It's been my tremendous privilege to get to know Daniel Tyler Gooden in this way. He's a wonderfully talented writer (he's the author of the BT novel The Unmade Man and cowriter of the main storyline web comic, The Torn God), a great editor, and an ace with keeping continuity in his head. As the Baeg Tobar content editor, he worked pretty closely with lyster and me when we first started fleshing out Blood and Tumult, and once our draft is done, I imagine we'll be chatting more frequently again. I'm also hoping we'll start talking parenting: his son sounds just a bit older than Bug, and it's always exciting to watch kids just a bit older than her do momentous things -- like take their first steps -- when I know that's in Bug's near future.
Without further ado, here's a musing from Daniel on my favorite subject: mythology in fiction.
I had been mulling around the importance of mythology in fiction when Alana asked me if I would like to guest blog. Knowing she is a fan of the topic, it seemed destined to be the subject of the day.
Two works recently had me thinking about mythology’s importance in fiction, specifically for world building. I read Patrick Rothfuss’s The Name of the Wind. In the same week, I ran across an article in Analog, September ’09, by Richard A. Lovett, "From Atlantis to Canoe-Eating Trees: Geomythology Comes of Age."
Rothfuss has a well-developed world, much of it due to his main character, Kvothe, being born into a traveling group of entertainers. Stories spill out in every direction, as Kvothe performs with his family and learns of the legends and lore that are the core of the troupes’ trade. Rothfuss takes it one step further with Kvothe’s father's quest to writing an accurate song around the world’s greatest boogieman, the Chandrian. What I liked best about the Chandrian is that they are so feared that the only place you hear their name not whispered is in the play songs of children. Needless to say, the Chandrian take a big part in the storyline as it develops.
The use of bards, minstrels and storytellers to flesh out a world certainly is not new. For me, though, Rothfuss used it so well that the importance of mythology for building solid back-story really drove home. I felt I had a solid sense of not just the history of Rothfuss’s world, but why its people were who they were.
Lovett’s article further shored up the great value of mythology with a number of excellent examples of our own legends explained through the study of Geology and science. The story that stuck with me is from the Indian legends of the Pacific Northwest.
Twin sons of the Great Spirit, Wyeast and Pahto, spent their time feuding from opposite sides of the Columbia River. The cause of their spat was the beautiful woman Tah-one-lat-clah. Tired of the sons throwing fire and rock at each other, the Great Spirit intervened. To honor the brother’s truce, the Great Spirit built a stone bridge over the Columbia, near present day Bonneville Dam. Long story short, the brothers couldn’t keep the peace, accidently set the woman on fire, and all three retired to be later known as Mt. Adams, Mt. Hood, and, as Tah-one-lat-clah, Mt. St. Helens.
It is a good myth -- just a good story -- until you look at Louis and Clark’s journals. They found tall trees submerged in a slow section of the Columbia. It was figured that a large landslide had blocked the river. Geological studies of Mt. Adams and Mt. Hood show evidence of eruptions several hundred years ago, and Mt. St. Helens somewhere in the late 1400s. Dating on the tree trunks in the Columbia put the landslide early to mid 1400s, right in line with the legend. Lovett produces many more such examples, and if you like this kind of detective work, hunt down this article.
For myself, I have used mythology a handful of times in a world-building project, Baeg Tobar, Alana and I are involved with. Needing a legend surrounding a tall natural stone tower, I wrote of a curious boy who wished to see all the world. Climbing for days, he reached the top but found his curiosity unabated. Following the gods' advice (everyone knows you can hear godly voices better from high altitudes) he casts himself off the tower. The boy hits the ground, shattering into hundreds of crows who spread their race around the globe, ever watchful and curious. The best part of writing this as fiction is it might be a story wrapped around a more plausible event, or maybe it is just true.
Thanks for lending me your time, even though, if you are a writer as well, you know you should be writing.