Monday, June 16, 2014

Mythology As Inspiration

I grew up reading mythology. In fact, the very first book I ever read was a Chinese myth called Ma Lien and the Magic Paintbrush. When the original Clash of the Titans came out in 1981, I was so excited to see it. Sure, it was a little terrifying, but I was hooked.

What I love most about mythology is that the stories are both fantastical and so deeply rooted in the human psyche. Their messages are universal, despite the obvious mythical (and often hyperbolic) material surrounding these great stories.

When I was making the rounds marketing my debut novel, Dragonfly Warrior, I was asked so many great questions by my fellow bloggers. Many of them asked, "What inspired you to write this book?" That's easy.

All the great mythology I read growing up.

So I'd like to share just a few of my favorites that I drew direct inspiration from.

King Arthur. These stories are such a part of our cultural knowledge, it's not even funny. And I have no problem giving a nod to Monty Python either! To me, the story of King Arthur is the original "love triangle." The myth of King Arthur is really made up of a bunch of different stories all tied together. It starts out with how Arthur was first conceived (and it ain't pretty), then goes on to tell the tale of how he pulls the sword from the stone, the creation of the Knights of the Round Table, The Quest for the Holy Grail, and of course, the betrayal by Arthur's wife and his best friend.

Throw in some wizardry, Excalibur, the Lady of the Lake, and one ticked-off bastard son, and you've got one helluva an epic adventure.

The Odyssey. After the fall of troy, King Odysseus of Ithaca thinks that he's "just too cool for school." Instead of paying homage to the gods, he boasts how awesome humans are. So when he and his crew set sail for home, the gods totally mess with him, and allow him to wander the seas for a good 20 years. He's desperate to get back to his wife and son, and he's tempted with really sexy goddesses and stuff along the way. Odysseus' tale has several themes running through it. It's a morality tale, but it also focuses on how dangerous a huge ego can be. Oh, and there's no place like home.

Masamune and Muramasa. This story is about two legendary swordsmiths. Muramasa challenges his master to a contest to see who can forge the greatest sword. When they're finished, they take their swords to a river. Both dip their blades into the current. Muramasa's sword cuts everything that comes along its path - the fish, the petals of flowers, and even the air.

Masamune's sword, however, has the opposite effect. No flowers or leaves drifted by it. Instead of cutting the fish, the fish swam right up to it. Muramasa laughed at his master for creating such an inferior sword. But Masamune's blade was the finer of the two, as it couldn't kill anything innocent. Muramasa's weapon was bloodthirsty. In fact, the legend says that Muramasa's katana could never go back into its scabbard until it drew blood. The wielder either had to kill someone or commit suicide!  This mythology is obviously about the yin and yang in the universe, the balance of good and evil in everything.

Mulling And The Humans. I had to include one African myth in here! So in the beginning, there were no humans. Mulling and his animals live in peace. One day, a fish finds little tiny humans in his trap, so he brings them to Mulling. The god lets the humans live and roam the earth. Humans eventually grow bigger. They build fires...and burn down some forests. They kill the animals and eat them. Humans are essentially destroying everything, which makes Mulling really angry. So what does this god do? He runs away! He climbs up to the heavens.

Kind of reminds me of the premise behind The Matrix.

20 comments:

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Those last two are new to me.
And bummer to possess Masamune's sword.

L. Diane Wolfe said...

King Arthur has spawned so many ideas.

I loved the first Clash of the Titans. Who didn't want their own Bubo owl?

DEZMOND said...

Yep, I to read a lot about history and mythology as a kid...
And love your new author picture in the sidebar, Jay!

Jay Noel said...

Alex: Unless you're a bloodthirsty killer!

Diane: I know, including Star Wars. I think I saw Clash maybe twenty times or more over the years. The special effects are cheesy, but the movie is still fun.

Dez: Cool! And thanks so much, Dez.

Pat Dilloway said...

I hadn't heard of Masamune and Muramasa before but it sounds pretty awesome. Greek mythology is really fun with all those gods just screwing people (literally and figuratively) whenever they want. Norse mythology is pretty depressing with that whole Ragnarok thing, though it is pretty cool to think of all the gods one day beating the crap out of each other until they all die.

jaybird said...

Ma Lien was one of my girls favorite stories when they were little. They started painting on everything after I read them that story, hoping what they painted would pop off the page! LOL They still remember that story, all these years later, it made quite an impact. I love inspiration like that.

cleemckenzie said...

The myths always captured my imagination and they still do. I loved the flawed gods and goddess, the monsters and the adventures.

Jay Noel said...

Pat: There is a lot of screwing going on in Greek mythology, isn't there?

jaybird: I treasure my copy, although I scribbled in the opening pages. I was five years old!

C.Lee: VERY flawed. That's what makes them so fun to read.

Robin said...

I, too, like the mythology tales. Maybe they should be called morality tales since there always seems to be a lesson in there somewhere. What do you think?

Michael Offutt, Phantom Reader said...

Thanks for the story about the two swords. That's really cool. Mythology can be a great source of inspiration (Christian included).

Loni Townsend said...

I love researching mythology. I'm going to look up more about Masamune and Muramasa.

My favorite stories were the Greek ones. It's so weird to see them in pop culture, and then research and find a totally different story.

Jay Noel said...

Robin: You're onto something. Greek myths were just full of gods being whores!

Michael: That Japanese tale is one of my all time faves. and I definitely draw DIRECTLY from that myth in my books.

Loni: I know! And nothing is wrong with putting a more contemporary spin on some myth. That's what makes it so cool. The entire comic industry can thank Beowulf, for example.

Vanessa V Kilmer said...

I love anything King Arthur. My favorite stories are the Crystal Cave series by Mary Stewart which are from Merlin's point of view and his life story.

Melanie Schulz said...

I've never heard of the last two, but they sound like stories I'd enjoy.

Tyrean Martinson said...

Love The Magic Paintbrush, and I didn't have a chance to read it until my kids read it for homeschool lessons - one of my "late" found favorites! I haven't read the one about the two sword smiths either - so I'm going to have to look that one up. :) Thanks for sharing these, Jay! BTW, I would love to host your for an interview on my blog sometime this summer or early fall, or for the Shadow Warrior release - just let me know what would work best.

Nicki Elson said...

Thanks for the flash-mythology! I remmeber loving the Odyssey in high school...which was a loooong time go for me, so perhaps it't time I pick it up again. Hm, wonder if I'll need the Cliff Notes this time...

David P. King said...

Had the hardest time getting into Arthur until the Merlin show started. Having said that, this is much wonder in myths. They are the foundations of storytelling. :)

M Pax said...

Mythology is a great source of inspiration. I have several volumes of mythology on my research shelf. The odyssey is something. I read so many things that remind me of it.

Optimistic Existentialist said...

I love mythical stories. They transport us to a place of wonder and they really touch our inner-child!

Happy Friday!!

Robin said...

Dedicated something to you on the Thursday post...

Post a Comment