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The Maker’s Art, Part 3: Creating Mythopoeia and Anthropological Artifacts

February 28, 2011

Last week I waded into long discussion in which I tried to draw a clear line between what constitutes a work of “Mythopoeia” and what is only “Fantasy” – acknowledging along the way that Mythopoetic works can be something other than Fantasy.  My position is perhaps an arguable one, but I’m comfortable delineating Mythopoeia as separate from other forms of Speculative Fiction, and even defining it as separate from the physical “artifacts” that represent it.  Mythopoeia is an idea, something that lives in the hearts and minds of both creators and producers of artistic works.  But it is an idea that we engage by interfacing with those anthropological artifacts: be they written works such as novels, poems, epics, webpages and blog posts, or be they visual works of art, sculptures, paintings, and photographs, or be they motion pictures or music, or be they works in an interactive medium like video games, table-top games, or board games, or be they some sort of new and evolving oral history. There are a variety of mechanisms by which mythopoetic works can be expressed in physical form.  But I’m primarily interested in the written form and those that can benefit from the techniques of the written form. 

By now, you must be wondering… so what?  What does it matter?  Why did I set out to try to define Mythopoeia in the first place?  And, having done so, to what use could this definition be put?

Last time, I mentioned my contention that few writers today are consciously attempting to write something that might be called Mythopoeia.  And part of the reason is that writing Mythopoeia is hard.  It requires thinking at a whole different level, layered on top of the thinking that goes into writing a novel.  I could say the entire essay has been a long way of saying it was partly this realization that forced me to conclude that I wasn’t ready to write “Project SOA #1” yet.  Because as I’ve spent years developing background detail, filling several notebooks with thoughts and ideas on historical and mythological complications, I’ve discovered how truly difficult it is to organize a coherent, complete, and engaging mythology, and how challenging it is to weave that into the primary narrative.  Because as an idea takes hold, if you think about it for a while, you realize the idea has implications – huge implications – that must necessarily change the plot and direction of the novel itself.  This is but one of the challenges I faced with making “Project SOA” work (another being a serious grappling with clichés, tropes, and genre conventions, and better understanding them and when and whether to use them, or if not to use them, how to adjust my plot and characters to compensate).

But the whole point of coming to a better understanding of what is or is not Mythopoeia has been to better equip me with the tools to write novels that rest on the bedrock of a solid mythopoem.  Why would I want to do that?  On one level, because it’s intellectually interesting to me.  I find intrinsic value in the creation of a coherent mythological narrative.  But there’s a baser reasoning, too. 

Consider all the most popular works of fiction in the last hundred years.  I’ve talked before about the “triumph of fantasy and speculative fiction” in the larger popular culture.  But at another level, the best works of fantasy and speculative fiction – those with the most enduring fandoms and the most engaged fans – are often among those with strongest mythopoetic frameworks.  This isn’t universally true (for instance, I mentioned Harry Potter last week, and how I don’t find it to be strongly mythopoetic in nature), nor is the reverse necessarily true either: if you have strong mythopoetic underpinnings to your work you won’t necessarily write a best-seller.  But the more strongly a work is predicated on a complex and coherent mythopoetic framework, the more easily engaged its audience.

If you accept this outcome as desirable (or even better, if you find the idea of writing mythopoeia intellectually interesting and stimulating), then you may wonder: how do I do this?

In answer, I’ll start by saying that I’ve come to understand that there are broadly two types of writers, neither superior to the other: there are the “seat-of-your-pantsers”, otherwise known as “discovery writers” who sit down and write by the seat of their pants and discover in the course of writing who their characters are and what the conflicts and plot are; and there are planners who meticulously map out every detail to their satisfaction before sitting down to write.  It’s a continuum, really; I haven’t perfectly pinned myself down, but I fall closer to the “planner” end of the range. 

I mention this by way of suggesting this: to the degree that you want to include mythopoetic themes in your work, you’ll find that easier as you take time to plan your novel first.  If you’re anticipating a multi-volume story, this goes doubly.  This is largely a question of the seriousness of your intent to write mythopoeia versus your intent only to write fantasy or science fiction.  In one respect, my attempt to delineate Mythopoeia from Fantasy was not entirely correct.  The speculative fiction genres are inherently strongly mythical in nature, and to some degree they are generally mythopoetic.  In my example of Harry Potter, for instance, though I spotted large holes in the underlying mythology of Rowling’s wizarding world, there were nonetheless many mythopoetic themes running throughout.

But at this stage, if Rowling became aware of the holes and gaps in her mythology, she’d find it very difficult to go back and fill in those holes without disturbing the “established canon” of the Harry Potter world.  This is the difficulty you want to avoid if you want to create a more a work that is more strongly mythopoetic in nature: because to the degree that you do engage fans with your work, they will explore the boundaries of your created world.  And if those boundaries don’t line up, they’ll find out about it.

So, step 1 is: prepare to spend a lot of time planning out your background and mythology and doing careful world-building.  This isn’t a creative act that every writer will find interesting.  And this isn’t to suggest it is impossible to interweave mythopoetic themes into your work if you are a discovery writer – but if you are writing a multi-volume work, this can prove to be an added challenge, because it becomes increasingly difficult to change or explain what you’ve written (and especially what you’ve published) when you realize that some bit of mythology you’ve created means something radically different for your world than what you’ve written.  Regardless of which type of writer you are, be cognizant of this potential pitfall.

The second bit of advice is this: analyze the most strongly Mythopoetic works for clues.  One thing you will find is this: the best Mythopoems weave a heavy dose of natural, real-world mythology into their constructed tales.  Whether the influence is acknowledged or not, you will find echoes of Norse mythology in Tolkien’s work, strains of the Eddas, and reflections of the Nibelungenlied.  The world is rich with mythologies waiting to be explored in fantasy fiction.  If you want your mythopoeia to resonate, you’ll tap into that illustrious tradition.  Some seem to believe that Western European mythology is all-tapped-out these days.  I disagree, but as writers today we would be remiss to neglect the many other mythologies waiting to be discovered.  And be mindful of opportunities for synthesis, and for bringing together ideas and themes from the traditions of multiple natural mythologies.  But be careful how you do so.

Next, take time to think about the implications of the ideas you’re exploring.  If the story of your says that the gods did a certain thing when they created the world, what does that mean about the magic system you’ve selected?  Are the two incompatible?  If an ancient hero performed some great act that has resonated through the ages, how would your current hero be influenced by those stories?  If that ancient hero is the founder of what has become a modern, oppressive empire, wouldn’t that hero become the villain in the myths of the peoples who have been crushed by the empire?  Ask questions about what the ideas you’re exploring mean.  Sometimes, you won’t find a ready answer.  Sometimes, you’ll find the answer forces you to reexamine your pre-existing assumptions about your characters or plot.  But that’s okay: if you’re planning the book, not yet writing it, then nothing is set in stone until it’s published. 

Next, turn back to real-world, natural mythology and consider how myths develop, grow, and change over time.  There are implications in this process for your own myth-building.  The accepted wisdom of your protagonist’s day and age need not equate with the underlying truth of your world.  You may find that difference between the reality and the myth is important.  Challenge your characters’ assumptions and beliefs.  You’ll find doing so is rife with dramatic potential.

You’ll also want to put some thought into the form and artifacts of your mythopoem.  How will your audience engage with the mythopoeia?  Will it be primarily through the novel or story?  Or through some other mechanism?  I recall one novel series, for instance, that was heavily footnoted as though the novel had first passed through the hands of a scholar in the world of the book.  Other books that I’ve read are littered with quotes in the chapter headings from important written works from the world’s history and mythology.  Others have published encyclopedias of the world’s history, or collections of the world’s myths and stories.  Some publish material online. They may write poems, or songs, or selected passages from epic works.  Still others have published nothing extraneous at all, with no more information about the world available except what is directly accessible through the primary narrative.  Each of these has the potential to subtly alter your audience’s perceptions of the presentation of your world’s myths.  And different readers will react differently to the different mechanisms.  For some, footnotes will add a sense of verisimilitude.  For others, it breaks the fourth wall and yanks them out of the story.  The same could be said of each of the other routes.

A lot of the work of Mythopoeia overlaps with world-building, and there are a good many resources on good world-building on the internet.  (I don’t have time, presently, to offer a comprehensive set of links now, but I’ll try to come back around and do that at a later date.)  But the Mythopoet’s overriding concern is this: mythology is about more than just gods, creation stories, ancient heroes, the origins of magic, powerful artifacts and terrible monsters.  Mythology is about a people, about self-identification, about coming to grips with who we are in the context of our history ancient and modern.  It’s about trying to make sense of ourselves and the world around us.  Your characters need myth.  And you need myth.  Keep that in mind as you try to pursue “The Maker’s Art”.

Now, it’s your turn.  What thoughts would you like to share about creating your own mythology?  What tips can you share about the process of writing myths?  Have you thought about how you want to present that mythology to your audience, and if so, how?  What are your favorite examples of mythopoeia in fiction?

Happy writing.

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30 Comments leave one →
  1. February 28, 2011 5:02 pm

    I must admit that I am not much of a world builder. I approach my settings/history/mythology as a means to reinforce the mood/tone/themes of the story. I start with a basic idea of the world, then jump right into the writing. Often I discover the details of the mythology as I go, and as needed. I do plot out my story, but the world emerges more organically for me.

    I get frustrated working the other way around 🙂 I do appreciate how much work it can be though. I’ve tried myth making first and failed more than once.

    • March 7, 2011 1:40 pm

      Although I think it’s easier to do the myth-making if you frontload it up first, it’s not impossible to do it the other way around. But it’ll require a lot of effort during the writing process itself, I think. Every time you “discover” something through your actual writing, for instance, you might want to make note of it in a notebook, file or project bible of some sort along with any tags and other notes that may make it helpful for remembering later on and for ensuring consistency throughout the written work. Unfortunately, this can slow down the writing process. On the other hand, this could all be done in post-op, so to speak, with multiple revisions of the actual text to refine the mythology and check for consistency. Either way, at some point I think in the end there will be a notebook or file of facts, stories, myths, background, and history of everything that supports the story of the novel – if the intent is to take a mythopoetic approach to the writing.

  2. March 1, 2011 12:42 am

    I really like your comment about relating this to the characters. I.e. there’s this valiant warrior in the past. How does that affect what he considers an impossible task, etc.

    • March 7, 2011 1:50 pm

      Ultimately, that’s what makes the myth powerful: how does the myth reflect on and affect the characters? Because that’s also what makes myth powerful to us in real life: how it affects and relates to us, and how it tells us something deeper about ourselves.

  3. March 2, 2011 8:42 am

    I think that sometimes maybe I can make it as a seat-of-the-pantser…But I’m not so sure about that. For years I’ve been outlining my stories, and it has proven positive for me.

    As far as world-building goes, I’m pretty good at it…but with this State I’m dealing with currently, I might need a little more work. I’ve got a manifesto for the government going, but I’m no economist, so that’s proving a little difficult… 🙂

    • March 7, 2011 1:53 pm

      There are primers that can help infuse a certain minimal amount of versimilitude for those sorts of things… (Some of those may cost a little money, and you can find some primers for free on the internet; it’s probably better to consult multiple sources, though, as you work on this sort of thing, but you needn’t be an expert.) Like you, I’ve always been a planner.

  4. March 2, 2011 2:59 pm

    I go back and forth between pantsing it and outlining. Sometimes I just have to write and can’t outline any more. Sometimes it’s a matter of discovering what I need by writing it out. And sometimes, I can outline and profile for ages…following bits of myth whever they go.

    • March 7, 2011 2:00 pm

      You know, in all honesty, though I consider myself a planner, I go back and forth as well. The trigger for flip-flopping seems to be the expected length of the work. The longer the work, the more likely I will meticulously plan it before starting. For shorter works, I’m more prone to freeing myself to the discovery process. But going into a long work without a plan scares me.

  5. March 23, 2011 6:03 pm

    I spent five months world-building for my WIP series and I still feel like I’ve only scratched the surface of the “potential” for this world. I even wrote 90K words for what I thought would be Book One in that series and found that I had mostly ignored the mythology I was trying to reference. So, back to the drawing board with a new book one and a simpler plot so that I can be more careful about integrating the mythology I’ve created for this world. It is nowhere near the scope and depth of Tolkien, and that is why I still wonder if I’ve done enough.

    • March 24, 2011 12:25 pm

      I don’t think it’s necessary to reach or eclipse the scope and depth of Tolkien – nothing wrong with attempting to do so, of course, but not wholly necessary. For one thing, consider this: Tolkien labored on his mythology of Middle Earth for almost the entirety of his adult life. The earliest versions of his tales of the elves date back to his 20s. The Hobbit wasn’t published until his 40s (and at the time he had not fully integrated it into his Middle Earth histories), and he was in his 60s by the time The Lord of the Rings was published. He never lived to see The Silmarillion in print.

      That said, I definitely consider Tolkien’s efforts to be something of a blue-print or an example by which we can learn and pattern our own efforts (as should be obvious from these posts). And if that’s what you’re shooting for, it definitely helps to have the mythology you have written fully interweaving through the tale which that mythology is intended to support. But I also don’t think that means you have to scrap everything you’ve written (maybe you do, but I would think that wouldn’t be soley because the mythology hadn’t inflected the plot properly). Which is to say: that’s what rewrites are for. After you’ve got a draft, you still have ample opportunity to say: hey, I’d like to touch on the mythology here, here and here. Or vice versa: hey, I didn’t mention this in my mythology, but it’s pretty cool; let’s go back and revise the underlying mythology to support this new detail.

      As to when you’ve done enough? When you’ve told the best story you think you can possibly tell, you’ve done enough. Then again, that means it’s time to start on another story, hopefully to improve upon the storytelling skills you’ve developed. Or, alternately, to go back to a story you told previously but with which you were unsatisfied and making it better, if you think that’s the best use of your time.

  6. March 24, 2011 5:10 pm

    Good points, all. I am one of those aspiring writers that shrinks before the greats of Tolkien, Stephen King, now Rowling because their works seem light years ahead of where I am in my career path. I also don’t intend to spend decades on a mythology to support my stories. So, it is great to aim for the stars, but we must be realistic and be happy if me are able to simply make it over the treetops, or even the fence.

    As for the 90K words I wrote last year, that is being saved for Book 2. I’m hoping to let the new WIP set a better stage that I can build on and reuse most of those pages with the proper revisions.

    All is not lost, simple saved for a later date. And yes, the revision process is the place where the “real” work of deepening a story and underlying mythology will happen. I too often judge my work by the first draft only and we can all agree that most first drafts are garbage.

  7. August 17, 2011 11:52 am

    It´s kind of funny!
    I love Fantasy but my main reason for reading and liklng these post are out of my interest of comparative religion, philosophy, culture and esotericsm.

    After all, a lot of religion and mysticism is built by way of mythopoeia too.
    Especially when looking at newer religions or syncretized such through history (when suddenly Isis is married to Serapis, you better have a good explanation). 😉

    • August 17, 2011 12:04 pm

      That’s an interesting direction to take it. I do that sort of thing for purposes of creating fiction, and for me the interplay between a complex ficitonal mythological narrative and syncretism of real-world mythological traditions is an interesting and fun dynamic to explore. While I’ve thought about that in relation to the real world as a sort of intellectual exercise, I’ve never really considered porting it into the real world for purposes of examining or assembling an actual syncretic mythology. Or more specifically, I mostly hold any thoughts I have on such ideas private, generally. But I’m glad you enjoyed them. 🙂

  8. January 9, 2013 2:27 am

    Firstly, I want to thank you, Steven. I am considering doing a project which may involve constructing backhand mythology through multiple stories (and way they are presented). I was aware and intrigued by the term ‘Mythopoeia’ and this article of yours was the catalyst in clearing (and questioning) many ideas I had.

    I do have a question though –

    To what degree does the details of the history and mythology of a work have to be created for it to fall under mythopoeia? I mean – does the writer/creator need to have the background context of the constructed world completely chalked out or is it enough to create the illusion of a world with plethora of history and mythology through the stories – the ‘primary narrative’ – that are told?

    The reason I ask this is because I believe that Lord of the Rings falls in the former category, given the fact that Tolkien himself constructed the languages and other books (e.g. The Silmarillion dealing with construction of Middle Earth) apart from the trilogy. Star Wars, on the other hand, seems to be a story told primarily through the films happening in another world (I refrain myself from saying another universe as the opening lines are ‘Long Long time ago, in a Galaxy Far Far away’ – meaning it happened within the same universe but a different area). Most of exploration of this world is done more in fan fiction or by other writers (with or without copyright permission).

    But you considered both falling under Mythopeia.

    Would love to hear what you have to say…

    • January 9, 2013 2:29 am

      I am sorry for misspelling your name in the first line, Stephen. Just realized after posting.

      • January 17, 2013 1:04 pm

        Don’t worry about that! I’ve never been too bothered about how people pronounce or spell my name. I figure I’m one of the least qualified to complain about something like that.

    • January 17, 2013 1:03 pm

      Thanks for the question, Anupriy, and my sincere apologies in taking so long to get back with you on it. (The past two or three weeks have been obscenely busy for me.)

      So, the short answer is that I can’t authoritatively answer your question. Which is to say, I didn’t create this genre nor do I have any professional qualification which makes me an expert, other than my own personal interest. This series of posts was me trying to find an answer to some of these questions for myself, to see if I could better understand what the difference was between a work of “mythopoeia” and a work of some other genre, be that fantasy, science fiction, or some flavor of contemporary or literary fiction. That caveat aside, I’ve given your question and comments some thought, and I do have an opinion to offer.

      I see your question as having three parts, broadly speaking. The first is the direct question you asked: to what extent does a work of mythopoeia need to exist in concrete form outside of the primary narrative presentation (the book or movie or whatever that we are initially discussing)? The second question concerns who creates the mythopoetic artifacts. And the third concerns the form or medium of those mythopoetic artifacts.

      In answer to the first question, let me be clear about what I mean by “mythopoetic artifact”. I see this as a physical, tangible represenation of the mythopoeia in question. It’s something that denotes the existence of the mythopoeia. In a technical sense, I don’t think that an artifact has to exist in order for something to qualify as “mythopoeia”. However, as a practical matter, it’s virtually impossible to point to the existence of a mythopoeia without the existence of the artifacts to reflect it. In the technical sense, I consider a work of mythopoeia to be an intentional act. By this line of thinking, an auctorial intent to create a work of mythopoeia, and the resulting mental, imagined space, universe, world, history, language, etc. are themselves sufficient qualification to cite a work as mythopoetic. I consider this important because there are, I suspect, many examples of fantastic fiction where there is no auctorial intent to create anything other than a good story. If there is an imagined space or universe that grows out of that story, that’s a side-effect or a necessary pre-condition, but not truly the point or intent of the creation in the first place. But again, as a practical matter, it’s difficult or impossible to judge the success or failure of that intent in the absence of some artifact that illustrates the mythopoeia and communicates it to other people. It is, however, entirely possible for the sole artifact of that work to be the story: the “primary narrative”. In that sense, if the only published work we’d ever had out of Tolkien had been his “Hobbit” and “Lord of the Rings”, in a technical sense it would still have been a work of mythopoeia, but we’d possibly never have known the full extent of his creation. We’d never have been able to realize his intent. It is the existence of the Appendices, and the Silmarillion, and the various volumes of Middle Earth History (most material of which was published posthumously) that clues us into the grander vision and larger intent of the author.

      I deduced the other two questions from your compare-and-contrast between LotR and Star Wars, and your citing the extensive “expanded universe” material available for Star Wars outside of the movie experience. The way I figured it was this: auctorial intent does not correlate perfectly with an individual single-auteur creative. The official licensing and sanctioning of the creation of “Star Wars”-related “artifacts” implies auctorial intent, even if the original “auteur” has licensed or sub-contracted out the creation of these artifacts to other creatives. The involvement of additional authors, artists, artisans, etc. does not preclude a work from being “mythopoetic”, and there is nothing inherrent in “mythopoeia” that requires a single originator or creator. Mythopoeia can be the result of shared experiences and collaboration just as easily as it can be the result of a single individual’s creative process. Secondly, the artistic medium of mythopoetic artifacts are not limited by the first instantiation of the mythopoeia or the first medium of the original “primary narrative”. In a way, then, you can consider book cover-art and interior maps to be mythopoetic artifacts just as much as the story told in a book. I’ve seen some writers who have had jewelry made out of things described in their books. That jewelry is a type of mythopoetic artifact. A movie can be such an artifact and a book can be. We could be talking about short stories, novels, blog posts, photography, graphic art, and so on.

      All of this gets back to my original point above about “auctorial intent”. Sometimes, we can’t know for certain about the existence of that intent. We just have to deduce the intent by an examination of the artifacts. So I classify Star Wars as “mythopoeia” because the sheer volume of officially-sanctioned material that illustrates the Star Wars universe beyond the original films implies, to me, some intent to see this exploration. The motive behind the intent is, to me irrelevant. (In other words, a mercenary artist – one who creates art, be that mythopoetic or not – is still an artists, even if his or her motive is purely financial in nature. Motive for the creation of art communicates little about what we should value or appreciate in the art once it’s been created.)

      So, that was a bit of a long reply. I hope you can follow my somewhat convoluted thoughts, and I hope you find it intersting and useful.

      • January 17, 2013 2:01 pm

        I could follow the reply. It did make sense to me. (and I don’t see it as ‘lengthy’ but as ‘detailed’.) Thanks for it.

        I guess my questions of intention came from the fact that I was not sure how much should one INTEND to create an entire mythopoeia through primary narrative (or multiple artifacts) in order to ACTUALLY create one.

        But I guess the answer lies somewhere between –

        1. the scope of background constructed world explore through the primary narrative

        2. the degree of interest created in exploring the world done through the plot of the primary narrative

        3. the exploration done through either another narrative set within the same constructed world, or explicit creation of more artifacts of the constructed by author (or author-sanctioned entity),

        While point 1. and point 3. are tangible results created by author, point 2. is solely dependent of how the audience take the primary narrative.

      • January 17, 2013 9:44 pm

        Yeah, the question of “intent” is a difficult one to tease out – and it can be argued that it’s not the question you should be thinking about when talking about art.

        When I was 12 or 13 years old, I had an art teacher who encouraged me to look beyond the thing I was trying to create and try to see the art that lived in what I had discarded. We were sculpting with clay, and I was trying to make a clay dragon (and not doing a terribly good job), but she had me look at my pile of unused clay to see the shape of a hermit crab. So I tried to do both: the intentional art and the unintentional art. In the end, neither one turned out satisfactorily, but then I was just a kid at the time.

        The point of the story is that, well, yes you can create art without having the meaningful intention of creating that art. Art – whether that’s a visual medium like painting or sculpting or an intellectual medium like writing or mythopoeia – is about human expression, human experience, the communication of ideas and perspectives, and the attempt to find meaning in the world around us. Myth is about those things, too. And “natural” myths – the myths that we have in the real world as part of the fabric of our societies and cultures – most of that is a type of art that came about without direct intentionality. But we have the artifacts of those myths in the real world, and we can experience and enjoy them, regardless of the absence of human intent to create myths. Our ancestors were all just trying to find some meaning in their lives, and many of them found it in the stories they told to each other.

        So yes, you can create a mythopoem in the absence of direct mythopoetic intent. It can arise out of the creation of something else.

        But for me, as an artist, intentionality is a component of meaning and my experience. Although neither the clay dragon nor the hermit crab I made turned out well, I didn’t care that much about the hermit crab. It had never been my intent to create a hermit crab, and I was sufficiently satisfied that anything came of it at all. But I was disappointed in how the dragon turned out. Because that was a failure of my artistic abilities at that time to rise to the level of my personal intention. For me, as the creator of the two things, the clay dragon had meaning that the hermit crab did not. And so I look at the creation of art through that lens of intentionality, because to me intentionality is suggestive of meaning. It’s suggestive of something that comes from the artist’s soul. Unintentional art can be enjoyed, but unintentional art does not, for me, have the soul and meaning of something intentional unless the artist is able to fully embrace their unintentional act and make it their own – to make their unintentional and imbue it with meaning and intent.

        Anyway, I like the three ways you’ve approached the question as well. All three of those are different ways in which something mythopoetic can take shape, and the imagined world of the mythopoem becomes real.

        Thanks for sharing those thoughts. You’ve given me an opportunity to spend some time thinking and writing about this topic, and I love thinking and writing about it.

  9. Blake permalink
    January 29, 2013 7:23 pm

    Just stumbled upon this blog. There’s some really insightful thoughts here. I’m curious, would you consider Faulkner’s fictional Yaknapatawpha County a work of Mythopoeia? It seems to fit your definition perfectly and, to my knowledge, may be one of the only solid works of mythopoeia to exist outside of the speculative fiction genres.

    • February 1, 2013 3:07 pm

      In all honesty I have almost no familiarity with Faulkner’s “Yaknapatawpha County”. However, I don’t limit my personal definition of “Mythopoeia” to speculative ficion or SF&F. Mythologizing, in a general sense, has a deep connection to speculative fiction – but inasmuch as “speculative” fiction tends to mean “not our actual world” but instead something fantastical or futuristic. But it’s certainly possible to create an invented history and an invented space that can be explored through fiction while staying firmly in the realm of the mundane. Some historical fiction epics, for instance, might fall within this category, inasmuch as they explore a deep history and mythology of characters and events that never existed, but arguably could have. Glad you found this discussion interesting enough to pop up with a comment! 🙂

  10. PhantasyPhan permalink
    September 5, 2014 3:26 pm

    Stephen, great article and very interesting discussion. I am glad that you chose to talk about this subject as it is something I have been intimately engaged in the past 25 years. I started writing my own very large and complex mythopoeia 25 years ago, and now finally starting the publish the first of my works on the subject. My feeling about mythopoeia in literary works is in the purest sense, it must be an intentional act, and the work stand alone as a mythopoetic form. Anything less that that, is just a reference to an unresolved world.

    The Silmarillion by Christopher Tolkien is the only pure work published that fulfills the formal definition of mythopoeia. In my case, I am choosing to write a purely mythological and historical series of books about my fantasy universe, and the narrative that flows through it. I also have been careful to avoid writing my mythopoeia as a fantasy novel in which traditional protagonists/antagonists work to fulfill some plotline. This has led me to the conclusion that someone has yet to define the true definition of a literary mythopoetic work beyond veiled references to fan fiction and obscure relics that reflect back into unknown histories. To me, the joy of writing, reading, and exploring real mythopoetic literature can only be fully realized in the art form fo a complete and whole mythopetic novel or series of novels. Anything less is some have formed grotesque abomination, that as you say, can be later jeopardized by future fiction written around it. In that sense, we need to adopt a true definition of what constitutes a mature and fully-formed mythopoetic work of art in literature, so we do not continue to fool ourselves into believing more exists beyond the veil of our imagination. A perfect example of this delusion would be Harry Potter, as you mentioned, or H. P. Lovecraft, who on first glance seems to have created a rich multiverse of deities and mythologies. But if you take what fan fiction has drawn out of his work, it starts to wither and die, rather than grow forth into this miraculous visionary mythology. Part of that is the flaws inherent in trying to translate mythology, which often exists in the world of poetic interpretation, and prose which is too often grounded in reality.

    This goes to the real point I am trying to make. Mythopoetic literature needs to exist in a format and written style all its own. Often it is poetic, or semi-poetic, preserving the mystery behind the mythology inside it, and yet building and sustaining itself as an art form unique to fiction. Once we define what the limits of that new art form is or should be (looking at the Silmarillion, for example) we can separate mythopoetic references, relics, and fan fiction, from fully formed mythopoetic works themselves.

    I cannot say if my novels will be read or even make sense to anyone that reads them. But I will be able to say they are intentional mythopoetic novels which can stand alone as such. They exist purely to convey the vast history and mythology contained in them. It is my hope more authors will define this new form, and grow and expand the numbers of books that explore this type of novel.

  11. September 3, 2015 11:25 pm

    Reblogged this on Urban Centigrade Press and commented:
    An intriguing reflection on the concept of mythopoeia.

  12. January 6, 2017 1:40 pm

    Hello Stephen, I see this article is a few years old but still very relevant. I’m writing a twelve volume Mythopoeia I started 25 years ago. And I find it quite challenging and exciting! I’ve posted a number of lectures on what Mythopoeia is and is not (below), and how to write one if you are interested. Strangely, we have both come to some of the same conclusions.

    So thank you for your opinions. Im hoping in the years and decades ahead more young people will turn to their own psychology and explore their inner realm of the “Mythological Self” through Mythopoeia…..it’s truly the last great frontier yet to be explored by Humanity. Good luck to you – EM Stokely

    ps. My Mythopoeia lectures on YouTube can be found on YouTube under “Phantammeron Novels”

Trackbacks

  1. The Maker’s Art, Part 2: Refining a Definition of Mythopoeia Through a Sample Exegesis of the Fantasy Corpus « The Undiscovered Author
  2. Planning for Pantsers « The Undiscovered Author
  3. The WordPress 2011 Year In Review Post « The Undiscovered Author

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