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Using real-world mythology: Lazy or not?

Discussion in 'World Building' started by The Stranger, Dec 15, 2015.

  1. The Stranger

    The Stranger Dreamer

    I make this post to get an idea for what every bodies opinion is. do you think its lazy to use real-world mythology (Greek, Nordic, Egyption, etc...) or do you think it is just another way to do story telling and put an interesting spin on the source material? do you think that a piece of fiction is less interesting if it uses these old myths? any thoughts and opinions are welcomed below, simply looking to start discussion
    Dark Lord Thomas Pie likes this.
  2. ThinkerX

    ThinkerX Myth Weaver

    Depends on the world, and the origin of that worlds inhabitants.

    If an alternate earth (like Skip's world) or a world where aliens imported humans from earth over a period of millennia (like mine), then no problem.

    If the people did not originate from earth, then you might have issues. You might also get creative - how that situation came about could be a tale in its own right.
    Dark Lord Thomas Pie likes this.
  3. Jerseydevil

    Jerseydevil Minstrel

    There is no such thing as a bad story idea, only bad execution of that idea.
    It really depends on the type of story you are writing. If it is an urban fantasy set in our world where the myths are real, it will work well, because that's the nature of the genre. Using myths as say aliens, for example, with their god-like powers being really just advanced tech, its been done to the point of cliche like Stargate, Battlestar Galactica, Too Human (terrible game btw), etc.
    Again, there's nothing inherently wrong with it, but it may be a bit overdone. You could try using myths as an inspiration for an original story rather than using the myths themselves. Just my two cents.
    Dark Lord Thomas Pie likes this.
  4. NerdyCavegirl

    NerdyCavegirl Sage

    I don't think it's a bad idea on its own, as long as it's well-written, but I feel as if certain pantheons (and cultures in general) get a little to much attention. Mainly Greek, Roman, Norse, almost anything European in general. Not that those aren't awesome too. I'd just like to see more Eastern-themed fantasy, or a Central/South American flavor, with more focus on those deities.
    Dark Lord Thomas Pie likes this.
  5. Penpilot

    Penpilot Staff Article Team

    Well, it depends on how you think about it. Lazy can be defined as an unwillingness to do work or use energy.

    So using real mythology--which kind of sounds like a oxymoron--can save someone time and effort, which one can define as lazy. But laziness is a motivating factor in our world. Typing on a computer can be considered lazy, so in a way the invention of the computer was based on the desire to be more lazy. No? Why not write everything by hand?

    In writing there are constant give and takes, pros and cons, to doing something a particular way. There are benefits to using something pre-existing and there are drawbacks, just as there are benefits and drawbacks to making something from scratch.

    When you use something familiar in your story, less effort is needed to get the reader comfortable to it in your story. When you use the word Minotaur, most people know what that is without need for a detailed description.

    But if you had a creature called the Smagotaur, you're going to have to do a lot more work to get the reader to understand what that is.

    The former allows you to focus on the story instead of the details. You'll probably have a lot more words to play with and use towards other things.

    The latter, you'll have to deal with giving enough detail so the reader understands things from your made-up mythology, and that could detract from the overall story.

    On the other side, using something pre-existing means you'll have to deal with the baggage associated with it because the reader will be bringing in their on expectations. If you have sparkly Minotaurs, someone may not like that change from the traditional Minotaur.

    With something you create yourself, you don't have to worry about that baggage.

    So to answer your question, maybe.

    I think, it's all in what you do with that saved effort. Do you spend it on making sure the other aspects of your story are spot on and that the pre-existing mythology fits in properly with it? Or do you just take what you find and call it a day, without adding anything else to make it your own?

    To me it's about intent and execution of something rather than doing or not doing it.
  6. Heliotrope

    Heliotrope Staff Article Team

    I think there is a market for it. The Percy Jackson series comes to mind. Kids (8-12 year olds) love it. I don't think it is lazy, and I think it is a great way of introducing Mythology to kids in an interesting way. As someone who loves history my ears usually prick up whenever I hear about a new twist on historical events, or existing myths. I actually am NOT a fan of the typical high fantasy, world building, dragons/fairies/elves stuff. I love historical fantasy/Magical realism (when past events are given a magical twist, like 300,or Pan's Lybrinth). Both used existing mythology. I don't see that as lazy at all. I actually prefer it.

    American Gods by Neil Gaiman is another great example.
    Last edited: Dec 16, 2015
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  7. Miskatonic

    Miskatonic Auror

    If you can create an interesting story within the context of that mythology then go for it.

    I'm using a pantheon of gods in my story, which will typically fall into the same categories as the gods of Earth's mythology. Such as a god of war, god of harvest/fertility, god of wisdom/poetry and the arts, etc. The setup is a bit different overall but it's certainly not a far stretch from what past civilizations have created.
    Dark Lord Thomas Pie likes this.
  8. Russ

    Russ Istar

    Doing it well strikes me as not lazy at all. It would require a good chunk of research to get familiar enough with a pantheon to use them well. I am not sure making one out whole cloth is harder or less time consuming than doing good research.
    Dark Lord Thomas Pie likes this.
  9. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

    There's a purpose to using the familiar. It lowers the work readers need to use to understand it. The more familiar the elements of your story are, the lighter the reading, other things equal.

    And that's something you can use for a sort of mental pacing. Your book isn't really about the pantheon. It's about the MC and the events that take this character along some kind of a character arc. Using a familiar pantheon lets you use the gods without having them strain a reader and take the focus from the main story. It lets you do more complicated things with your pantheon while keeping the story's reading strain lighter and still keeping the main crux of your story on your MCs.

    Synos hates Milipod and wants to trick Zephanier into turning against him.

    Ares hates Zeus and wants to trick Persephone into turning against him.

    Even a passing familiarity with those names gives you a much clearer, faster understanding of what's going on. It's less creative and artsy (although, really, using a rote pantheon with different names isn't all that creative and artsy), but it's something you can use to your advantage.
    Last edited: Dec 16, 2015
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  10. Clearmadness

    Clearmadness Dreamer

    Using real world mythologies in an alternate world doesn't seem like a good idea to me. I mean ignoring how history and geography shape religions is kind of a huge hole in the logic of your world. Makes it seem kind of fake. You can heavily base a mythology on a real one but there should be differences, because there is no way you would get the same religions on two different worlds.
    Dark Lord Thomas Pie likes this.
  11. TheKillerBs

    TheKillerBs Inkling

    That's only true if the constructed religion doesn't have a factual basis in-universe, which, in a fantasy world, is not always the case. To put it more clearly, it doesn't matter that there wouldn't be the sociopolitical circumstances that led to the development of the pantheon in the real world if in-universe, those gods exist and actually did what the myths say.
    Dark Lord Thomas Pie likes this.
  12. Velka

    Velka Sage

    Like others have said, I think it all depends on how prominent mythology is in your work. The gods are a B-player in one of my stories, so I put some time and effort into building a pantheon that was somewhat original, but still had enough familiar flavour to it that the gods didn't need too much of the reader's time and energy to understand.

    There is a certain universality to polytheism; the gods represent what is important to the culture. A desert people will have many gods for rain, water, herding, etc. A seafaring culture will have many gods for wind, the sea, weather, trade. A scholarly culture will have many gods devoted to the arts, philosophy, knowledge, etc....

    So even if you create an 'original' set of deities, it is not uncommon for them to fit into that formula. I use this 'lazy' strategy for structure, and then use time, energy, originality, and wordcount to flesh out the politics/history between the gods and how it impacts the characters in the story.
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  13. Mythopoet

    Mythopoet Auror

    It's not about whether or not you use it, it's all about how you use it. You can absolutely use it lazily. Or you can use it brilliantly. Most of the biggest and best names in fantasy have used real world mythology in some way.
  14. Kaye

    Kaye New Member

    I do like using mythology in my stories, but more to strengthen my own mythology. Some kind of history- for example, in one of my stories I use angels, and they originate from the Bible's view on them, but the bible has misinterpreted them. I like playing around with myths to make my reader go "aaaah". I do need it to be consistant and factual, though. If you use it in the wrong way, it can be quite boring or even annoying I think. And then yeah, it might be considered lazy..
    Dark Lord Thomas Pie likes this.
  15. S J Lee

    S J Lee Sage

    Tolkien's Numenor is obviously Atlantis... Atalante the downfallen. On the other hand, his Illuvatar and Valar are only vaguely like Jehovah and angels..... his gods are not an obvious copy of anything

    If it is not a "real world accessed through a mirror" then at least change the names but keep the archtypes. The PLUS is not that it gives you licence to be lazy, but that your reader immediately knows what he is dealing with... it can save a lot of ink on the page? Just as calling a warrior a knight means you don't have to explain your hereditary warrior caste too much?

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