an epic fantasy. I only mention this because I got one or two comments that inevitably crucified me (ok, maybe poor choice of words considering context) because I was treating kids as sexual objects who shouldn’t look at each other that way. And to think most people don’t believe we live in a puritanical society. Hah!

When you begin to leverage certain things that people might consider a pseudo-science, you might not get too many critics – unless you’ve botched up your facts. However, once you dive into religion or certain cultural affectation or historical references, that’s when the people who take offense can most certainly come out.

For instance, Salman Rusdie wrote a book called The Satanic Verses. It won many prizes and was critically acclaimed by the literary establishment. All good things. Good until such time as some very conservative followers of a particular religion took great offense. Since the book does touch on one of the prophets from this religion, there were those in the conservative community that didn’t appreciate the way their prophet had been characterized. Given this belief that their religion was being assaulted, there were calls for the author to be killed.

Needless to say, this is the extreme of such possibilities – but when you leverage the topic of religion, it needs to be with both eyes open. Understand how others would appreciate your work or possibly misunderstand your intent.

I’ve spent years informally studying religion, numerology, and related topics – so I’ve been cautious about introducing these things. Nonetheless, these are tools in an author’s toolbox that are easy to deploy, and they can be a powerful draw to an audience that is a match for your subject matter.

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Mike has had a long career as an engineer and has well over 200 issued patents under his name spanning all topics across the technology spectrum. He’s traveled extensively and has been stationed in many different locations across the world. In the last fifteen years or so, much of his writing has been relegated to technical books and technical magazine articles.

It was only a handful of years ago that his foray into epic fantasy started, but Mike is a pretty quick study. He’s completed a trilogy, has a prequel under consideration with editors, and is actively working on another series.

In the meantime, if you want to see his ramblings, he lurks in the following social media portals: Twitter – @MichaelARothman, Facebook, his blog, and his books.

 

Werewolves and Vampires – Classic Monsters of Myth and Legend

Werewolves and Vampires. Two favorite monsters that have scared and fascinated the world for centuries.

First: Vampires – we have poems, stories, and plays dating back to the 1700’s, based on legends that date back even further. (one list claims there have been 197 vampire movies)

Vampire imageSome well-known stories and/or movies:

  • Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1897)
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997 – 2003)
  • Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files (2000 – 2011)
  • Interview with a Vampire (1994)
  • the Blade series (1998 – 2004)
  • The Lost Boys (1987)
  • Salem’s Lot by Stephen King (book: 1975, Movie: 1979)

Why so much focus on vampires, and why do they continue to appeal to generation after generation?

Anciently, vampires were always seen as creatures of gothic horror, little more than animated corpses often preying on their closest loved ones. Then, starting as early as the 1800’s, vampires became sensual, seductive creatures, the living embodiment of forbidden lusts. The classic Dracula by Bram Stoker is a great example of that transition period that dramatically impacted the entire field.

Later Vampire stories continued to evolve, many focusing on vampire hunters (Blade, Buffy, Monster Hunter International), and eventually portraying vampires less as evil incarnate and more as objects of desire (Twilight).

I find the transition interesting. It’s rare these days to find a classic vampire that just sneaks around at night looking for virgins to bite. Far more often, the vampires are depicted as cool, rich, sexy, and desirable, with a hint of danger thrown in that only seems to increase the appeal. People today seem to want to flirt with the danger rather than destroy it.

Then there are the Werewolves (or lycanthropes)

Werewolf imageWerewolf legends are some of the oldest and most widespread of all monsters, with stories from all parts of the world. Werewolves are shape shifters, the living embodiment of the beast caged inside of man, released to savage across the world without restraint.

Early werewolves were often depicted as witches, who used various potions to turn into wolves, or required intricate rituals to affect the change. The full moon, connected with madness in people for millennia, is generally associated with werewolves too. Some werewolves can voluntarily change shape, others are cursed, usually after being bitten, and face a terrible fate of changing against their will and losing control.

Werewolves in the past century have generally been depicted as being vulnerable to silver, but highly resistant to other injuries. Stories about werewolves abound, all the way back to Little Red Riding Hood.

Many movies have been made about werewolves, including notables like:

  • Werewolf of London (1935)
  • The Wolf Man (1941)
  • The Howling (1981)
  • Silver Bullet (1985) – based on a novella by Stephen King
  • Dog Soldiers (2002)

Unlike vampires, far fewer werewolf stories depict them as anything but horrific creatures. We love to be scared, to see the face of destructive evil.

Werewolves vs Vampires imageThen there is the awesome juncture where vampires and werewolves meet:

  • The Underworld series (starting in 2003)
  • The Twilight series
  • Larry Correia’s Monster Hunter International Series
  • Van Helsing (2004) – one of my favorites
  • Even Abbot and Costello

So what continues to drive the fascination? I remember years ago people saying, “Don’t write any more vampire stories. That market is saturated and dead.”

Then Twilight took over the world, and spawned an entire new genre of paranormal romance. Vampires and werewolves are still everywhere.

I think part of the allure is the fact that people know these monsters. Sure, different stories twist facts around some but, for the most part when someone says “vampire” or “werewolf”, people immediately get a sense of what they’re talking about.

For vampires, they’re always tied to seductive evil, and audiences get a thrill flirting along that forbidden line.

Werewolves, savage and hard to kill, offer great power, and the loss of all restraint, all social norms. They’re the animal we all hold within, the face of what happens when we cross the line and step to the far side of chaos.

Although I have no interest in writing a vampire or werewolf story any time soon, there are lessons to be learned by the great ongoing success of these stories, and the myths that give them life. Are the monsters in our stories sensual, tempting, and savage? Do they terrify and fascinate in equal measure? Do they reflect the darkness lurking within the characters, and by extension, the readers? Is there a risk the hero may fall to that darkness, even in their moment of victory?

If so, your own myths might prove to be legends in their own right.