Recreating new story-worlds from the past

Professor Susanna Braund, from the Classics Department at University of British Colombia, had an interesting take on re-vocalizing mythology. In her podcast, commonly available on Youtube, she looks at Margaret Atwood‘s Siren Song as a re-vocalization of the sirens (read: harpies) based on their origin stories, incorporating Homer (the Odyssey) and Ovid‘s (Metamorphoses7) versions. Her song is from the siren’s perspective; it was written during the height of postmodern feminist movement in the mid 70’s. In essence, Margaret Atwood succeeded in injecting a new perspective on an existing character (the Harpie) that many would have recognized and bought into already, familiar with stories of Persephone’s abduction, the curse of Phineus, the Greek tragedies.

Many immersive storyworlds today recreate from entire worlds of the past because they are easily recognizable and at once immersive. Greek mythology provides a great storyworld because not only is there an existing pantheon of gods, demigods and mortals to draw from for rich characters (and intertextual stories), there are famous locations rooted in real world places, and a whole set of rules/morass informed by Ancient Greek civilization. Those rules include ethical codes, societal expectations, beliefs, interpretations of the divine/supernatural, gender roles, political relationships, laws of the land.

If you have Playstation 2, play God of War. It won’t take long to recognize characters and species, locations, battle scenes taken entirely from Greek mythology: harpies, sirens, Castor and Pollux, the Minotaur, Artemis, etc. “[God of War] is set in Ancient Greece with vengeance as its central motif. The player controls the protagonist Kratos, a Spartan warrior who serves the Olympian Gods.”  If you get past Castor and Pollux at the temple, you’ll get to consult with the Oracle of Delphi 🙂 for your next steps.

Videogames are the best references for entire storyworlds re-created from myth. Sometimes they are also recreated from history, such as Assasin’s Creed, Ubisoft’s bestselling franchise. The game is a historical action-adventure where the player gets to inhabit different characters from different time periods in the past, in order to get through a challenge and complete his mission.

With so many series of the game out there, the storyworld created started getting so big that Ubisoft had to hire something like 20 writers and put them in a room to compile the be-all-end-all compendium of Assassin’s Creed for the company, so that its creators did not make mistakes that would ruin the make-believe for the players. No wonder game guides, wikias and game walkthroughs are so prevalent. They serve as references that extend and boost the make-believe of the overall storyworld.

Lord of the Rings, Britain’s most prodigious piece of mythology in the last century, was strung together from JRR Tolkien’s knowledge of motifs within two story-worlds: “Middle Earth” from the cosmology of Norse mythology, and knights and dragon-slaying and greed (represented by the obsession of the gold ring) from Arthurian legends. I don’t have to go into how much his work influenced the fantasy-fiction genre that followed.

Of course, there are really hardworking fantasy fiction authors out there who create standalone story worlds with no hook in history or myth. Trudi Canavan drew up extensive maps, characters, histories, and geo-political relationships of the Sachakan and Kyralia people for her Black Magician trilogy. Nevertheless, the inspiration for the relationship between the poor citizens who were “purged” from the cities to live in slums in Kyralia vs the Magicians who roam the guilds was taken from the Beijing Olympics held during the summer of 2008.


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