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On retellings and reimaginings

The Eschaton Cycle revolves largely around reimagining all world mythology within a single dark fantasy framework. In many cases, this means sticking closely to source material, while in others, it means reinterpreting those materials within this framework. Because alteration of any beloved or culturally significant material holds emotional weight, I want to discuss the issue, at least in brief.

On Hollywood Retellings

Many have claimed the superhero story as the modern myth, so it seems a fair enough place to start. After all, we find ourselves inundated with superhero films ranging from family-friendly to supremely gritty, from comedic to deathly serious. In recent years, Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel and its sequels proved divisive as some loved it and some complained “that’s not my Superman.”

For what it’s worth, I actually loved it, as for the first time, it made care about the character. But that’s neither here nor there.

Others, who disliked the film—and here I’m speaking to those disliking it because of the portrayal of Superman, not because they would have disliked another film similar in presentation not tied to a comic—felt a betrayal. A variance in depiction of something iconic from their childhood and culture which offends for its very differences.

These feelings matter, of course, because our emotional journey is our reality.

However, they do kind of miss the point of a reimagining—namely that it must depict the tale in new form, or it is a simple copy. Such reimaginings draw inspirations from classics, while placing a new spin upon them (compare the campy old Battlestar Galactica to the 2000s gritty one).

The existence of an alternative interpretation or new rendition of a classic does not destroy the original or prevent one from enjoying that. Rather, it provides an alternative for those who want another flavor.

Most importantly, I think no one puts in the work of reimagining a tale unless they truly loved the source material. It meant something to them, too, and they wanted to pay homage to it while putting their unique spin on it.

Which brings me to mythology …

A fellow mythographer once spoke to me about how readers sometimes complain about the tiniest of variations from source materials (in his case the Poetic Edda, something we had in common while I was working on Gods of the Ragnarok Era). We agreed, that if someone wanted the Poetic Edda verbatim, that is readily available in translation. What point would there be in copying an existing work directly?

A while back, I was giving a talk and someone commented that she would not like it very much were an author to retell her culture’s mythology and make changes. I tried to explain the necessity of some alterations, but the forum didn’t much allow for great depth (to say nothing of the fact I find it easier to express myself in writing).

With my upcoming work largely focused on Greek mythology, I’ll take one of my favorite characters, that of Prometheus. Our greatest primary source for his tales comes from the Prometheia trilogy of plays by Aeschylus, of which, only the first play is available in complete form. We have almost nothing of the final play, and only fragments of the second.

Of course, we have also the older depiction from Hesiod. Which contradicts some of what we do have from Aeschylus.

Because mythology changed over time.

In Norse myth, our primary sources are the Poetic Edda and Prose Edda (by Snorri Sturluson). Which frequently contradict each other (to say nothing of some of the poems also being fragments). Then, Snorri goes on to contradict himself, especially in his later work Heimskringla.

There is no megalithic canonical corpus for ancient mythologies.

In Greek myth, in particular, mythographers often divide conceptions of deities into time periods because they changed so much. Which is the true version?

Secondly, even if one wanted to choose a solitary source as canon and work from it, these sources are largely poems, plays, or snippets. There is, quite simply, not enough material to make a full length novel without expanding or extrapolating or otherwise deviating from the source.

So why do any of it? Why take the artistic license with an existing mythos rather than create something wholesale in the vein of so many fantasy authors?

Here, the simplest answer of all: love.

Mythographers love these classic stories.

Reimaginings try to infuse the tales with new life by incorporating traditional elements while still putting a fresh spin on those materials. In my case, this means reconciling all world mythologies (a world where Prometheus and Odin can both have existed), as well as incorporating other elements of my personal loves (e.g. dark fantasy, horror, and philosophy).

Retellers, reimaginers, those working with classic tales do so because those tales speak to them. Because they matter.

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  1. Ann Hupe says:

    I think more children would read the classics if they were initially exposed to the comic book version of said classes. That’s how I first read Dracula and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Wow! And why not? Kids are more visual at that age and like cartoons and comics (like I did).

    1. mattlarkin says:

      You’re probably right.

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