What have I learned about the world from myth as a writer and a reader? Since writing Beyond the Door and The Peculiars I’ve been thinking about why myth matters. Over the next week I’ll be blogging in the U.S and U.K. about six things I’ve learned from mythic stories that have inspired me. Plus there will be fun giveaways and a post by cover artist Victo Ngai! Follow the thread…
What I’ve Learned from Myth Part 1 (with a little help from Mr. Tolkien)
The World is not a Safe Place
“It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.” Fellowship of the Ring
Go down any road in myth and you are likely to encounter…dark woods with no way out, labyrinths with monsters at the center, fairy mounds thick with enchantment, shapeshifters and on wind torn nights, the Wild Hunt. The mythic world is not a tame place. Don’t we know this already? And yet our culture tells us logic will prevail. If we do x, then y will follow. Myth reminds us that the world can be as wild and unpredictable as “an old wives’ tale,” at one moment full of heartbreaking joy and the next as dark as dragon’s lair. Myth never denies the existence of evil. Evil is real, horrific and evil is never good. To dismiss evil easily, is to diminish goodness. The unpredictable and fantastic are just around the corner. We are separated from the impossible by the thinnest of veils.
There is No Easy Way Out of the Maze
When Theseus finds his way to the heart of the maze, he must battle the Minotaur. When Hansel & Gretel get lost in the woods, the birds eat their breadcrumbs. Struggle and conflict will always be part of the journey. We shouldn’t be surprised when the dragons sweep in. In fact, dragons are essential because struggle and conflict, change us, create our arc. Every story is propelled by conflict. Readers want conflict and tension. Myth reminds us that conflict and tension are part of a full life and help make us who we are.
“Do we really have to go through [Mirkwod]?” groaned the hobbit. “Yes, you do!” said the wizard, “if you want to get to the other side. You must either go through or give up your quest. There are no safe paths in this part of the world.” The Hobbit
We Fear the Wrong Things
When King Arthur created the round table, with his brilliant vision of right over might, he was prepared for the enemy without. He was undone by Mordred. Time and again we find the hero’s fatal flaw bringing about his downfall. Think of Achilles and his vulnerable heel. Our heel may be pride or greed or even the dailiness of life that consumes us. We fall in love with Selkies, who will always return to the sea. We fear risk and adventures and looking like fools when the greatest battles rage in our own hearts.
It was at this point that Bilbo stopped. Going on from there was the bravest thing he ever did. The tremendous things that happened afterwards were as nothing compared to it. He fought the real battle in the tunnel alone, before he ever saw the vast danger that lay in wait. The Hobbit
That’s it for today. Tomorrow 3 more lessons from myth for writers, for readers, for living at Making it Up Follow the thread…
Maureen Doyle McQuerry