Myth-taken

I’ve decided I need to read more mythology and folktales. You know, the classic stuff from various cultures. I can’t help feeling that that’s where my next novel’s going to come from. It will be fantasy, but not historical fantasy. It will take place in the contemporary world, but will be about opening your eyes to the fantastic that’s all around us–or, at least that’s all around in the world of my fictional characters. The best fantasy, I think, builds on the classics, the way Mutant Enemy built on classic horror tales of our own culture and other cultures to create the rich landscape of Buffy and Angel. But oh, I haven’t read mythology since I was in Jr. High. I was one of those Greek-Roman-Norse myths freaks at the time, and I even forayed into Native American mythology before “real life” stepped in and I got more interested in gay and lesbian romance novels.

Now I hardly read anymore at all, which is like, doom, if you want to be a writer.

So I need to read stuff. Mythology, folktales, contemporary, ancient, fantasy. Anybody got any good recommendations to re-start my education?

30 thoughts on “Myth-taken

  1. I’m a big mythology fan, though I haven’t been reading as much recently. I took a few undergraduate courses, and had a fairly wide net.
    I’m particularly partial to Kalevala despite the really bizzare poetic scheme. It’s dark and brutish, and the stories grab me. And it’s funny. There’s a character, Kullervo, who I think will ping for you.

  2. Oooh! Oooh! I do!
    I actually just jump-started my mythology re-education a few months ago, after seeing Troy, realizing there was a lot of stuff in it that seemed wrong but being horrified that I couldn’t remember what a lot of that stuff actually was. I got Myths of the Ancient Greeks by Richard P. Martin, which is a pretty slim volume but covers all of the major Greek myths, starting at the creation myth and going all the way through Homer. I found it very enjoyable to read, because the author uses a mostly easy, light, conversational prose, and the form of the book almost mimics that of a novel. So you get all the information you want, but not in a dry, stuffy way, and it’s fun to read. So that’s my rec. 🙂

  3. Re: Oooh! Oooh! I do!
    I think I need something that’s sort of general and short and at a jr. high-level of reading, just to start.
    I’m also interesting in foraying into mythologies I never studied when I *was* in Jr. High, like Celtic and Egyptian.

  4. You can get folklore encyclopedia, they might be a good place to start, so you could dip into different areas such as Greek, Middle Eastern, Scandinavian, Celtic, Chinese etc and get a feel for where you might like to head with the idea.

  5. Well, I’m spoiled because I grew up with the Larousse book of world mythology, which I still have. So that’s always been my first point of reference. But my edition is rather old, and it doesn’t look like they revise much.
    However, you might like to check out the Encyclopedia Mythica which has the advantage of being online and free. Then if any particular story catches your attention, you could try and find more about it elsewhere.

  6. it’s a good one. They just re realesed the Nancy Arrowwood (Arrowsmith?) classic, the field guide to little people. It’s more encyclopedic though and ALL my books are in lock up back in PA. I’m terrible at titles

  7. I don’t have any mythology books that spring to mind, but in the world of urban fantasy I would highly recommend reading Charles de Lint. He writes the sort of thing you speak of and I love his work. (He’s also a huge Buffy fan) One of the first books of his I read is called “Moonheart” and incorporates Celtic and First Nations mythology in an urban setting. He’s Canadian, but I am sure you could find his work there. If not, and you’re interested, I’d be happy to lend you my copy.

  8. After you read the surveys, I’d suggest something of a more literary bent, like Ovid’s Metamorphoses. Whether or not any one believed the myths by Ovid’s time, I don’t know, but he certainly was wrapped up in them. It could give you some ideas about how to use the myths in a story telling context.

  9. Oh, I love mythology
    You should read the Folklore and Mythology Electronic Texts. Wonderful stuff there, including a lot of various versions of different legends and myths (they have five Sleeping Beauties and six Snow Whites) and it’s all very cool.
    I also suggest going to Timeless Myths, another wonderful site. I love Norse mythology the best, so I love their page on Ragnarok. It’s the only mythology, I think, where almost all the Gods die.

  10. I was going to pimp Kalevala here (being a Finn myself), but I’m happy to see somebody got ahead of me. Masq should definitely read it as there are strong female characters in it. The poetic scheme is absolutely impossible to translate as it is based on alliteration and on the pecularities of Finnish language like the frequent use of onomatopoetic words.

  11. If you haven’t read it before, the Joseph Campbell’s A hero with thousand faces would be a must. (It was behind Star Wars too ;D.) Campbell has also made some mythology compilations.

  12. Hit or Myth
    Well, at the risk of being unhelpful, go to the library and see what they have. I’ve always had very good luck with whatever my latest mythic obssession is by going to the free books.
    Or if your looking for something specific in source material, The welsh “Y Gododdin” or Irish Book of the Dun Cow for epic poems. Do a web search for Cu Chulainn or Finn of the Fianna. You could try searching for “the Tale of the Shipwrecked Sailor” which is an Egyptian short story. Sites that have it tend to link to other Egyptian short stories. There’s this one about young Osirus that I can’t quite remember the title.
    The Sandman graphic novel series. Neil Gaiman has the best grasp on mythology that I’ve ever seen.

  13. Whether or not any one believed the myths by Ovid’s time, I don’t know, but he certainly was wrapped up in them. It could give you some ideas about how to use the myths in a story telling context.
    Literature that goes back to one’s mytho-cultural roots–even if those roots are no longer taken as literal truth anymore–are often worthwhile, for exactly the reason Joseph Campbell was always going on about. Myths capture important commonalities in the human experience, which is also what a good story of any kind should do. ; )

  14. Re: Oh, I love mythology
    Are you much of a fan of Star Trek? The ancient religion of the Klingons was explored in some depth in both Next Generation and Deep Space Nine, and I’m convinced that both Klingon culture and religion was based heavily in ancient Norse culture and mythology, including the idea of the heroic heaven Stovokor and the fact that in Klingon mythology, the Klingon race rose up and killed all their gods several millenia prior to the time frame of the Star Trek show. ; )

  15. Re: Oh, I love mythology
    I’ve seen enough of TNG and DS9 to know about the Klingons, but it seems they have a more mixed mythology. “Today is a good day to die” is a Native American saying; Kronos, the Klingon home planet, is also the name of a Greek titan. But I didn’t hear about that killing-the-gods thing. Very cool.
    Norse mythology is wonderful because the Gods are just really funny (and sometimes spiteful and mean). Take Thor for example – at one point, Thor’s hammer, Mjolnir, was stolen and he discovers that a group of men have it. What does he? Dresses as a woman and pretends to like them. They sit down to have dinner and Thor, still disguised as a woman, consumes, like, five tanks of ale and eats a ton of meat. It’s funny.

  16. I have a few Joseph Campbell books in my collection. What I’m looking for right now are short encyclopedic summaries of the original works, rather than analyses or meta-discussions of them.

  17. Re: Hit or Myth
    The library is a good idea. I’ve been meaning to stop by there to find out why my library card number suddenly won’t work on the SFPL website anymore (it’s been a few months since I checked out any books there).
    Neil Gaiman has the best grasp on mythology that I’ve ever seen.
    Which might explain why I have difficulty getting a grasp on his work! ; )

  18. Mythology
    You want to go “right back to the beginning,” yes? Not to something that’s already been re-told (as great as some of that stuff is)?
    For Irish, try Cross & Slover, Ancient Irish Tales. It may be out of print, but you can probably find a used copy easily enough. Related Celtic myths/legends is the Welsh Mabinogion; best translation is by Alwyn & Brynley Rees, but 19th c. Lady Charlotte Guest is very poetic (and glosses over all the naughty bits). These have influenced a boatload of fantasy writers.
    For India, you want the Mahabharata and/or the Ramayana. A lot of those are philosophical/religious musings/lectures, so find a guide to the “good parts” 😉
    You might want to look at the mother (literally) of all story-lodes, Shahrazad (Sheherazade) and the 1001 Nights…

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