Tuesday, October 2, 2012

A Re-Post of Characters and Elements Found in Myth and Folklore

The following piece was first posted on 5/31/12 and I think it deserves more than the 10 page views it's garnered.  Odd, because the subsequent two posts, The Legends of Troy and How to Convert Greek Names into the Shshi Language, received 37 and 41 views.
       I got the idea of sending my termites out on an epic journey, complete with all the bells and whistles, out of the blue as I was finishing up "The Termite Queen." I wish I could say that the idea came from a learned source like Joseph Campbell's theories of the Hero's Journey and such, but instead I think the source was much more of a pop culture phenomenon. I was a big fan of "Xena: Warrior Princess" at the time! In that series (and its predecessor "Hercules," which is much inferior, I think, although I did enjoy Michael Hurst as Iolaus), Greek myth and occasionally myths from other cultures are reworked, processed through a compressed time frame (Caesar is contemporary with Troy, for goodness' sakes!), and given their own fresh interpretations. So that was in my mind at the time.
        But another source has to be Watership Down, which is an epic about rabbits and one of my favorite books of all time. It has all the elements of the heroic journey, told in the context of a rabbit culture here on Earth. My books also have the elements of the heroic journey, told in the context of an isopteroid culture on another planet. As Amb. Tarrant Hergard said upon the occasion of the admission of Earth into the Confederation of Planets: “An ancient Earth adage says, ‘There is nothing new under the sun.’ Perhaps the phrase should now become, ‘There is nothing new among
the stars.’”
        In the article "Epic Poetry" Wikipedia lists the following characteristics of an epic:  
  1. Begins in medias res. [Actually, I don't do that one, unless you consider beginning right after the conclusion of "The Termite Queen" to be in medias res.]
  2. The setting is vast, covering many nations, the world or the universe. [check!]
  3. Begins with an invocation to a muse (epic invocation). [No, not here]
  4. Begins with a statement of the theme. [Umm, not exactly]
  5. Includes the use of epithets. [No, I don't think so.]
  6. Contains long lists (epic catalogue). [Ah, yes -- I subject the reader to epic lists three times throughout the series. One in each of the original volumes. Maybe I can construct lists for the other three! Or maybe not.]
  7. Features long and formal speeches. [At times, when appropriate]
  8. Shows divine intervention on human affairs. [On only two occasions does the Nameless Mother personally poke her antennae into the mix, but the foretellings of Seers prevade the books.]
  9. Features heroes that embody the values of the civilization. [Definitely]
  10. Then there are the stock characters who are encountered in epics. First, of course, you've got the epic hero and ours is ready-made: Ki'shto'ba Huge-Head, the extra-large Da'no'no Shshi Warrior from To'wak. Often this hero is a demigod; whether that's true of Ki'shto'ba you'll have to find out later. The hero has to go on a quest and be tested in some way. So far, so good.
        The hero may fall in love, rescue and marry a Princess. (???) Impossible! There are some things sexless termites just can't do! Although there IS one place where Ki'shto'ba rescues a fertile female nymph ...
        The hero must have Companions, be it just a sidekick or a dozen of them. I opted for a dozen.
There is the wandering Bard, who roams the world recounting the deeds of the hero. Here we have Di'fa'kro'mi the Remembrancer, who is also Ki'shto'ba's First Companion.
        Its Second and Third Companions are little Workers -- sidekicks par excellence. Every termite Warrior must have groomers and feeders -- squires, in effect.
        The Fourth Companion is the twin -- a pervasive theme in mythology and one stressed by Robert Graves in his Greek Myths. Hercules had a twin named Iphicles; Ki'shto'ba has one named A'zhu'lo.
        Then there is the trickster. Aren't tricksters fun, though? Reynard the Fox, Coyote, Raven, Loki, Puck, Ariel, Q in StarTrek, Odysseus -- and last but hardly least, El-ahrairah in Watership Down. And right up there with those: Za'dut, the Fifth Companion of Ki'shto'ba -- a Worker but so much more. Its name means two things in the Shshi language: Little Lizard and Little Thief.
        Finally, there are the Seers. Fiver in Watership Down comes to mind. And Greek myth is loaded with Seers, which fits right in with Shshi culture, since every fortress has an Alate who is gifted with Seeing (even if part of it does come from ingesting a hallucinogen). Teiresias, the blind prophet of Thebes, becomes in my tales Thru'tei'ga'ma, the half-blind Seer of To'wak, who sets up the premises of the tale early on. Ki'shto'ba won't acquire a Seer as a Companion until the fifth volume, but different Seers in different places have tremendous influence all the way through the story. How much of their pronouncements are true foretellings and how many are merely self-fulfilling prophecies? Again, you'll have to find out for yourself.


  1. I think its really interesting that you can analyze your own work from such an intellectual perspective. I know where my ideas come from, and can sometimes tell when I've been inspired by certain sources or writers, but I don't know that I can be that eloquent about my own work.

    1. Actually, since I based the Ki'shto'ba series on retellings of Greek myth, this is simply helping the reader to understand what's going on in case they're not familiar with the myths or the epic form. You might enjoy reading the two posts I referred to in the first paragraph above. And my other (main) blog, http://termitewriter.blogspot.com, is more general in scope than this one. Go over there and try the tab marked My Future History (an excerpt from The Termite Queen, v.1).

  2. I think I won't be ever able to look at a rabbit again without thinking of you:)

    1. LOL! Have you ever read Watership Down? Wonderful book! And by the time they are ten or so, your boys will love it, too! Richard Adams started out telling the tales to his children and then ended up writing them down.

  3. Great post, (found it through your Next Big Thing post) I love the idea of using traditional elements from folklore and myth for a story. If you'd ever like to do a guest post like this for my blog, give me a shout. :)

    1. Thanks! I wouldn't mind doing something. I discovered your email form on your blog. I'll send you a message there, sometime either later today or tomorrow. And I wouldn't mind having you do a guest post on this blog, which I have broadened to include myth in literature. How about a research piece on insects in myth, like some of your other research pieces? (That's exactly what you need, Fel! More work!)