March 19th, 2006

bear by san

this is a movement

pwn is to pronounced as if were Welsh, dammit. "poon."

Not p-own. Not pone.


Say it with me.

It's stillsostrange's fault that I am thinking about this, but I want to talk about mythology and the folk process.

Specifically, for the SFF writer, and generally speaking, respect for myth and legendry is bad. It will confine you to a narrow band of already strip-mined territory, and it will cripple your ass.

Please note, I am not talking about respect for cultures or religions. Nor am I talking about authenticity. (I have mixed emotions about cultural appropriation as an issue. On the one hand, I'm a firm believer in respecting other people's traditions. On the other hand, literature is a seven thousand year tradition of swiping shit, and my own cultural heritage (Norse, Celtic, Slavic, not really enough Cherokee to count) is the most heavily swiped of all. It comes pre-swiped, really. The swiping started long before Mallory. Hell, we swiped it from each other. What's a girl to do? Yeah, I'm sure I'm going to get a nasty letter from somebody about the Bunyip.)

Authenticity--real authenticity--is rare, and neat, and wonderful. If you can do it, more power to you. If you can do it and make it feel fresh and powerful, I'll be buying your books 'til Kingdom Come.

It is not my purpose to discuss that here.

What I want to talk about is the mythic retelling (please Goddess, says the slushpile reader, not another Orpheus!)  and the purloined fairy tale.

I've talked before about crappy covers, in music, and how most of the time the reason why they are crappy is because the band doesn't manage a new arrangement. They don't bring anything new to the table. They don't pwn (poon) that song.

Thus it is with myth. If you're just kind of retelling the story and not reinventing it, you're not giving it any juice. Where's the fresh perspective? Where's the horn section?

Where's the cowbell?

By which I mean, I think as writers, when dealing with myth and legend and balladry, we can't be too respectful. We can't be afraid of our material. We have to get down in there and get dirty, roll in it, rip it apart. Not just take off the glossy surface, but get our fingernails into the fat. Add a French adulterer with a strong right arm! Throw in a verse about a train platform! Invent a new devil, go ahead! Call him, oh, Moloch, or Mephistopheles. Add hobbits to your standard Norse alfar, light and dark! Toss in a Moor with a thing for gunpowder!

...okay, maybe not that last.

But I mean it. You have to own the myth you're working in. It's got to become yours, your own soup, your own story. It's got to come out through the crucible of your imagination reforged, refined, alloyed.

Otherwise, you're just mining the same old rock.

Of course, you may be worried that people are going to bitch.

Here's the unhappy truth: people are going to bitch. "Balin and Thalin are in the Voluspa, but who is this Bilbo fellow? And Gandalf? Gandalf? I dunno what Edda from which you get a Gandalf." (see comments for Norse myth corrections; this is what I get for being too lazy to look at the damned poem.)

Whatever. Sir Cei started off the strongest of Arthur's knights. Look at him now, the whiner.

Stories change; it is their nature. Sometimes they change for the better, and sometimes they change for the worse. Stagolee shoots Billy, and sometimes, sometimes Delia shoots him back. Heythe is Gullveig is Freya. Tam Lin's horse changes color mid-stride. Robin of Locksley wasn't Robin Hood until the 1500s; before that, the man with the bow was a yeoman, not a noble. And Alan-a-Dale was a late arrival too.

A good craftsman respects his tools and knows their power, for weal or woe. But he doesn't fear them. We carry on. The stories just get richer. The layers of truth get deeper. That other stuff is for historians.

We're all liars here.

bear by san

Age and treachery, youth and skill

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Really. Somebody's a little more at home with his mortality than somebody else, I'd say.

Also, how the hell did I manage to miss this all these years?

In me thou see'st the glowing of such fire,
That on the ashes of his youth doth lie,
As the death-bed, whereon it must expire,
Consum'd with that which it was nourish'd by.

That thing Tim Powers talks about, where you start rooting around in history trying to find material with which to make stuff up and wind up half-convinced you've uncovered a vast conspiracy? It's so bloody true.

It's a good thing I put elves in mine, or I'd be convinced by now. (This is how conspiracy theorists are born. Well, that and the uneasy suspicion that between them, Francis Walsingham and Robert Cecil were really the instigators of every assassination attempt they allegedly foiled for a good fifty years.)

* Yeah, yeah, everybody in period from Marlowe to Descartes. I'm sure it's just because they all had syphilis. It's still creepy at 7 am.

Incidentally, does anybody know who the subject of Campion's Arthur epigram is? Google is less than helpful with that, though it's giving me creepy sonnets galore.

Camelot project, previously linked but worth rolling in some more.

Memo to me: read The Misfortunes of Arthur Dude, it's got an Angharad in it.