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Posts Tagged ‘mythology’

It’s all well and good to debate the chances that a particular oracle’s words will come true or not, but I suspect the real unknown is not the relative skill of the prophet. It’s in the one who receives the prophecy.

In many legends, the prophecy only begins to come true when somebody believes it, and acts upon it. In my novel, Too Many Princes, King Unferth of Crutham receives a prophecy that if he doesn’t have more than 20 sons, no son of his will succeed him on the throne. Everything about Unferth’s life changes as he scrambles to have children with as many women as possible — and much to the disgust of his queen.

Merlyn receives a vision of a great king uniting Britain in an era of peace. He then begins manipulating the events that lead to King Arthur’s conception, his training in secret, and his eventual coronation.

Gandalf knows of a prophecy that the sword Narsil will one day be re-forged and re-named Anduril. Then the lost heir of Gondor will be restored to his throne. Gandalf makes it a point to befriend Aragorn and make sure he follows the steps necessary to claim his destiny.

In perhaps the greatest prophecy tale from Greek legend, King Acrisius of Argo receives a prophecy that his daughter’s son will one day kill him and seize his throne. He decides to lock Danae up in a tower, but she is still impregnated by the god Zeus. So Acrisius shuts mother and son up in a chest and throws it into the sea. The chest comes to land, and the boy grows up to, indeed, overthrow his grandfather.

The Perseus story, in particular, shows how acting on the prophecy can create its own outcome. After all, most kings hope to have an heir of their own bloodline. Like, say, a grandson. What if, instead of trying to slay Danae and her child, Acrisius had welcomed Perseus as his future heir? Perseus would still have followed Acrisius to the throne, but without the necessity of killing him first.

I predict: There will be one more post to this thread!


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Prophecies and those who deliver them are a time-honored tradition in mythology, and hence in our modern fantasy genre. From the Oracle at Delphi to Merlyn the Magician to Dream Girl (Legion of Superheroes comic book), characters are shown to predict the future.

Naturally people are tantalized by the possibility of knowing their future. Some hope to spot a red thread and find their future spouse. Some want to know if their car is about to break down or will keep running a little longer. All of us wish that we had some control over what comes next in our lives.

As writers, we can draw on this longing. But when using prophecy (and its near-twin, time travel) there is a key decision to make: is the future Fixed, Flexible, or Fractured?

If the future is Fixed, then it is possible to make predictions with 100% accuracy. In this setting, prophets would enjoy great prestige. People would pay great sums to find out if their merchant ship will reach port with a cargo that makes them rich — or sink, leaving them penniless. On the other hand, unscrupulous individuals and governments would make every effort to control a reliable oracle. In Aditi Khorana’s novel The Library of Fates, a young girl with prophetic powers is enslaved by a cruel despot.

If the future is Flexible, then what is foreseen may or may not come true. No prophet would be able to establish a record as 100% accurate, even with the best intentions. Oracles might be respected, but people would rely as much on other sources of information to make decisions about their lives. For storytellers, this is a great way to create tension. Neither the reader nor the other characters can know if the oracle is correct about what is to come.

In many stories, the future can be Fractured by important decisions. One great example is Bradbury’s famous short story, The Sound of Thunder, where a time-traveling hunter steps on a butterfly and returns to find reality altered. If something so small can change the future, then prophets would have enormous difficulty making accurate predictions. Or, the prophecy they make can be true for a while, but have an “expiration date” when some other event fractures the future again. In such a setting, it would not be likely for oracles to have any respect at all. Foretellings might have greater urgency, however, since they must be acted on quickly before something changes.

What do you think? How do you use prophecies in your storytelling?


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Wyrd. An ancient word that echoes into today’s weird and wonderful domain of genre fiction. Today we use the word “weird” to describe anything strange or hard to explain. “Did you see those weird lights in the sky?” It can also encompass unexpected or unpleasant behavior. “That kid was acting weird.”

But for our long-ago ancestors, wyrd was a religious and philosophical concept. It grappled with the question of predestination. Do people have free will, or are we all prisoners of an unknowable fate?

The origin of this word comes from Norse mythology. The Norns were a magical sisterhood who were responsible for the fate of all creatures. Best known of these are Wyrd (or Urd), Skuld and Verdandy, three goddesses who represented the past, present and future. They held a role very similar to the Three Fates of Greek lore. Clotho, Lachesis and Atropos were depicted as weavers whose tapestry spanned the universe. Both sets of goddesses were believed to hold power over every human, from the lowly peasant to the mighty king.

In the Norse version, Wyrd was not only the goddess who determined one’s destiny, but was also used to indicate the actual destiny. Many tales referred to Wyrd and the other Norns as whimsical and inscrutable beings whose will could never be gainsaid.

Yet, there was a parallel belief that people’s own actions could influence their wyrd. Presumably, good and kind actions would bring about a happy destiny, while selfish or evil actions would lead to disaster. This applied to groups, as well. The collective actions of a clan, community, or even a nation could shape its wyrd by pleasing or offending the Norns.

This idea of a magical fate that couldn’t be denied is one that comes down to us in many forms of modern fantasy and science fiction. How often does a story begin with a prophecy? How many times have we witnessed the struggles of a Chosen One who must rise to meet their destiny?

It would seem that the eternal question of Wyrd is with us to this day.


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I’m in the final days of preparing Wyrmflight: A Hoard of Dragon Lore for publication. This is the frustrating part, where every T has to be crossed and every I has to be dotted. It all has to be right, so my book doesn’t look like something a lame amateur spit out.

I had hoped to be done by now. I wanted to be giving you the big, exciting announcement today. But I’m being hung up by some sort of technical bug. The software for formatting the print book keeps inserting blank pages at the end of paragraphs. I’ve corrected this three times and the blank pages reappear in the same places. I wish I could send a flight of flaming dragons!

Hmmm, maybe that wouldn’t be helpful. But if anyone knows what might be causing this, I’d love your suggestions.

Anyhow, here’s a snippet from one of my favorite posts, back in 2014 — Number Five Lucky Dragon.


 

As Hallowe’en approaches, I bring you a true horror story from the cold war. Daigo Fukuryu Maru was a humble Japanese fishing vessel that set out from Yaizu to catch tuna in January of 1954. Its name translates roughly as “Number Five Lucky Dragon,” a cruel irony in light of the ship’s fate. Daigo Fukuryu Maru ran into engine trouble almost immediately. Near Midway Island, it snagged its lines on a coral reef and lost nearly half of them. The young captain, Hisakichi Tsutsui, refused to return to port without something to show for it. He headed south, toward the Marshall Islands.

By the end of February, 1954, Daigo Fukuryu Maru was fishing near Bikini Atoll. Yes, THAT Bikini Atoll. Supplies were running low, and they planned to fish one more day before heading back to port. None of the crew had any idea that the U. S. Government had established an exclusion zone around Bikini Atoll because they were planning a Hydrogen bomb test. The hapless vessel was outside the exclusion zone, but that was little consolation after the fact.

At 6:45 a.m., a tremendous flash drew the crew up to the deck. It looked like the sun was rising in the west. “Bridge, sky and sea burst into view, painted in flaming sunset colors,” recalled crewman Matakichi Oishi. What the stunned crew witnessed was the detonation of Castle Bravo, a new type of nuclear weapon that worked a little too well. The blast had been expected to yield 6 kilotons; the actual yield was closer to 15. It was the greatest human-caused explosion to date, and the consequences were devastating.

Well, I hope this piques your interest for Wyrmflight: A Hoard of Dragon Lore! Which will be coming soon, I swear it!


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I mentioned on Wednesday that the taniwha of New Zealand were guardians to their own, but could be dangerous to outsiders. In fact, taniwha could be man-eaters as much as any other dragon. Many tales relate attacks by taniwha against humans they weren’t connected to. Luckily, there were warriors with enough spiritual prowess to defeat a rogue spirit, whether by use of wits or force of arms.

One taniwha, Nagarara Haurau, had devoured several villagers before capturing a young woman as his bride. He lived with her in a cave near the sea. The villagers pretended to accept him as their neighbor, and prepared a feast to honor him. During the festivities they ambushed and killed him. It’s said that Nagarara’s severed tail flew off and landed in a lake or stream. Prominent waterfalls in various locations are thought to have been created by the impact of Nagarara’s tail.

Another taniwha, named Kaiwhare, was preying on the people of Manukau. No one could stop him. There was a warrior named Tamure who lived in Hauraki and owned a magical club with power to defeat taniwha. The people of Manukau pleaded for help and Tamure came to them. Kaiwhare readily attacked, for Tamure was a stranger. They wrestled on the shore until Tamure bashed the taniwha over the head with his club. Kaiwhare was not killed, but he did become tame. This taniwha is still believed to live in the waters near Manukau. His diet now consists of octopus and crab.

Near Kaipara, three sisters were out gathering berries one day. As they returned, a taniwha fell upon them. He captured each in turn, finally selecting the loveliest one as his bride. (The fate of the other girls is unspoken. Perhaps he ate them.) The taniwha took the lucky (?) girl to his cave. As time passed, she bore him six sons. Three were taniwha, like their father, and three were human, like their mother. In secret, the captive mother taught her human sons to be warriors. The human sons eventually killed their taniwha brothers, and later their father. They then returned to their mother’s home with her.

Like their distant cousins, the mo’o of Hawai’ian tradition, taniwha could sometimes blur the line with humans. Tales tell of a “woman from the sea” named Pania, who married a human man. Their child was a taniwha. A priest named Te Tahi-o-te-rangi had served as a spirit medium for taniwha. He transformed into one of them after his death.


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It’s hard to believe that I’m heading into my seventh year of blogging here at Wyrmflight. Way back in 2012, I was looking for ways to publicize a podcast of my middle-grade novel, Masters of Air & Fire. The book is focused on a family of kid dragons, and I thought a blog might be a good way to begin.

I figured I would go with the topic until I ran out of ideas. At the time, I was most familiar with the European idea of a dragon, though also aware that there were Asian dragons, too. Six years later, I haven’t run out of ideas yet.

Sure, there are legendary dragons like Fafnir, Typhon and Tiamat. There are literary dragons like Morkeleb, Smaug and Kalessin. But who knew there were trees named after dragons? Or flowers? Or fish? Who knew dragons could be ghosts? Or rivers? Or cosmic guardians? Who knew a dragon could rule the underworld?

So here’s to all the dragons, from ages long past and from contemporary minds. And here’s to you, my readers, whether you’ve been following for all six years or just found me. Long may we fly on the wings of dragons!


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One thing that distinguishes Asian and European dragons, aside from their obvious physical differences, is the underlying concept that Asian dragons have a life cycle. In European lore, dragons tend to be individuals. Think Fafnir and Hydra. Each dragon is unique, it lives in one place (as Hydra does at Lake Lerna) until it encounters a hero who vanquishes it.

By contrast, Asian dragons are a species widely distributed across China, Korea, Tibet, Japan, Thailand, and into the islands of Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines. These dragons, collectively known as Lung dragons, are born, grow, and gain power. Human beings will not know of one single dragon, which they can avoid if it is dangerous. Lung dragons can be encountered near any body of water and in some mountain ranges or even large towns.

Lung dragons are hatched out of eggs, laid on the banks of rivers and streams. They may appear as beautiful stones, and will remain for thousands of years before hatching. Possibly there needs to be some sort of spiritual imbalance that “tells” the embryonic Lung it is needed in the world. When they emerge, they have long, fish-like bodies and various appendages depending on who is telling the story. Cat whiskers, eagle talons and tiger legs are among the possibilities. According to some lore, Lung are born without horns and cannot yet fly.

The young Lung will take up residence in the water where it is born. It protects the environment there and people living nearby know it as a helpful and lucky spirit. The larger the body of water, the faster and more powerful the Lung will grow. However, if the water is diverted or drained, the dragon will be forced to move on and all the luck of the community will turn bad.

At about 500 years old, it will transform into a Kioh-Lung. Now more powerful, the Lung dragon gains stag horns and the power of flight. This allows it to extend its protection over a much wider area. Kioh-lung can personally bring rain to areas where it is needed. They gain more powers of transformation and can become as small as a silk worm or large enough to blot out the sun. Kioh-lung can even take human form to move among the populace. It pays to show kindness to strangers, for you never know who is a dragon in disguise!

During this phase, Kioh-lung can assume specific responsibilities, as described in my last post. Chulong, Fucanglong and Shenlong are all examples of the niche a Kioh-lung may fill.

After 1,000 years in all, the Lung again transforms to become a Yinglong. These dragons grow wings in addition to their other features and can move freely among the gods themselves. Like the gods, dragons are immortal unless somehow killed. Asian people believe that these friendly spirits have watched over them through the ages. They hope the dragons will always be there for them.


A few of my other books:

Aunt Ursula’s Atlas, Lucy D. Ford’s short story collection and Masters of Air & Fire, her middle-grade novel.

The Grimhold Wolf, my Gothic werewolf fantasy, and my epic fantasy, The Seven Exalted Orders.

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