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Discussion: Fictionalized Mythology

Hello book bees and welcome to another discussion post. Today I want to talk about what happens when authors fictionalize or include real mythology in their works of fiction. This does not include retellings such as Madeline Miller’s Circe and The Song of Achilles, but does include such works as American Gods by Neil Gaiman, which incorporates quite a few real world mythological beliefs into a fictional story.

Fictionalized Mythology: What exactly do I mean?

To expand on the two examples I just gave, I’m talking about taking a real mythology and its rules and characters and fictionalizing them. A good third example of this is Rick Riordan’s body of works, in which the mythological figures of the Greek, Roman, Egyptian, and Norse pantheons are transformed and given personalities, actions, consequences, and interactions with other fictional characters.

Fictionalized mythology isn’t necessarily about reimagining the myths the way Madeline Miller’s works do. It’s instead about introducing the figures in the mythology to a fictional world and seeing how they interact with it and its inhabitants. It then also fictionalizes the mythological figures by demonstrating what the author interprets their personality to be like, and how they would behave in certain situations. Thus a figure such as Apollo is no longer the Apollo of the myths, but a fictionalized version of Apollo as imagined by the author.

Cultural appropriation versus inspiration/appreciation

When discussing mythology, it’s usually a good thing to check out what will be considered cultural appropriation. There are figures of mythology, as well as sacred beliefs, that cultures may not wish to see portrayed in fiction–especially not by someone from outside that culture. Before reading a book of fictionalized mythology, or writing anything using it, it’s always wise to make sure the portrayal is not considered harmful or inaccurate by members of that culture.

It’s always best to read Own Voices authors when exploring fictionalized mythology. However, there are some stories that incorporate a variety of mythological figures such as the cast in American Gods, where it would be impossible for one author to be a representative for all the mythologies included.

Interesting ways to use fictionalized myths

There are a lot of interesting concepts to do with fictionalizing a myth! You can use them as a framing device for the environment to set up the character’s story, such as how Percy Jackson is a pre-teen boy with a whole other set of problems whose world happens to blend with Greek mythology to create a new set of problems. You can use them to explore themes of religion, spirituality, and humanity by looking at all myths as equally real and seeing how they might interact with one another in some context.

You can also use fictionalized mythology to generate something new. You can imagine what the next step in the stories from these myths might have been, or you can blend multiple mythologies into a single cohesive fiction that stands alone. There are so many possibilities!

Final thoughts

I really enjoy seeing new interpretations of mythologies, and I like retellings of the tales as well. But there’s something special to the blending of myths, reality, and introducing characters that somehow inhabit this middle ground. I think that as much as original ideas are wonderful and always fun to experience, reimagining a mythological world can also be a unique and interesting way to experience the fictional.

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By Catherine

I'm a lover of books, coffee, wine, and bees. Happy to join the ranks of book bloggers everywhere!

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