Is it Live or Mythological?


A few months back, I mentioned that I would address the concept of spec fiction that deviated from mythological roots.  I realize this is a somewhat contentious issue and many authors may feel differently than I do – but fuck it, it’s my blog, so I’ll say what I want.

Mythology is one of those awesome part of a writers toolkit; it contains romance, father-son strife, monsters, acts of heroism, and all other aspects of the human experience.  It also has good concepts of origin stories, world-building, and apocalypse scenarios.  Western mythology, especially Greek mythology, is firmly entrenched in the foundation of first-world society, and is woven through the fabric of our culture.  Its facets are identifiable and relatable to readers.   Is it any wonder writers love incorporating it?  And writers being what they are, tend to take some liberties with the body of work.

(Muse:  Uh, ain’t no one taking liberties with this mythological body.)

Quiet, you.  The fact is that when writers take that incredible mass of tales and works, they warp them to fit their own stories.  You see in work such as the Percy Jackson series or in the Clash of the Titans movies, both versions.  Minotaurs and medusae (plural, since the both titles originally referred to one monster) run loose in tabletop role-playing games and video games.  The mythology written in Marvel’s Thor comics deviates significantly from the original Norse (and Greek, Egyptian, Celtic, Hindu, and others, for that matter).  Tolkein’s and Michael Moorcock’s works were heavily influenced by Norse and Finnish mythology, respectively.  Even Stephen King incorporated (highlight for spoiler) Greek goddess Persephone as his antagonist in Duma Key.  In no case did the authors/creators stick strictly to the original tales.

And is that wrong?

Well, according so some authors, yes.  A sample:

Rick Riordan screwed up Greek myths in Percy Jackson
Marvel screwed up Norse myths in Thor
The Mummy got everything wrong about Egyptian mythology
Hollywood screwed up everything in Immortals (somewhat true; myths aside, the movie was awful)

And I have spoken with some authors who feel like this an offense on par with plagiarism.  But again, I ask:  so what?

I fall in the camp that fiction authors have exactly one duty:  they have to tell the best story they can, that comes from their heart.  They are writing entertainment, or maybe something that makes people think.  They aren’t writing reference books, they aren’t writing textbooks, where accuracy is not only desirable but compulsory.

Ah, but I hear you say, what about other accuracy?  Do good authors not go to great lengths to provide details that add realism?  If a scene is set in a smithy, and they are unable to describe an anvil, does it not detract?  I agree, it does, but there is a key difference.  Anvils exist.  Smithies exist.  Medieval cottages exist(ed).  People cook real chickens over fires.  Et cetera.  Myths?  They were made up to begin with.

I guess I just find it hard to believe that we can shift a story to an alternate earth where magic or walking zombies are accepted without a glance – but because someone had a yellow-haired God of Thunder instead of a red-headed one, that the story is somehow less authentic.  In any event, who is to say the myths aren’t authentic to the world in which they take place?

And even this is situational.  If a story involves a literature professor who is on the run from vampires and he has to remember the password to the safe containing the blow-up doll that glows ultraviolet in the dark which he will use to seduce the vampire king and then fry him, and is told the password is the name of the Greek hero who slew the Hydra, it would best if it were accurate to understanding of the world.  (It’s Hercules, by the way.)  But that’s detail, not driving plot device.

Making a mountain of a molehill?  Perhaps I am.  I just don’t feel this is a big deal.  I do love the richness and depth of mythological tradition, and not just those of western cultures.  The ramayana is one of my favorite epics.  But as I look at all those tales, all that information, the wealth of wonderful ideas … and I can’t help but steal it, bend it, make it my own.

And those mythical characters would want me to.


Media Drift

So ….

In the last few months, I read a lot of spec fiction.  I also watched a lot of movies based on spec fiction, including movie adaptations of books I read.  When you translate media in that fashion, there is always some drift from the thrust of the story.  In some ways I think it's okay; in others, my cynical mind assumes the worst.  Allow me to elaborate.

(Muse:  Oh this should be good.)

Quiet, you!

Like I said, some migrations hold up better than others.  I have not seen Hunger Games all the way through but from the parts I have seen, it is a faithful translation.  300 was almost a frame-by-frame reshoot of the comic.  Other movies add in extra material, scenes, or even characters; the recent Hobbit movie did this and it did not really affect the integrity of the story, save for reducing the film to a glacial pace.

I've heard some complaints about movies like Clash of the Titans, that have dicked with classical Greek mythology.  That doesn't bother me, since mythology, per se, isn't owned by anyone and is subject to interpretation.  The main elements of the tale are there, even if it is  a hybrid of the tales of Perseus and Bellerophon.  Besides, what harm can it do?  Today's society is so ignorant of the classical world that it's not like this will ever hold them back from something.  It's dead knowledge.

(Muse:  Cynic.)

Oh just wait, this is where it gets fun, because here is where I have the problem.

There is a certain money-grubbing element in the entertainment industry that is quick to latch onto a success story and try to siphon from it, leech-like, for its own gain.  In this case, I would be thinking of the upcoming World War Z movie.  From what I can see from the previews, it is not even remotely related to the "source" material.  It's Brad Pitt in a zombie apocalypse movie – maybe with decent action, effects, and a soundtrack.  Perhaps I would even pay to go see it.  But it does not appear to resemble the book at all. In the book, the narrator was a reporter, who gathered stories after the crisis was over.  Pitt's character is in the midst of the action.  Fast zombies versus slow zombies.  And on.  So why call it World War Z, if not in an effort to cash in on the success of the book?  If they had called "Zombie Movie #85" would it generate as much buzz?  (Actually that self-parodying title might have, a la Zombieland.)  I see a very cynical effort behind that, rather than letting the movie rise or fall on its own merits, someone along the way tried to predispose it for success.  That leaves me with a sour taste.

So where is the line drawn?  What differentiates between a little poetic license and an abomination of an adaptation?  I dunno.  That's what makes this a fascinating subject, as it is always up for debate-slash-reinterpretation.  I doubt it's a linear distinction for anyone, but probably more of a matrix:  a combination of personal resistance to the idea and a strong affinity for whatever source material is being lifted.  Is this even worthy of discussion?

Any thoughts?

Daily Update #22

So ….

– I broke myself yesterday but got around 3700 good words written in "Pilgrimage."  It hurt, a lot; a spent most of the evening drooling and staring into space.  My goal is to get another 2K today, which would make for a pretty good weekend.  We'll see; I am so not feeling it right now.

– How long is "too long" before an editor responds to a writer?  I suppose the answer is "depends on the editor" but I'm looking for something more general.  An associate of mine recently reported a sale, and that's boffo news for her.  Same venue has had one my submissions for quite a while and I haven't heard back.  According to the publication's (unofficial) stats at Duotrope (hyper-awesome site for submissions, BTW), I'm on the far side of their response window – meaning if they say, "we respond between 3 to 5 weeks", I'm out at eight weeks … but so are some other folks.  I understand that real life happens, deadlines go unmet, and editors fall behind.  I don't place any particular motivation of malice on the editor – but at what point do you go, "Yeah, we really, really, REALLY have to answer our writers?" 

(Muse:  You know it's possible they either lost your entry or it never made it through.  Why don't you ask them?)

Good point, and I will.  Still an interesting question – one I will take up in a later post.

(Muse:  You might as well now, you just blew it by calling them out in public.)

– Cobbled together another submission today.  At some point, I am going to post my composite submission stats.  They aren't good but maybe enlightening for anyone struggling to get theirs sold.  (Hint: persistence.)

– I like to have the TV or music on when I am writing on the weekends, just as kind of white noise in the background.  Football season is harder, since that actually draws my attention.  For the last year or so, I usually flip it on SyFy on the weekends, for whatever bad movies are on – and I do mean bad.  You know, I can forgive bad acting, low production values and bad special effects.  I guess working on a budget means they can't hire good writers either.  If someone said, "Crank out ten bad movie scripts by next month, we'll give you $100 for each," I'd be all over it like Oprah on a baked ham.  Setting aside the fact that I have never written a script (from the technical perspective), I think I could do a better job than the dialogue and plot I see on these shows.  Is that ego speaking?

–  Speaking of TV, the new season of "Walking Dead" starts tonight.  I'll be there, especially since the Sun night football game (Vikings and Bears) sure ain't worth watching.

– Does anyone know a good book on Celtic mythology?  I know there are a ton out there but I am looking for some good reference material, without having to thrash around, digging through volumes.  I will, if I must, but if there is a shortcut, I'm all about that.

Okay, that's all my babble for now, folks.

The Wolves Inside

I have no idea if this is an actual Cherokee legend, but the wisdom is straightforward.  As seen somewhere on the vastness of the web:

An old Cherokee sat down to teach his grandson about life.

"A fight is going on inside me," he said to the boy.  "The same fight is going on inside you – and inside every other person, too."

"It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves. One is evil – he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego." He continued, "The other is good – he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith.  These two wolves struggle for control.  Sooner or later, one will win."

The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather, "Which wolf will win?"

The old Cherokee simply replied, "The one you feed."

Food for thought.

Whosover holds this hammer ….

"… if he be worthy, shall possess the power of Thor."

So reads the entire quote, straight from the original draft of Journey Into Mystery #83, the 1962 comic which introduced us to the Marvel version of the Norse-mythology-inspired Thor.  Fifty years have passed since that fateful summer.  I’ve been a fan of the character for many moons – probably because it was a natural meld with my fantasy/sci-fi reading schedule.

I bring this up since the movie version of Thor hit the theaters about a week ago.  Thor is the latest segment in the Marvel studios build-up to The Avengers next year.   I had some down time on Monday so I decided to take it in.  To answer your unspoken question, no, I did not put on a red cape, winged helmet and carry a claw hammer with me.

Those stay in the footlocker.

The titular character is a prince of Asgard, the realm of the Gods.  Nestled in the branches of the cosmic tree Yggdrasil, Asgard is connected to the other parts of the ‘Nine Realms’ – including Midgard (Earth) and Jotunheim (realm of the giants) – by Bifrost, the Rainbow Bridge.  (An explanation of the realms can be found here.)  Thor and his brother Loki are in line for the throne of Asgard; Thor is eventually chosen by his father Odin but an intrusion by frost giants leads to a series of ugly events, resulting in Thor being cast out of Asgard.

I won’t post any spoilers but readers of the comic can probably guess the major turns of plot; they aren’t all that surprising.  The acting is passable, and the script is Shakespearean to a fault.  However, I give the special effects a superb grade; the visuals of Asgard and the cosmos around it are painted in a wonderful palette and are a visual feast.  The characters are believable and quite likable; Australian actor Chris Hemsworth (as Thor) is sure to provoke some speculative eye-narrowing in the female viewers (or as Mrs. Axe put it, "Oh yeah, he’s hot!").  The dialogue flows well, serves the greater purpose, and in general, no words are wasted.

Familiar characters from previous Marvel movies – Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury and Gregg Clark as SHIELD Agent Coulson – reprise their roles.  Perceptive fans of the Marvel universe might just spot some other well-known characters in the background.  Oh, and always, make sure you stay until after the credits for a bonus scene.

Overall, I enjoyed Thor quite a bit.  I think the gold standard is still The Dark Knight, and even though I am a massive fan of the character, Thor wasn’t quite that good.  It didn’t break any new ground in the comic movie genre but it is solid, entertaining fare.

I give it a B.  Non-fans of comic movies can pass.  If you enjoyed Iron Man, I ‘spect you will enjoy this one too.

Captain America is out in a month, The Avengers next year.  Hell, next year also has The Dark Knight Rises, and the Spider-Man reboot.  The future is so bright, I need to wear shades.