For those of you who have been following my extended series on Demons, Monsters, Ghosts, and other fantistical creatures on While We’re Paused, starting here, I will be continuing that series here. For those of you who have not followed this series, or who question its value to writers, this post is intended to show you why mythology (both ancient and modern) is important to our career, especially in the fantasy genre.
Fantasy writing depends on the old, the ancient, and the legendary for its very existence. Without myth, monsters, and heroes to fight them the fantasy genre would not exist. Now this is not to say that the monsters need to be the focus of the story, or that a mythological world view (a term coined by the theologian Rudolf Bultmann) must be the only viewpoint that can be expressed. However, even relatively low magic, low fantasy settings such as George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire include both the mythical and the monstrous to some degree.
I have read/seen many modern works of fantasy and urban fantasy that do not respect, or seem to even understand, the myths, legends, and lore surrounding their contents (Stephanie Meyer, I’m looking at you). These authors take a general idea, and attempt to make it their own, often in ways that violate the very heart of the creatures or legends that they reference. The Twilight series is an excellent example of this. Meyer effectively removes every negative of being a vampire, and in doing so makes them less monster and more uberminch, or possibly demigod. In folklore the monstrous exists for a reason, it is frightening, it is negative, and it is inviolably dangerous. Numerous modern authors have taken this concept of the monstrous and twisted it into something desirable. We no longer fear Dracula, instead we want to date him.
In this series I have delved into the legend, lore, history, and modern use of a number of creatures including archetypal demons, vampires, and most lately, werewolves (which is where I will be picking up the series). The need for an understanding of the origins, and evolution, of this mythology cannot be overstated for writers. Yes, we have artistic liberty, but if we are going to use that which came before us, then we should understand it, and respect it, first. We should seek to understand the reasons behind the legends, and the consequences that our alteration of them will bring, before we sit down to write. This is an understanding that many authors seem to have lost.
So, the purpose of this series is threefold, 1) it is interesting and fun, as should be any creative endeavor to which we devote our time and energy, 2) it is intended to educate both the writer, and the reader, about the origins and evolution of the monstrous throughout history, so that it may be used effectively, and appropriately, and 3) it is intended to provide writers with a wide array of monstrous creatures for use in their stories (variety is the spice of life after all).
I hope that you all both enjoy and benefit from my research and work in this field, and that you can make use of it in understanding where the monstrous fits in your worlds and writings.