I’ve been talking more and more about the mythology series I have been writing for my fantasy universe. I’m pretty excited about these stories, so I think it’s time I shared why this kind of story is important to me.
I could make this a listicle, but I don’t want to. Follow me on this journey!
Like most public school kids, I was introduced to mythology in elementary social studies classes. The textbook was really about Ancient Greek civilization and history, but they of course added mythology in there for flare. How else are you supposed to get a kid interested in Ancient Greece unless you talk about centaurs and hydras?!
My fourth or fifth grade class put on a play about Hercules, and I played Hermes and one of the three Gorgons.
Somewhere along the line, I received the book World Mythology by Donna Rosenberg. This book provided a truncated versions of many ancient myths across every ancient civilization imaginable. The selection was so diverse, the myths were organized into geographical regions.
I read easily digestible versions of The Iliad and The Odyssey, as well as creation myths from civilizaitons I had never learned about before, like those of ancient Japan, Central America, and West Africa.
I was hooked, both on history and mythology as subjects of study and amateur curiosity. Of course, I loved any pop media that was developed based on these myths. 1999’s The Mummy starring Brendan Frasier arrived just as I was learning to identify Egyptian gods like Horus and Anubis by their depictions. That movie didn’t teach me anything in particular about Egyptian mythology, but it threw kindling on the fire.
I was an avid player of Age of Mythology, a spin-off of Age of Empries, which is perhaps my favorite game franchise of all time. Mythology is an real-time strategy game in which you can choose one of three ancient civilizations: the Norse, the Greeks, or the Egyptians.
With each civilization, you advanced your technology and available forces by worshiping one of their pantheon of gods. Each god brought with them a particular power to unleash on your foes. The Norse god Tyr brought Ragnarok, in which all of your units (military or not) were converted to elite fighting units for one final stand.
Zeus, for the Greeks, sent a thunderbolt down to smite your enemies. You could also call on Greek heroes like Ajax, Chiron, or Jason to fight for your army.
And, of course, the Egyptian goddess Bast created an eclipse to power your army and silence the opposing gods’ powers.
As fun as the actual gameplay was, I had just as much fun learning a bit about each god and what they represented for their respective civilizations.
I could probably write a post entirely about this game. The point is, even pop culture re-imaginings of ancient myths fascinated and entertained me.
That fascination has continued in adulthood. Shortly after grad school, I read The Silmarillion. I loved it. From the creation myth to the story of Beren and Luthien, that book completely blew the roof off of my understanding of Middle Earth. I still feel like a novice student in that universe.
Last year, I read Kevin Crossley-Holland’s The Norse Myths, an academic examination of the two or three primary sources we have for nearly all of Norse mythology, namely, the 12th-century Icelandic poet and historian, Snorri Sturluson.
But, I still enjoy a spot of fictionalized history with a touch of mythology, as seen in the Netflix show, The Last Kingdom.
Those stories — and their examinations — filter through a millennium of history and folklore and legend and illuminate a period of time that feels entirely fantastical to me.
They fed a young boy’s imagination with monsters and adventures and heroes. In a lot of ways, I wish they were true. Not because I want terrible monsters to exist. But because those myths gave me a sense of something greater than myself, whether it was the existence of gods — multiple gods! — or that of humans with supernatural gifts.
Building My Own Mythology
When I set out on this grand world-building project six+ years ago, I didn’t just want to create characters. I wanted to create the world they inhabited. Once I had that, I wanted to go deeper and find some meaning in this fictitious world. How do these people interpret the natural phenomena around them? What do they believe in? How have those beliefs shaped their societies and cultures?
These are the questions I asked myself when I first started writing the mythology for this universe.
I decided early on that I did not simply want to write my own telling of a Gilgamesh or a Heracles — a great hero on an epic quest. (I may write such a story eventually, but not yet.) I wanted to build an entire mythos.
So I started where any decent myth starts: at the beginning.
I’m not sure where this mythology is going yet, but I am ecstatic just to tell this first part.
P.S. – See? How could I possibly distill that into 3-7 bite-sized bullet points? My ramblings are way better than a listicle.