Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Myth Week : Fictionalizing Faith

Posted by: Jax Garren
**NOTE: For this article, the definition of "myth" that I'm using is...
a traditional story, especially one concerning the early history of a people or explaining some natural or social phenomenon, and typically involving supernatural beings or events
 Using this definition, any heroes/gods/stories/etc of any religion, from Jesus to Zeus to Buddha to Maman Brigitte (possibly to Richard Dawkins?), falls under "myth." This usage doesn't imply the story/faith is not true. I use it because all religions have traditional stories that tell how people got here and to explain why the world works the way it does. I refer to my own religion's stories as "myths." I mean no disrespect and am in no way implying something is fake or attempting to belittle or marginalize with this term.***

I love fictionalizing mythology and do it in almost every book I write. The thing that really draws me to it, I think, is that myths are all about culture, faith, and the guiding principles of a person's life. Every myth was once (and often still is) a belief. To depict a myth in fiction is to take a vital piece of someone's core being and offer it up in a new form. Thor may be a popular character in comics and movies, but for practitioners of Asatru, a recognized faith in many countries with enough following in Iceland that a temple is being erected in Reykajavik, Thor is a living deity. In the musical Jesus Christ Superstar, Andrew Lloyd Weber and Tim Rice offer up a vulnerable and very human version of Jesus in his last week before the crucifixion. The musical is regularly produced in churches and boycotted by churches who either love or loathe the fictionalized vision of Christ. The last time I saw Superstar, the musical was done half in Spanish with Jesus hauled off by the border patrol instead of the Roman government. The image of Judas beatboxing as coins dropped from the sky and he went crazy for betraying his best friend will always remain with me.

In most of my books, there is a faith component to the mythic characters. In How Beauty Loved the Beast, my first time to write a god into a scene, Hauk is a practitioner of Asatru who meets Odin. Hauk's warrior faith and worldview inspired by Norse religious practices are important elements of his character and affect the plot throughout the three book series.

I don't portray every aspect of every mythology in a positive light. In fact, I think it's more interesting and authentic to portray mythology as capable of both good and evil. The villain of Stripped with the Vampire is a reincarnated Aztec priest trying to control the upcoming apocalypse the best way she knows how--by offering up a sacrifice to Xipe Totec, otherwise known as "Our Lord the Flayed One." In Aztec mythology, the gods sacrificed themselves for the good of mankind, and now mankind is expected to return the offering. Of course, our heroes aren't anxious to offer up their hearts or skins for her project, hence the initial conflict.

My current work includes Vodoun (more commonly known as Voodoo), a syncretic religion that combines Catholicism with Yoruba, the native religion of the African people brought to Haiti as slaves. Vodoun is fascinating to me because race, poverty, and (of course) slavery are intimately tied to its founding and culture. The legend of the zombie originally comes from Vodoun, but instead of a mindless creature hellbent on eating brains, it started as a way of creating a mindless servant, obedient to the zombie master.  The original zombie was a plantation worker. My book is about a Mexican-American former foster child who became an ER surgeon, but has to go back home to save the city when a zombie outbreak threatens his family. The book deals with human trafficking, poverty, and race in modern America, and zombies became my metaphor for many larger issues in society.

Mythology is more than a story. It's a faith. Some aspects of  ancient myths may not make much sense to us anymore (the Norse creation story includes a primordial cow licking Odin's father out of a salty block of ice. I love that story, but serious, WTF?). But taken as a whole, they embody the thoughts and morality of a culture. Through myth, we get to explore different expressions of what it means to be human.

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