Monday, October 22, 2012

What's Your Inner Mythology?

Here in Southern California, we've had a spate of cloudy/drizzly/downright rainy days recently (I had to use my windshield wipers on the way to work this morning! joy!), and every single time I am filled with hope, with flutters of possibility. Dark clouds always feel like something big, something good, is about to happen. I feel like I'm living in a movie, or a fairy tale.

this is where my daydreams live
And that got me wondering about others' go-to mythologies, the ones they are always drawn to, whether it's the comfort and nostalgia of revisiting childhood daydreams, or the allure of otherness, the unknown, the endless what-ifs.

So I asked them, and got some great answers. For my part, as I mentioned above, I think I will always be drawn to British & Celtic fairy tales & mythologies, and two recent releases build on and use them in very different ways. Maggie Stiefvater's The Raven Boys is about the search for a centuries-old dead and missing king, which is such a weird premise I had no idea what to expect (hint: it's pretty amazing), and Talia Vance's Silver has descendants of the goddess Danu (the forebear of the Sidhe in Ireland) mixing it up with other fey-type folk.

Speaking of Celtic mythology, here's what Erin Cashman had to say:

I love all kinds of mythology. As a teenager I was obsessed with Greek mythology. I really enjoyed the Percy Jackson series. Since my mother was born and raised in Galway, Ireland, and always shared Irish stories, I am particularly drawn to Celtic mythology. My WIP, Legend of the Four, is loosely based on the Tuatha Dé Danann from Celtic mythology.

Kate Milford:

I'm a folklore girl, and for no particularly good reason it appears to be that Americana's my default. I particularly like hunting down regional lore, and I like finding obscure stuff best. Since American folklore draws from the traditions of all the cultures that emigrated here, I often wind up following strings elsewhere, which always feels to me like following old roads around to oddball towns. :)

The Jack tales and crossroads lore are big inspirations for me; the big villain in the background of The Broken Lands (and a character in The Boneshaker) is Clever Jack, and the story in which Jack beats the Devil after getting three wishes from Saint Peter is a big part of the mythology of both books. Both The Boneshaker and The Broken Lands are based on the idea that there's great power to be had at a crossroads, because a crossroads is a place of potential and choice--and the crossroads is a perfect example of a bit of folklore that has variations all over the world. So while The Boneshaker plays with Southern crossroads traditions, the crossroads in The Broken Lands is very different.

As a reader--I guess as a reader, I gravitate toward obscure stuff, too. I'm trying to think of examples, but frankly, I've been reading 1812 histories and Civil War stuff for about the last year with no end in sight, so frankly I can barely remember what fiction I've read in the meantime.

And gallons more under the jump!

Lena Goldfinch:

I'm sure I'm unconsciously inspired by so much I've read (and taken in via Disney flicks ;-)). One of my stories, a YA fantasy called Songstone, was inspired by my research into Maori folklore, which in some ways is similar to Irish and European fairy folklore (a mysterious people aka "the others," red hair, special powers).

And as a reader, I know I'm a real sucker for Beauty and the Beast themes. And now that I think of it, my upcoming novella, The Language of Souls, has a heroine who is on a quest to save her ailing grandfather (not father though), when she trespasses onto enemy territory and is captured by a young soldier. Then she has to try to make her way back home, before it's too late. Along the way, she discovers her soldier is more than he seems—a kinder, more noble young man, maybe even worthy of her love—you could even say he's cursed to a life not of his own choosing and that he feels trapped... There aren't any witches or actual curses involved, or roses, for that matter, but she is searching for a healing herb/flower... (Doh! LOL)

Leah Cypess:

As a reader, I think the mythology I'm most drawn to is the
Arthurian legends. For as long as I can remember, I've been willing to
pick up and try anything that's a new take on any aspect of King
Arthur. I suspect The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley and The
Child Queen by Nancy McKenzie started this obsession, but recent reads
include The Winter Prince by Elizabeth Wein, which is not particularly
new, but I just read it recently, and Dark Jenny by Alex Bledsoe, an
adult novel. The first is a very magical, haunting, high
fantasy/historical read - the second is a sort of urban
fantasy/mystery/high fantasy romp. To me, they're perfect examples of
just how elastic this particular legend is, and how much fun it is to
play with.

As a writer, I tend to be drawn more to "tropes" than to specific
mythologies, at least in my novels (I have played with the Arthurian
legends in a short story and various fairy tales in short stories).
For whatever reason, much as I love reading retellings, I don't want
to write any enough to stick it out for a whole book. Maybe that's
part of why I'm so blown away when they're well done, because I know
it's something I could never pull off! So I tend to revisit tropes
that have been revisited so often I couldn't even identify which
mythology they came from - they're almost just part of the fantasy
vocabulary for now - and where I really feel like I can do anything I
want with them.

P.J. Hoover:

My go-to mythology is definitely Greek. Maybe it's because it's the first mythology I ever truly learned that I feel the most comfortable with it. That said, the more I study Egyptian, the more it sneaks in here and there, but when I come to quick comparisons in my mind, it is always Greek.

As for my consistent mythological influence, I'd have to go with The Hero's Journey. There's a reason Joseph Campbell wrote a book on this which is that it repeats itself over and over again in stories from the past and the present. Stories have so many of the same archetypes, and Joseph Campbell has been so kind as to point these out for us.

As for resulting stories of my own, I'd have to go with almost everything I've ever written. THE EMERALD TABLET (Cbay Books, 2008) is a classic hero's journey. SOLSTICE (Tor Teen, June 18, 2012) is heavily based on Greek mythology, and TUT (Tor Children's, Winter 2014) is completely Egyptian mythology. I love playing around with the myths and twisting them just a bit to see what comes out of the other end :)

Cindy Pon:

I loved greek mythology as a child. I found myself especially drawn to the love story between Eros and Psyche. And my current novel is partially inspired by Medusa. Her scene toward the end of Clash of the Titans has stayed with me since childhood--the once beautiful woman turned monster and cursed to change men to stone with a glance. The idea of beautiful women as something monstrous beneath or literally, as Medusa was, fascinates me. What did all these cultures find so alluring, yet disturbing about beautiful women?

Ellen Booraem:

I grew up with Greek and Norse myths, and they were among my favorite reads as a kid. They appealed to me the way foundation stories and heroic tales appeal to kids of all cultures, partly as fantasy and stories of derring-do, but also as entertaining explanations for the events of real life. I always was tickled, for example, by the idea that winter came on because Persephone had to go to Hades for three or four months, and her mother, Demeter, was too depressed to keep things growing.

I love any modern retelling that gives the gods and heroes real personalities—something Edith Hamilton’s version didn’t do so well. Rick Riordan springs to mind, of course, but there’s also Diana Wynne Jones’ Eight Days of Luke, in which our hero runs afoul of the Norse gods. Not MG or YA, but Neil Gaiman’s American Gods and Anansi Boys are tremendous fun and very satisfying for a myth-lover.

I draw on myth a lot in my writing. The Goatman in The Unnameables obviously is related to Pan, the half-goat/half-man Greek god. Small Persons with Wings has a bunch of references to the Charlemagne stories, which almost qualify as myths, and the Small Persons are related to the Roman gods, although there’s only one very vague reference to that. Texting the Underworld, which comes out next summer, has gods and demigods from all over: Celtic religion, the Greeks, even the Babylonians.

Dawn Metcalf:

I am a HUGE fan of mythology and use it in all of my writings as a way to "anchor" the fantasy world into something we can recognize as being almost familiar and almost real. While I certainly enjoy Greek, Roman, Nordic and Celtic pantheons and am familiar with European fairy tales and Egyptian deities, I'm more interested in less well-known legends and myths from the Amazon, the Middle East, and "mixtures" when cultures come together like "Aunt Nancy" tales derived from Africa's Anansi-meets-the North American south to "Dia de los Muertos" (which I used in my own book, Luminous) which sprung from ancient Aztec myths transformed under Catholicism's All Saint's Day.

Some of my favorite "myth" books include Rick Riordan's Percy Jackson books, Neil Gaiman's AMERICAN GODS and ANASI BOYS, the feels-all-too-real REDWALL books by Brian Jacques, THOMAS THE RHYMER by Ellen Kushner, the first TALES OF ALVIN THE MAKER by Orson Scott Card, and Joan D. Vinge's THE SNOW QUEEN. (And, if we stretch the definition a little bit, I'd throw in the entire DISCWORLD series by Sir Terry Pratchett and his co-authored book with Neil Gaiman, GOOD OMENS.)

What about you all? There are so many mythologies out there to delve into and soak up and pull from; I just remembered Jen Barnes' Tattoo and Fate, which have the three Fates of Greek mythology and a few Sidhe all mixed up, which is always a good time...any other recs, thoughts? Please share!


  1. As a Brit, the Arthurian myths loomed large in my childhood, but later I learned of far older myths that probably inspired the Arthurian talesthe Welsh Mabinogian, and was entirely bewitched by their strangeness and the lost meaning of their symbolism. Similarly, the Green Man and the whole Druidic woodland mythology fascinates me, with the revolution of the seasons as a metaphor for immortality and rebirth. Any myth that gives the hope of a new beginning has similar appeal to me, such as Gilgamesh, and Noah's Ark, and Sleeping Beauty.

  2. Oh gosh. As a kid, the mythology shelf in the kids' section was my zone. I went through pretty much everything there, from Aesop to King Arthur to Zeus and his posse to Norse and Egyptian legends.

    Like most people, I still love the European fairy tales, but I love to pick up books with other flavors as well. A great example of a pseudo-Greek tale is Megan Whaln Turner's Thief series. It's not really Greek but instead takes the general feel of the Mediterranean and runs with it. And oh my gosh, Ancient Egypt how I love you.

  3. I'm a big Arthurian fan, too. It seems every possible plot is covered in myths and legends--although maybe it's a chicken and egg thing, and we only come up with the plots we knew in childhood. I love thinking about how they all began--a ring of eager, fire-lit faces as a storyteller begins a tale. And we're still enjoying them today.

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