Posts Tagged mythology

Post-Apocalyptic vs Pre-Apocalyptic Fiction

I’ve blogged before about post-apocalyptic dystopian fiction. These are forward-looking horror stories that either extrapolate from present trends or presuppose some civilization-ending disaster, leading to a world that is darker and diminished from the one we recognize.

Books in this genre can help us to better appreciate the world we have and, in the best of cases, inspire us to action necessary to preserve and protect our actual future. They are prophecies that must not come true, and every time our society comes up with a fresh anxiety, the post-apocalyptic genre evolves to include it.

On a seemingly unrelated topic, I’ve been immersed in Greek mythology for the past few months for my current writing project. That’s not enough time to become an expert, but just enough to start making connections. The other day, it struck me that many stories of Greek mythology fall into a genre that’s the polar opposite of post-apocalyptic fiction. They are, if anything, pre-apocalyptic.

In the 8th Century BC, Hesiod defined five ages of mankind. He believed that he was living in the Fifth Age, and he regretted not being born instead into the Fourth Age, the Age of Heroes, where the bulk of classical Greek mythology is set.

In the works of Homer, there are constant references to how the Fourth Age heroes of the Trojan War were better, stronger, and more glorious than the Fifth Age men of living memory. The way Homer described it, three or four men of the Fifth Age would be required just to lift the weapons that Fourth Age heroes wielded to battle each other.

Hesiod and Homer were telling stories set in a past that was better than the present, before some civilization-ending disaster led to a world that’s now darker and diminished from the one that came before. They are writing about stories set on the other side of an apocalypse, but one that’s in the past instead of the future.

In stories of Greek mythology, the problems in heaven get resolved by the gods outsourcing their problems, and increasing human suffering in the process.

For example, the insubordination of Prometheus was a problem for Zeus. He couldn’t tolerate other immortals going behind his back, subverting his will, and gifting mortals with awesome new technologies like fire. Just punishing Prometheus, by having an eagle tear out his liver on a daily basis, was only a partial solution. To really fix the matter, Zeus created Pandora and her box of plagues in order to make mortal life more difficult.

The story of Pandora is the story of an apocalypse, told by people living after the fact.

Another problem for Zeus was a prophecy that Thetis would bear a son who would outshine his father. To avoid being overthrown exactly like he overthrew his father, and like his father overthrew his grandfather, Zeus breaks up with Thetis and introduces her to a mortal. The child of prophecy, Achilles, turns out to be greater than a man but less than a god, and Zeus’s kingship is saved, at the cost of a decade-long war that cost so much blood and treasure that all of human society collapsed.

The story of the Trojan War represents another apocalypse, and is also told by people living after the fact.

When archaeologists discovered Troy, the date of its destruction matched the time of the Late Bronze Age Collapse that toppled ancient civilizations like dominos from Italy to India. In the land that is now Greece, populations crashed, cities and farmland were destroyed or abandoned, technology regressed, culture regressed, skills and knowledge were lost, and writing all but disappeared.

The ensuing Dark Ages lasted for centuries. It was a post-apocalyptic time, during which the stories we know today as Greek mythology developed and spread through an oral tradition. These stories were a post-apocalyptic society’s backward look at the better, brighter times before the Late Bronze Age Collapse, and a means for which they tried to explain what happened and why.

These pre-apocalyptic stories weren’t meant for us, or for any audience at our position in civilization’s grand cycle of ebb and flow. We aren’t capable of fully relating to them. But still, something about them appeals to us.

Given the choice, any of us would rather be living in a Golden Age while reading about a post-apocalyptic age, rather than the other way around. It’s hard for us to even imagine being among a post-apocalyptic audience, hearing a tale that can only be told orally, because literacy is no longer a thing, about an actual Golden Age that has become a time of fading legends.

But maybe we need these stories as well, to remind us that history is a cycle. Unimaginable things have happened in the past, and can happen again if we ignore the warnings in our post-apocalyptic stories.

And on a less depressing note… Homeric trivia!

  • The Trojan Horse doesn’t actually appear in the Iliad. That scene happens in a separate part of the epic cycle that’s been lost to us.
  • Also not included in the Iliad, Achilles getting fatally shot in the ankle. That scene also happens in a part of the epic cycle that’s been lost to us.
  • The epic cycle included an army of women led across the plains of Troy by an Amazon queen named Penthesilia, and an African army led by King Memnon of Aethiopia. That has been lost to us as well.

So why does every adaptation of the Trojan War recreate the death of Achilles and the deployment of a giant wooden horse while completely ignoring the armies of Penthesilia and Memnon?


Adam Shaughnessy and THE UNBELIEVABLE FIB: BK II Over The Underworld

I couldn’t be more excited to share this  middle grade book with you because, as most of you already know, I love mythology! And today we get to chat with an author who knows quite a lot about that subject. But . . . let me share his book with you first.

The Norse gods have returned to Middleton—and they’ve brought bad news. Loki’s misdeeds have grown from mischief to murder. He has killed Baldur, favorite of the gods. By doing so, he has set in motion events that will lead to Ragnarok, a war between the gods and giants that will destroy their world and ours. Now Odin wants ABE and Pru to help find Loki and imprison him before the giants can rally to his side. But the gods aren’t the only ones back in town. An old friend has also returned and he’s brought new questions about Baldur’s death.

To answer those questions, ABE and Pru will travel to Niflheim, the Norse underworld and confront the Queen of the Dead herself. Unfortunately, they quickly find that getting into the world of the dead is easy. It’s getting out again—alive—that proves difficult. And, in the end, can anyone really escape Death?

Hi Adam! It’s great having you here. Let’s start with when you realized you wanted to be a writer.

The impulse has struck me at various points in my life. I wrote my first manuscript, The Knight’s Quest, in third grade.

Third grade? Very cool…

I remember thinking at that point that I’d like to be a writer. I also thought I’d like to be an illustrator, too. And, to be fair, the glowing sword I drew for the cover was pretty sweet. But I went away from the idea of being a writer for a while—a long while, in fact. I think being an English major in college helped to push me away. Writing began to seem like something that other (far more clever) people did. But even as my desire to be a writer ebbed and flowed, my love for stories remained true, as did my desire to share stories with people—and young people, in particular. I did some storytelling in and after college, and over my two decades in education I developed a brand of enrichment programming that shared stories with children through interactive tales that blended storytelling and cooperative games. It wasn’t really until my mother passed away that I began to revisit what I really cared about and what I really wanted to accomplish in life. That’s when I circled back to the idea of being a writer, around 2009, and started on the path that led to my first book.

I love how you mentioned that, at one point, you felt that writing was what other, more clever people did, not you. I’m sure many of our writing readers can relate.

This series uses lots of mythological elements, so obviously you enjoy mythology. What is it about mythology that intrigues you the most?

I think I’d have to say it’s the familiarity of mythology that draws me to it. That might sound strange to some people. But anyone who loves to read and who loves to read fantasy, in particular, will understand the sentiment. I grew up reading myths. So the landscapes and characters, fictional and fantastic though they are, are also familiar and welcoming. I feel like I’ve been a tag-along on many a hero’s journey. When it came time to write my own book it was impossible to resist the draw to revisit the mythological realms I loved as a child.

How did you approach writing this second book in the series? Did you find you used craft and technique differently from developing the first book?

The biggest different between my approach to the first book and the second book was in the degree to which I listened to my inner editor. I wrote about eleven drafts of the first book. Many of those drafts were complete rewrites, start to finish. That’s because in the early drafts, in particular, I shut off my inner editor completely. I went down any and every narrative path that struck my fancy. Naturally, I made a lot of wrong turns and ran up against plenty of dead ends. But I learned something from each digression and I had a ton of fun along the way. I think there’s a tremendous value to just letting your imagination go and not worrying about how the content you’re producing will be received.

That definitely takes the pressure off a little.

Writing is all about revision and trusting that you can make the bad stuff good, in time. When it came time to write the second book, though, I had to approach things a little differently. I had a contract and deadlines. Fortunately, I also had the experience I’d gained from writing my first book. I’d learned to trust my instincts a little. I’d learned to recognize which narrative paths were most likely to get me where I needed to go. I didn’t have to wander so much (which was great, because time was much more of a factor!)

Ooh… ‘Writing is all about revision and trusting that you can make the bad stuff good…’ Very wise. 

What is a question you’ve never been asked during an interview that you’ve always wanted to answer?

I’ve always wondered that nobody has asked me about ABE’s name and why it’s capitalized. To be fair, I do explain in the book that the nickname ABE comes from the character’s initials. But nobody’s asked why I chose to use initials and capitals in the first place. For the record it’s because I read once that our eyes and brains have to work a little harder on capital letters. We have a greater visual fluency with lower case letters. When we come across a capital letter we slow down a bit. We have to look more closely. That’s ABE’s thing. He looks closely. He sees things that other people miss. So I liked the idea of his name reflecting that. It’s a small detail, and ultimately an unimportant one, but it’s one of those details that floats just beneath the surface that writers like to fit into their works.

In today’s ever-changing publishing landscape, what have you found is the hardest part of being a published author?

I have to preface this answer by saying I’ve been very fortunate. Very. Every single person I’ve encountered through the process of bringing my two books to life has been a pleasure to work with. My agent, my editors, my copyeditors, my publicists—I’ve learned from and been treated well and kindly by all of them. Now, having said that, I have to confess that the hardest part of being a published author is having had to face the reality that this is a business. As I said, I’ve had excellent individuals around me who have served as a buffer against what lurks beyond—the publishing industry. And it is that, an industry. There are times I miss my days as a educator. I had the good luck to enter education at a time and in a place where the work was driven wholly by a passion to improve the circumstances of the children and families with whom we worked. There was no other metric. We weren’t selling anything. And I worked at a community school where with ramparts still held against the onslaught of standardization and testing. As an author, things are a little different. I still have the great pleasure of working with people who care about creating good works for young people. But as an author I have to sell myself. I have to sell my books. That element of self promotion was absent in my first career.

I really love this answer. Thank you for sharing it with us and for dropping by! It’s been a pleasure having you here, again. One last question: Please tell our readers what’s up next for you.

There are many projects I’m eager to advance. I’d love to write a third Unbelievable FIB book someday.

Yes, please!

I’m also currently working on a new middle grade science fiction book involving cryptids and secret organizations with monstrous origins. And I have an idea for a graphic novel that really excites the adolescent comic book lover that’s still kicking around inside me. I have to confess, though, that the past year has been dominated by the birth and growth of my daughter. Now that I’m settling into fatherhood I’m hoping to have more time to get back to writing!

Adam Shaugnessy likes to tell people that he is a superhero, a space explorer, and a pirate. None of those things are true, but Adam likes to say them anyway.
In fact, Adam is the author of The Entirely True Story of the Unbelievable FIB and is currently at work on the second book in the Unbelievable FIB series. He began his career in education first as an elementary-school teacher and then as a director of school-aged programs, but gradually realized that his passion was for sharing stories. Adam also owns and runs Red Dragon Adventures, which brings story-based education enrichment programs to young people throughout New England.
Adam is currently working on his master’s degree in children’s literature at Hollins University. He lives in Connecticut with his wife, Jane, their cat, Sydney, and an unnamed mouse that Sydney has yet to catch, but Adam is sure she will.

For more on Adam: Website | Facebook | Twitter | Publisher

Do you enjoy mythology? What about it intrigues you?

The timeless intrigue of Greek myths

athena the brain have a hot time hades hound of hades new olympians chronus chronicles

Bigger than life characters, epic battles, good versus evil, outlandish monsters and over-the-top family strife are just a few reasons Greek myths are now — just as they have been for generations — absolutely irresistible for middle grade readers. And while no kid wants to hear this now, getting a grounding in Greek tales will serve these young readers well the rest of their lives. So many references in literature (Shakespeare, for one) and pop culture have roots in these myths, and they’ll also provide fodder for kids’ own stories and interpretations.

If Percy Jackson and the Olympians first reeled your reader to Poseidon, Zeus, and Athena, you may be wondering what books to grab next. Or maybe your reader likes the idea of Greek myths, but isn’t really sold on the whole Percy Jackson thing. Either way, here are some ideas for what to read next:

Joan Holub and Suzanne Williams’ Goddess Girls series is pure delight. Readers can start with any in the series (and then devour all others); one of my favorites is Athena the Brain, which is also first in the series. Athena, 12, is ordered to go to Mount Olympus Academy (where Zeus is principal) where she juggles academics, her social life, and proving her intellect by ending the Trojan War.

Have a Hot Time, Hades! is a one of the many greats in Kate McMullan’s Myth-o-mania series. In this story with a modern twist, Hades tells his own version of how he became King of the Underworld and Zeus became King of the Gods.

Speaking of Hades, new this year in Lucy Coates’ Beasts of Olympus series is Hound of Hades. Having proven himself capable of caring for the mythical creatures that dwell on Olympus, eleven-year-old Demon is summoned by the great god Hades to the Underworld to tend to Cerberus, the three-headed dog Guardian of the Underworld, which has been beaten by Demon’s nemesis, Heracles.

In The New Olympians (Pegasus series) by Kate O’Hearn, Pegasus and Emily investigate a series of incidents back on Earth, and discover that the CRU has been cloning Olympians. Science (STEM) and myths!

One more don’t miss series is The Chronus Chronicles by Anne Ursu (where one of the doors to the Underworld is located under the Mall of America). The Shadow Thieves is first in the series: After her cousin Zee arrives from England, 13-year-old Charlotte and he must set out to save humankind from denizens of the underworld, Nightmares, Death, Pain, and a really nasty guy named Phil.

greek mythsThere are many nonfiction guides, but the gold standard is still D’Aulaires’ Book of Greek Myths. It was published in 1962 — not quite as old as the myths themselves, but another one that stands the tests of time and interfering Greek gods and goddesses. And if you can get your hands on this spectacular audio book version, it’s read by Sidney Poitier, Kathleen Turner, Paul Newman, and Matthew Broderick. Best yet, use your local library card to get the downloadable version via OverDrive. Listen to a sample here.