I spent my 2017 academic year picking a fight with Joseph Campbell and his blithe assumption that The Hero can only ever be a dude. Well, as my focus shifts from Heroes to Tricksters, the same issues crop up. The most famous mythological Tricksters discussed in the field and in popular culture tend to come from the following list: Norse Loki, Greek Hermes, West African Anansi, Polynesian Maui, and various versions of the archetype that appear in Native American mythology in the form of the Coyote, Raven, and Hare characters. These are all Trickster gods rather than goddesses. Lewis Hyde—whose book Trickster Makes This World I’ve quoted a few times in this series—quite confidently declared that “All the standard tricksters are male”. And, in a broad sense, he’s correct. But does this need to be the case? There are plenty of folks—including one particular writer I’ll be looking at today—who say “c’mon, my guy” and disagree. Continue reading
Storytelling has been an important part of life for essentially all of human history. In this long tradition of tale-weaving there are a few structures and archetypes we just keep coming back to, from ancient mythology to modern movies. One of them is the Trickster, which, in my view, is entirely fair—after all, it’s one of the most blatantly fun character archetypes out there, brimming with cheekiness and social commentary and a degree of unpredictability that you don’t always find with stories about, say, Heroes or Lovers. We’re not telling stories of gods and monsters so much these days, but this ancient character type is still strolling through our popular culture, though perhaps in slightly different shapes and sizes. Continue reading
The women of Dragon Pilot: Hisone and Masotan have a lot to deal with. The central premise of the show is that dragons exist and have been camouflaged from the general public throughout history—in the modern day, this means disguising them as planes. Only a special few can form the kind of bond it takes to “pilot” these mythical beasties, however. Dragon pilots are always, and have always been, women only; and they have to be chosen by the dragon itself.
Lady pilot and dragon also have to be emotionally and mentally in sync, sort of like how you have to be “Drift Compatible” to co-pilot in Pacific Rim, except that the characters in Pacific Rim are not swallowed whole by their mech-partners at any point. To add to the physical strain, the rigorous training, and the daily ordeal of being eaten, these dragon-attuned women have one more vital code they must adhere to to retain their prestigious position: they cannot, under any circumstances, fall in love, because that will bust the entire system and they will no longer be able to fly. It’s just the way it is, and always has been.
So the dragon pilots are exclusively women, have a “warrior” status, a special connection to nature, and are forbidden from falling in love lest they lose their power. If this sounds familiar, it’s because Dragon Pilot is playing around with some very old ideas. Continue reading
Coming up with a solid mythology, belief system, or set of traditions and folklore, is a key part of a lot of fantastical worldbuilding—making stories to go within the story, if you will, to make the world feel more fleshed out. After all, it’s human nature to tell stories, and any group of humans will inevitably come with their own folklore, be they creation myths or cautionary tales. But the tricky thing with stories, especially ancient ones passed down by word of mouth, is that even though they’re presented as historical fact, they may not be as true as they once were. Or, in the case of the in-universe folklore I’m talking about in this post, they might contain more truth than the characters hearing them first realised—throwing the nature of the stories into question, and making the world they’re in much stranger, richer, and more mysterious for the reader engaging with them.
Spoilers for the end of Night in the Woods beyond this point! Continue reading
I like Transformers now, and I like Starscream. Who’d have thought? And who’d have thought it would lead me down a tangent about the mythological archetype of the Trickster and the blurring of the gender binary within?
It’s the high heels, is what it is. The Transformers property I’ve grown attached to is the 2011-2013 animated series Transformers Prime, which WB got me into, and in which Starscream is rocking a pair of stilettos built in to his very mechanics. Many of the characters went through a design overhaul for Prime, most notably baddies like Soundwave, who is no longer a walking boombox that you can slot other Decepticons into; and Starscream, who’s now delightfully spindly and spiky compared to his earlier, blockier counterparts, and who now has better-looking legs than me complete with those wonderful heels. To me, this look conveys his character well—one glance at this robot and you can tell he’s bad news, but you can also tell what kind of bad news he is. Continue reading
The Greek myths are essentially one long soap opera about a big, rowdy family being terrible to each other and having lots of sex. Gods Behaving Badly knows this and takes it in stride, abandoning all pretence that The Classics are meant to be Deep and Serious and instead happily telling a flippant and flyaway story about the shenanigans that ensue when the Greek pantheon is forced to downgrade from Mount Olympus to a run-down townhouse in modern London (except for Poseidon, who lives in a seaside shack; and Persephone, who enjoys the Underworld a lot more than staying with her bickering mess of an incestuous supernatural family. Can you blame her?) It captures the delights of myth on both the epic, world-altering scale, and in its full beauty as just tangled, emotional tales of people being shitty to each other in the most theatrical way possible.
Spoilers for the end of the novel hereafter, and discussion of sexual assault (a warning that, unfortunately, should come clipped to every look at Greek mythology) Continue reading
Now, I’m not especially well-versed in Greek mythology, but I know enough to affirm that the gods were always screwing with people. A contemporary comedy novel about the interplay between ancient gods and the modern world looks like the perfect place to play with this, as well as of course the business of modern romance and the pursuit of happiness, but instead this book left me with the baffling conclusion that none of us have any autonomy and we are all playthings of the selfish divines. Continue reading
In banquet halls of old, as bards and poets pranced around regaling everyone with the latest daring legends, I wonder if there was ever any guest leaning on the table sighing “Not another bleeding love triangle.” Because, as previously discussed, they are everywhere… and have been for thousands of years.
Why is this? Well, the bottom line is, people love a bit of drama, and romance tends to generate an awful lot of that, especially when it can be tweaked and stakes-raised by the magic of storytelling—this has been true as long as fiction has existed. In past eras arranged marriages were also much more common, leading to more potential for conflict of affections and love that Society Just Doesn’t Understand.
Another reason there are so darn many of the love polygons peppering our legendary literature is because they were part of a strong oral tradition, and thus a million different versions are floating around in the fictional ether. People were always on the lookout for new stories and a lot of them were mashed together, borrowed from and mutated over time and over mass handling, seeing as half the fun was in the telling—pre-established myths were often adjusted by the individual storyteller, often to make the setting more relatable to the locale of their audience, to change the appearance of the goddess-like beauty of the heroine to match and thus flatter the hostess, or just for funsies.
In any case, the key elements of these grand legends of love remain the same and are, interestingly enough, still the mould that modern love triangle dilemmas are based on.