In the fall of 2016, I wrote a few posts on finding inspiration in mythology and decided to revisit the subject.
I only became interested in mythology in the last few years. For someone who writes contemporary crime fiction, it might seem strange that I find inspiration in the tales of ancient Greece or Scandinavia. But it isn’t the centaurs and cyclopses I find inspiring. It’s the themes, the plots of loss and revenge, love and hate, the journey, and the quest.
The Original Soap Opera
I had no idea until I looked at the family trees of the characters in Greek mythology that the ancient Greeks invented the soap opera. The same families pop up over and over again, and the stories begin to read like a never-ending afternoon serial. For example, when Odysseus’s son, Telemachus, is searching for his father after the end of the Trojan war, he stops by Sparta, where King Menelaus and his wife Helen of Troy are happily reconciled and celebrating their daughter’s marriage.
The Story of Orestes, Then and Now
All this family drama provides wonderful inspiration for contemporary stories. For example, the tale of Orestes is ripe for updating.
Original myth: There are several versions with different subplots, but here is one basic versions. King Agamemnon sacrifices his daughter Iphigenia to the gods to gain their favor before he heads to Troy to help his brother recapture his errant wife. Agamemnon’s wife Clytemnestra vows revenges. When Agamemnon returns victorious after being away 10 year fighting, Clytemnestra murders him. An oracle directs Orestes, their son, to avenge his father. He kills his mother but feels enormous guilt, and the Furies hound him.
Update: Father is a member of a powerful Hollywood family. Mother, an actress, and Father divorce and remain enemies. Father grooms and pushes Daughter into the family business. The pressure proves too much, and Daughter overdoses and dies. Mother vows to ruin Father and tries to enlist Son, who is angry with Father but doesn’t hold him responsible for hi sister’s death. What will Son do?
At any point in the story, I can diverge from the myth, which is the wonderful quality of myths. I can use what I want from them and add whatever elements I need.
Another way to adapt myths is to change the sex of the character. What would a story based on Hercules be like if the character was female? Or the journey of Odysseus if it was a woman struggling to get him after many years away?
I have found these books helpful when researching myths.
- Myths and Legends: an Illustrated Guide to Their Origins and Meanings by Philip Wilkinson
- Mythology by Edith Hamilton
- Bulfinch’s Mythology by Thomas Bulfinch
Have you turned to myths for inspiration? Which ones?