A few months ago, my teen son came home from school and began to talk about what had happened in his English class. They were reading the Odyssey and the teen was recounting a discussion he’d had with his teacher. Of course, since I can’t remember conversations I had a couple of days ago, let alone a month, I don’t remember the details of the conversation or what character/creature my son and his teacher were discussing. But I do remember that the teacher asked a question about the story that he answered correctly. Huzzah! The teen said to me, “You know where I learned that, Mom?” Uh, your English class? Nope. “God of War.” Well, color me proud. I knew God of War wasn’t just about Kryos’s vendetta against the
gods. It’s educational! I wonder if his English teacher would agree…
But this sparked an interesting question in my writer’s brain: Are fantasy writers changing the landscape of mythology as we know it? Let’s face it. The kid got lucky. There’s plenty of stuff in that video game that doesn’t mesh with traditional mythology. As writers, sometimes we take off in a different direction, blaze a new trail, and start fresh. And now we have reference sources like Wikipedia, where anyone can log on, create an entry (or edit an existing one), and post it for the entire world to see. It’s one of the first sites listed in most Google searches, and I have to admit, I use the site more often than not. And what about video games? Like I said, the teen thinks he’s getting legit info from these story lines. Sometimes he is…but what about the times when he isn’t?
Did you ever play the “rumor game” in high school? You know, the one at the start of the year assembly where the staff is trying to teach the kids a lesson about spreading gossip? The story starts out innocently enough, but by the time it works its way through several hundred kids, it’s a completely different story. The same concept can be applied to mythology. A story is handed down through generations. There are re-tellings, details get lost in translation, and a hundred or so years later, it ends up on a wiki site completely different than the original story.
When I started writing Shaedes of Gray, I knew that I’d have to break from tradition. The Shaedes of my imagination didn’t conform to anything I could find in my research. So I wrote a creation myth and gave them mortal enemies of Greek tragedy proportions in their Lyhtan cousins. I found the word in some on-line ancient words dictionary. Lyhtan—a verb—literally means, “to make light.” What better word to name my creatures that were so different from my shadow-loving Shaedes. And since I couldn’t find a creature in mythology that fit my vision of the Lyhtan, I made them up from scratch.
Of course this is nothing new. Fantasy writers have been doing this since…well, forever. And with the video game industry booming with historical titles like Assassin’s Creed and big-time fantasy like World of Warcraft, there’s a lot of room to make an impression. The Assassin’s Creed franchise is based on historical events. The developers worked extensively with historians and religious scholars to lend authenticity to their game. And I bet most of the people you ask have at least heard of WOW, a game so vast and intricate in its world-building that there are entire wiki’s dedicated to the game.
But when does a story reach beyond mere fiction and become myth? Will the exploits of Odysseus fade into obscurity and become lost amongst hundreds of other tales lost in history? Now, I’m not saying that fantasy writers are affecting an instant change on the mythological landscape. But who’s to say, a couple hundred years from now, a Humanities teacher in some futuristic society won’t be reading the works of George R.R. Martin to her class and drilling the mythos into their young, malleable brains? Will our increasingly digital culture look to video games like Assassin’s Creed for a quick history lesson? And in the muddled age of wiki-sources, how will our teachers fact-check a student’s research paper when that child could easily submit or manipulate an entry on a research site?
What do you guys think? Are writers changing the landscape of mythology as we know it? Or will history and myths continue on the straight and narrow path, never to deviate from its original version?