Modern Myth

Well, I’m still working on Shards of Babylon. Should be finished soon… or at least as “finished” as any story of mine ever is. In the meantime I’ve started planning a few short stories to work on later this year. One I’m looking forward to is The Last Giant. It’s going to be a bit of a departure for me, more of a modern fairy tale.

Over the last few years I’ve found myself drawing more heavily on different myths and motifs as inspiration for my stories, which is one reason for TLG; I want to try to create a mythic world, based in the real world. I guess that shouldn’t be a great surprise; mythology and history have always been great interests of mine. The reason I like the “classic” mythic structure, though, is that it’s a great template, allowing character and thematic development against an epic landscape. Myths reflect the times they were created in, the concerns of the people who created them, and right now that offers the chance to talk about the terror age in a way people can understand; that’s something that appeals to me too.

It’ll be a few months until I have TLG finished, but the reason I’m mentioning this is because I was talking to someone about it the other day and she asked me something interesting: why aren’t those kinds of myths still being written today? Stories like The Iliad, Isis and Osiris, Gilgamesh – why are they being retold, instead of new myths being invented? My initial reaction was that all myths are retold stories anyway, but there are new ones being written, in new forms. Where myths used to be handed down through generations, modern myth is now told through the media. But the same themes are there, if you know where to look.

So what is modern myth? I think one of the best examples lies in comic books. It’s no coincidence that the plethora of superhero films we’ve seen recently have achieved such success; the comics they’re based on verge on myth. Comics like Superman and Spider-Man have evolved over their decades in print, creating detailed back-stories and constantly exploring the conflict between good and evil. They’ve created their own mythologies, but while they have done that they’ve also stayed true to the classic themes of all myths: humanity, friendship, love, lust, betrayal. Think of the recent X-Men: The Last Stand. Near the end the X-Men stand united against Magneto and the Brotherhood of Mutants outside the walls of Alcatraz; is this so different than the Trojans and Achaeans clashing outside Troy? Indeed, the mutants are fighting over their “cure”, which you could see as a battle over their immortality and legend; at the heart of The Iliad is Achilles quest for immortality by slaying Hector, a theme that recurs again and again throughout mythology – from Heracles and Gilgamesh, to the quest for the Holy Grail.

Likewise, mythic themes are constantly reinvented in literature. The most obvious example is fantasy, where an entire genre has been derived from the tales and figures of our past; witches, dragons, goblins, fairies, all have their origins in one mythic tale or another (and in some dark fear of their time). Even Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy, perhaps the most famous (and detailed) mythology to have been invented, has its origins in many Germanic and Norse myths. More recent works have taken the classic mythic structure in new directions; the Harry Potter stories in introducing children to classic fairy-tales in unorthodox ways, Garth Nix’s creating a world of the dead in his Abhorsen trilogy, James Morrow’s Towing Jehovah following a classic quest when God’s corpse is found floating in the Pacific. It extends well beyond fantasy, though. Before Shakespeare told Romeo and Juliet, the greatest of all love stories, there were the myths of Tristan and Isolde, Paris and Helen, and many others. In contemporary literature Dan Brown’s The DaVinci Code draws heavily on a mythological structure; not least in its quest archtype or its speculations about Christ, but also in its re-imagining of the quest for the Holy Grail, a theme which again stretches back to the knights of King Arthur, and Achilles. In fact you could say that all stories originate from one mythic theme or another; tales of romance, conflict, revenge, lust, metamorphosis, were shared long before anyone knew how to write. No story is ever truly original, only re-imagined, put in a new context, with new ideas.

My point then is that myth isn’t dead; rather it’s everywhere, echoing in every part of our society, but not everyone recognises it. They expect the same stories to take the same form, but mythology evolves so that its form is different to each generation, while the themes remain. What were oral tales handed down through centuries are now told through the media; through books like The Lord of the Rings, movies like Edward Scissorhands and Pan’s Labyrinth, music like Wagner’s Rings opus. They tell the same stories, in different ways, and reach more people than they ever could before.

And that’s why I’m looking forward to The Last Giant; perhaps somewhat selfishly, because it’s something I’ve long wanted to try, but also because, based in myth, it allows me to reflect the concerns of our time. And that’s the fiction I want to write; stories as much concerned about character as the world it creates. I’m also planning a series later which will draw on those themes again, The Chosen… but we’ll see how TLG goes first!

So in the meantime, why not grab a book, watch a film? Maybe it’s something you’ve read or seen before, maybe not… but in the end, it doesn’t really matter. Chances are you’re familiar with it anyway, aren’t you, in that way we all are: by remembering a time, long ago, when we sat around a campfire, the light flickering on our faces, as our elders told us a story about heroes, gods, and monsters, and we dared to dream.

Pan’s Labyrinth

I saw Pan’s Labyrinth last week, the first film I’ve seen for a long while. What a beautiful film, one of the best I’ve seen. Sometimes I have trouble with subtitles, but I didn’t even notice with this.

Visually Pan’s Labyrinth is stunning; the look of it, the costumes, graphics, light and dark. The story underneath draws you in; it’s meaty, dark, set against the backdrop of war. You genuinely care for Ofelia. Is her belief in the other world real, or a way of escaping the terrors of her world? The last scene stayed with me a long time.

A lot of people have called Pan’s Labyrinth an adult fairy tale, and it is, but I think it’s a morality tale as well. It shows the power of a child’s imagination, but also how decisions aren’t black and white; everything has a consequence. At times it is brutally violent, but you can’t tell a story like this without violence. The violence has an honesty; it shows the darkness of the world Ofelia is trying to escape from, and like with the tales of The Brothers Grimm (before fairy tales were butchered to protect tender eyes and ears), the true strength of Pan’s Labyrinth is only revealed when it shocks and scares.

I can’t recommend Pan’s Labyrinth more highly. The music is beautiful and the film stays with you, as good movies should. It amazes me that something like 300 (glorifying violence, an allegory for modern America and its war) can get so much attention, while Pan’s Labyrinth remains relatively unknown, a film which depicts the best and worst of the human spirit, hope out of darkness. It’s what storytelling should be. Please, please see it.

Pan's Labyrinth

I saw Pan’s Labyrinth last week, the first film I’ve seen for a long while. What a beautiful film, one of the best I’ve seen. Sometimes I have trouble with subtitles, but I didn’t even notice with this.

Visually Pan’s Labyrinth is stunning; the look of it, the costumes, graphics, light and dark. The story underneath draws you in; it’s meaty, dark, set against the backdrop of war. You genuinely care for Ofelia. Is her belief in the other world real, or a way of escaping the terrors of her world? The last scene stayed with me a long time.

A lot of people have called Pan’s Labyrinth an adult fairy tale, and it is, but I think it’s a morality tale as well. It shows the power of a child’s imagination, but also how decisions aren’t black and white; everything has a consequence. At times it is brutally violent, but you can’t tell a story like this without violence. The violence has an honesty; it shows the darkness of the world Ofelia is trying to escape from, and like with the tales of The Brothers Grimm (before fairy tales were butchered to protect tender eyes and ears), the true strength of Pan’s Labyrinth is only revealed when it shocks and scares.

I can’t recommend Pan’s Labyrinth more highly. The music is beautiful and the film stays with you, as good movies should. It amazes me that something like 300 (glorifying violence, an allegory for modern America and its war) can get so much attention, while Pan’s Labyrinth remains relatively unknown, a film which depicts the best and worst of the human spirit, hope out of darkness. It’s what storytelling should be. Please, please see it.

5 favourite movie villains

Another fives list for you; some of the movie villains I love to hate. But with lines like these, how could you not?

5) Agent Smith (Hugo Weaving)
The Matrix Trilogy
“Mr. Anderson. Welcome back. We missed you.”

4) Annie Wilkes (Kathy Bates)
Misery
“I am your number one fan. There is nothing to worry about. You are going to be just fine. I am your number one fan.”

3) Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson)
The Shining
“Here’s Johnny.”

2) Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins)
Psycho
“A boy’s best friend is his mother.”

1) Darth Vader (David Prowse/James Earl Jones)
Star Wars Trilogy
“No. I am your father.”

When did rehab become the “in thing”?

There’s been something about Britney Spears in the news every day this past week; feels like it too. I don’t want to ask if anyone even cares anymore, but aren’t the media going too far with this? It can’t help someone who is self-destructing to see every second of it being analysed on TV. And what’s all this about her parents and friends needing to force her to get help? Yes, they should help, but Spears is 25; they can’t force her to do anything. It’s hypocritical of the media; they say celebrities should be role models, but then can’t have any power in their lives. Unfortunately a part of being in the public eye is having the power to ruin your own life.

A lot of the interest here is voyeuristic, I think; it’s like watching a train wreck – we’re horrified, but can’t look away. It appeals to us on a base level, that it could be us, and it reassures us that we’ve made the right decisions. I’m sure that’s part of the reason why there was so much interest in Anna Nicole Smith’s death as well; the tragedy, her bizarre life, the drama. It’s probably not a coincidence that as Smith’s death was fading, the Spears story broke; one human drama to follow another.

I must admit, when I first heard about the thing with Britney Spears, I thought it was an attempt at career reinvention that had gone wrong. After months of criticism for partying and indecent behaviour, it would make sense that if she wanted to reinvent her career, she’d want to reinvent her image as well. That was the head-shaving, and I’m still not convinced that wasn’t for publicity. But since then everything has really spiralled out of control. And now she’s supposed to be in rehab again.

I don’t understand this trend of treating rehab as a trivial matter. Anyone who has survived an addiction will tell you it’s a hard, difficult slog – anything but trivial. Yet you wouldn’t know that. Celebrities seem to be checking in to rehab at will and it’s being glorified by E! News and the media. Would they all just wake up to reality? Not only are they setting a bad example, they’re treating something very serious with utter disdain. It’s gone from Mel Gibson and Robin Williams being treated for alcoholism, to Linsay Lohan, Kate Moss, Ashley Judd in the past, and now even singer Robbie Williams. And Mia Freedman’s column in The Sun-Herald said that Isaiah Washington from Grey’s Anatomy was admitted to rehab for homophobia. To my knowledge there’s no 30-day program which can help you get over homophobia. Taking an issue like that and making a mockery out of it is deplorable.

What worries me is that this is going to change the way we view addictions in society. Suddenly flirting with drugs, alcohol, sex, racism won’t mean anything; we’ll always be able to get “help”. And if we lose our way, we just go back. But rehab is serious; getting over life-changing abuses, putting your life back together again, is one of the hardest things anybody can do. To treat that trivially and make it socially acceptable is awful; having no respect for the people who struggle with it is even worse.

I hope people like Britney Spears who need help get it; but they should know that if they use something as serious as rehabilitation for publicity, then their careers are over. Some people will think it’s cool, but others will remember how they didn’t take it seriously, how shallow they were, and we won’t forget it.

When did rehab become the "in thing"?

There’s been something about Britney Spears in the news every day this past week; feels like it too. I don’t want to ask if anyone even cares anymore, but aren’t the media going too far with this? It can’t help someone who is self-destructing to see every second of it being analysed on TV. And what’s all this about her parents and friends needing to force her to get help? Yes, they should help, but Spears is 25; they can’t force her to do anything. It’s hypocritical of the media; they say celebrities should be role models, but then can’t have any power in their lives. Unfortunately a part of being in the public eye is having the power to ruin your own life.

A lot of the interest here is voyeuristic, I think; it’s like watching a train wreck – we’re horrified, but can’t look away. It appeals to us on a base level, that it could be us, and it reassures us that we’ve made the right decisions. I’m sure that’s part of the reason why there was so much interest in Anna Nicole Smith’s death as well; the tragedy, her bizarre life, the drama. It’s probably not a coincidence that as Smith’s death was fading, the Spears story broke; one human drama to follow another.

I must admit, when I first heard about the thing with Britney Spears, I thought it was an attempt at career reinvention that had gone wrong. After months of criticism for partying and indecent behaviour, it would make sense that if she wanted to reinvent her career, she’d want to reinvent her image as well. That was the head-shaving, and I’m still not convinced that wasn’t for publicity. But since then everything has really spiralled out of control. And now she’s supposed to be in rehab again.

I don’t understand this trend of treating rehab as a trivial matter. Anyone who has survived an addiction will tell you it’s a hard, difficult slog – anything but trivial. Yet you wouldn’t know that. Celebrities seem to be checking in to rehab at will and it’s being glorified by E! News and the media. Would they all just wake up to reality? Not only are they setting a bad example, they’re treating something very serious with utter disdain. It’s gone from Mel Gibson and Robin Williams being treated for alcoholism, to Linsay Lohan, Kate Moss, Ashley Judd in the past, and now even singer Robbie Williams. And Mia Freedman’s column in The Sun-Herald said that Isaiah Washington from Grey’s Anatomy was admitted to rehab for homophobia. To my knowledge there’s no 30-day program which can help you get over homophobia. Taking an issue like that and making a mockery out of it is deplorable.

What worries me is that this is going to change the way we view addictions in society. Suddenly flirting with drugs, alcohol, sex, racism won’t mean anything; we’ll always be able to get “help”. And if we lose our way, we just go back. But rehab is serious; getting over life-changing abuses, putting your life back together again, is one of the hardest things anybody can do. To treat that trivially and make it socially acceptable is awful; having no respect for the people who struggle with it is even worse.

I hope people like Britney Spears who need help get it; but they should know that if they use something as serious as rehabilitation for publicity, then their careers are over. Some people will think it’s cool, but others will remember how they didn’t take it seriously, how shallow they were, and we won’t forget it.