Remystifying the Mythology Behind Our Favorite Fantasy Creatures by Lauren Grimley
Fantasy has seen a tremendous resurgence in the last decade. You can hardly walk into a bookstore without bumping into half a dozen new releases chock full of ‘things that go bump in the night.’ As a fantasy fanatic and book geek extraordinaire, I have my own shelves organized into sub-genres: vampires on the top, witches and wizards in the middle, and miscellaneous monsters and magic on the bottom. Readers of these genres likely see nothing wrong with this, while outsiders scratch their heads contemptuously and say things like, “you’re writing/reading another vampire book?”
The problem with this question, in addition to being pompous and rude, is that it implies that all vampire, werewolf, or witch stories are the same. Readers and writers of these books know that that is far from the truth. In fact, what makes reading books with such creatures exciting is discovering how an author recreated the existing mythology. To some extent writers draw from those who’ve written such tales before them. For readers to connect a character to vampires, there likely needs to be some reference to blood and the illusion, at least, of immortality. Werewolves should probably have a man-wolf thing going for them. And witches ought to be able to brew up some kind of magic. But that’s about where the similarities end and the writer’s imagination needs to take over.
I’ve always marveled at the skill of historical fiction writers who are bound both by the time period about which they write and by the new tale they hope to create. Fantasy writers face the same challenges. Their readers are almost certainly coming to the table with a preset idea of what their creatures ought to be like. The authors are bound by the works of authors like the Grimm brothers, Stoker, and Shakespeare, not easy footsteps to follow in. Their task then is to take the existing mythology and recreate it in a way that is both recognizable and unique. They do this by changing the settings, mixing up the plots, and, my personal favorite, creating entire new backstories, not just for their characters, but for the entire species they are writing about.
The backstory of a character involves their life up to when the events in the book begin. Sure, this can be rather involved and many writers have entire notebooks brimming with character backstory. Now think about creating that for an entire species. Authors need to think about how their monsters or magic makers were created, how they evolved, and how they lived along side us regular folk. They need to decide if they have traditions, ceremonies, or important historical events that shaped them. Are there traits common to their kind; do the characters in the story stray from these traits? The list is endless.
The trickiest part, however, isn’t coming up with the backstory, it’s working it into the novel in unobtrusive ways. Yes, most contemporary or urban fantasy stories have a character who is new to the world. Yes, she can ask a few questions. Even the most curious reader, though, doesn’t want to read a twenty-page question and answer scene where the author info dumps all the ways their characters differ from the previous mythology of their kind. Backstory of a character, creature, or species is best revealed in a trickle, not a deluge. If at the end of the book, the reader is still left with questions, perfect, that’s what the next book is for.
If you’re reading this blog, chances are you’re not the type to sneer at the thought of another vampire, witch, or werewolf book. To those who are, may this be a reminder that most of the things that go bump in the night in today’s books, are indeed the same that have been bumping along in books, plays, and traditional tales for centuries. That they have lasted so long is a credit to the thousands of authors who have continued to recreate them in ways that recapture our imaginations over and over again. So stop scratching your head and read a few! ~ Lauren
Thanks Lauren, I love all the paranormal creatures in my books
and hope to read more about them for years to come!
Below you can learn more about Lauren and Unforeseen
by Lauren Grimley
Publisher: Malachite Quills
Publication date: April 27, 2012
paperback release: September 27, 2012
Purchase: Barnes and Noble/Amazon
Alex was quite sure that “gifted” was a term which delusional parents applied to their strictly average children, that vampires were gorgeous dead guys in her eighth-grade girls’ novels, and “Seers” was a middle schooler’s misspelling of a department store famous for power tools. Teachers, however, don’t know everything, and it’s Alex’s turn to be educated. Hoping just to clear her mind, Alex Crocker leaves work for a late night run across the small city of Bristol, Massachusetts. Instead she is dragged violently into a feud she never would have known existed. She quickly learns she’s being hunted for possessing a gift she never wanted, one that could kill her or provide her the power she’ll need to protect herself and those she cares for.Despite her desire to maintain her independence, Alex quickly becomes tied to the Rectinatti vampires through bonds of friendship, loyalty, and most surprisingly, love. These bonds, coupled with the new knowledge that she is in grave danger are enough to make her want to stay, but it’s learning what is really at stake that drives her to fight.
When Lauren Grimley isn’t defending her favorite genre, she’s writing or teaching in central Massachusetts. If she finds free time beyond these activities, she’s likely to spend it on a beach with a book and bottle of wine close by. Her first novel, an urban fantasy entitled Unforeseen, was published this spring. The second book in the series, Unveiled, is off to the publisher, while the third is being dragged, kicking and screaming, from Lauren’s imagination. And, yes, it’s another vampire series.