Monday, June 18, 2012

Myths and Legends

Sorry for not showing up with a brand new post last week - I was out of town for my sister's graduation and sadly, had other things to do. Besides, by me not posting you were spared my rant about how popular literature has gone downhill in recent years (because that's what I would have posted on). But I still feel like I need to say that a book series that needs to steal 80-90% of its words from another series and drip with X-rated content to sell is textbook bad writing. I'm looking at you, Fifty Shades of Gray.

Anyhow, on to another topic. I just came back from seeing Wrath of the Titans in the local dollar theater and I got inspired - to write about my views on myths and legends in storytelling. In short: I'm a big fan of using them. For the long version, keep reading.

I know I've already posted my opinion of retellings, but here it is again specifically focused to mythology. Folklore is very easy to retell because the stories are so old that the storyteller can take any kind of liberty he or she wants with it. Many of these stories also have multiple versions anyway - in some tellings of "Little Red Riding Hood" the title character dies, and in others she is rescued. And in other, more modern versions, she totally kicks the trash out of the wolf. These stories have survived because they are adaptable, able to mold themselves to their modern audiences. I include Shakespeare and superhero stories in this category - they can be told in many different ways, in different settings. There are only a few details that need to be present in every story, and the rest is subject to interpretation.

Now, myths are valuable even outside of retellings because they appeal to the subconscious. I could get into the Hero Cycle and Jung's collective subconscious here, but I'll leave that to the links. The truth is, using elements of myth in building a story make it stronger. For example, having an invincible character with one weak spot hearkens back to Achilles, reminding the reader of the mythic hero's fighting prowess, pride, and eventual downfall. The writer can use the parallels to add depth to the character. What if this character isn't much of a fighter? We get irony. Mythic allusions add emotion and subtext to a work - see T.S. Eliot's "The Wasteland". They can also, if the story is fantasy, give it a "real world" feel because they use faery elements the reader already knows.

Storytelling has a tradition stretching all the way back to the myths and legends of ancient days. I think it's a mistake to ignore the power they have in modern writing. After all, if the myths weren't good, they wouldn't have lasted long enough for Rick Riordan to make his fortune off them.

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