The world had changed out from under him before he was born. It seemed to some that Nathan had been designed for a different century. Possessed by a strange sense of loss, he longed for the ways and beliefs of his ancestors. His life was marked by difficulty with the expectations of others, and conflict pursued him despite his best efforts to avoid it. On the day this principled young man was expelled from high school for fighting to defend a weaker classmate, his parents decided to send him on a journey to the one place where he could discover his calling. From there, his path would ultimately lead to a series of confrontations with the supernatural predator that stalked an unprepared and vulnerable city.
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Heroes in mythology interact with a variety of constituents. They are cursed or favored by the gods. Sometimes they are sired or born by them. Romantic liaisons have been described between gods and mortals. A hero may be called upon to do battle with (or enlist the help of) some kind of fantastic beast, and it is not unusual for this to be in response to the wrath of (or a commission from) the gods. Men of ancient valor have also been portrayed as lovers, assailants, or rescuers of beautiful maidens.
This brings us to the “AND” in the title for today’s blog. Myths feature heroes, gods, monsters, and (perhaps tellingly) helpless and often scantily clad women. As an example, try finding a portrait of Andromeda in which she is not wearing nothing or next to nothing. Then, of course, there are the chains. All of this is in accordance with the written account of her rescue from the sea serpent by Perseus, and it may be argued that this reflects historical and cultural attitudes toward women and their roles in society.
New mythologies can be of social benefit by fashioning noble and honorable niches for female characters. Regardless of what the reader might think of the movie Avatar (directed by James Cameron), it does contain some of the characteristics of a modern myth: a spiritual element, a hero, an invading army, monsters, and a love interest. Neytiri (as played by Zoe Saldana) is in some ways stereotypical, but she is far from weak. Okay, she is scantily clad.
In the stories I write, I try to portray women and girls as having more strength and depth, and I am currently attempting to develop plot lines for future works in which they assume more central and heroic roles. I owe that much to my wife and my daughters.
At the outset of this little diatribe, I think it necessary to get one fact straight. All mythologies are manufactured. Every myth, no matter what its age, was once new. To condemn new efforts in this area because the resulting works are not historical (translated “old” or “old enough”) can have the effect of stifling further creativity.
One might object that modern, manufactured mythology is not valid for the plain reason that people do not literally believe in it. But how much do we really know about what the members of ancient cultures actually believed? Perhaps significant numbers (even a majority) of them did not believe in the tales, either. We don’t really know. The Aenid by Virgil, for example, was a politicized re-telling of The Iliad and The Odyssey, but it is still considered a classic. As long as a new book is marketed and sold under the designation of fiction, it is reasonable to assume that the reader is intelligent enough to understand that the contents are not describing things that are literally real.
The criteria for judging new mythologies should be the quality of the writing and the possession of some degree of originality. That The Lord Of The Rings is sometimes criticized for being manufactured does not alter the fact that it is a resonant story that a good many intelligent and educated people consider to be good writing. As a starting point for his work, Tolkien (a scholar of Anglo-Saxon literature) borrowed elements from older lore, but this is not a problem. His telling is still original, and it reads well.
I understand that there are those who dislike mythology whether it is old or new, and they should not be required to defend their preferences. Neither should those of us who genuinely like this sort of thing. Individual taste is individual taste. My advice to those overly prone to analysis and criticism is therefore simple. Ignore the genre if you wish, but if you choose to read a story, start out by trying to enjoy it. Bad writing does not require vigilant exposure. It has a tendency to expose itself.