The Basics, Part VII – “Myths”

Mythic figures

The hero, the legend, the villain

Welcome back! Today, we’re going to be taking a brief look (and it will be brief!) at legendary figures.

So by now, you have a world. You have terrain, climates, seas (perhaps), and maybe coffee beans or an equivalent. Perhaps you have tea. That tea could be found in one part of the world, a mountain slope, on some high up peak and the plant itself is mythical. Then, a young man/woman (duo, singular), makes a trek, faces dangers, and returns with it and plants it in the fertile soils of a realm. Thus, we have a myth.

Or how about a king who is given a sword by some lady who rises out of the shimmering waves of a body of water? A chap who hears the voice of God through a bush that is aflame? How about that fellow Gilgamesh, who built a boat when the world was covered in flood waters? Or that other fellow who took on twelve tasks – Heracles. Or those that fought during the Trojan War? The list goes on and on and on and on and on. Every culture has their own mythic figures, some born from war, others with the descent of the gods; those who are servants of God/the gods, others who perform great deeds.

Cultural Impact

What bywords and popular phrases have resulted from these myths, the ‘common wisdom’? “Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth”, “Crossing the Rubicon”, “Beware the ides of March” – what others can you think of?

Format of Telling

If you want to enrich your world, build legends. Create myth. Have fun. Draw from historical events within your world and then embellish them. But no matter what myths you make, it’s important that you decide on a format of storytelling for them (in universe) – are these oral tales, told around campfires, or are they written down? Is it a form of theatre? How does language change over time? Remember, this is probably going to happen before television. Another point to bear in mind is this: are they meant to be taken literally; do people ardently believe that they are real? Are they allegorical, metaphorical, entertainment, or are they a mix?

Most important of all: what variations are there? Is the king who is given a sword from the woman in the lake good and noble? Is the woman a fey spirit, a creature of beauty, or a hag? Is she luring him into a trap? Is the sword cursed? Is the lake poisonous? There are many little details that can be altered and this will significantly impact the tale. Do neighbouring villages/nations share common myths? Is it a way of unifying people from different backgrounds? Traders who sit around a campfire and share stories – familiar stories, but with different named heroes and villains?

Types of Myth

How about natural (and/or magical) disasters so great that it imprints it into the collective mindset of everyone of a region for generations upon generations? That their descendants still remember the terrible ’quake of 183, the ’quake that shook the world. Or how about the mega-storm that throttled the crops for twelve years and cast a great darkness upon the land? The great darkness that came in the wake of the fire mountain that burst – or perhaps they didn’t know there was a volcano, only a tsunami. Or a terrible plague. Maybe the first time magic was used?

And in these terrible times, or times of great bounty when the harvests were ripe and plentiful (unlike now, perhaps), who were the figures that stepped up? The ones who worked the rice paddies, the princes who saved the kingdom, the vile princesses who overthrew their father and slaughtered the corrupt court? The noble queen who tamed the dragon? The peasant boy who became a sorcerer? And so on and so forth.

Tying it All Together

With these, how can you tie them into your world specifically? What makes your myths special? Maybe they are simple archetypes – but perhaps they inspire your protagonist and/or your villain. Perhaps both the villain and the protagonist venerate the same legend. It’s up to you. But a world without stories is bland. Even if those stories are people being born out of giant peaches floating down a river… or islands formed by falling droplets off a sword, or the sun reaching down to kiss the sea (okay, I made the last one up – there’s probably some myth about that somewhere though!), tales of giants, or generations of gods and demigods, those stories will enrich your story-world.

In Summary:

· Popular idioms as a result of myths

· Alterations between myths sharing an origin

· How myths are told and retold? Shifts in the telling/style of telling

· How is the myth meant to be received? Literal, allegorical, entertainment, mixed?

· Myths change over time – embellished, meanings (cultural contact) lost, new characters added; sometimes they are hijacked for propaganda, tucked away when they’re inconvenient, trotted out as necessary…

· Festivals/ceremonies arising out of myths? Holy days – holidays? Cults that have come out of these myths? (Opposing cults…?)

· How are the characters in the myth seen? In one telling, the protagonist is good, in another, vile.

· How much is based on truth? How much is embellished? How are they believed generations on? Truth is stranger than fiction. Is there any archaeological evidence that is later discovered that suggests the myths are true?

· How does it affect your story characters?

What myths can you think of? I’d love to hear from you!

Until next time!

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