Research, or how you too can be a wannabe mythologist

“Sit in a room and read–and read and read. And read the right books by the right people. Your mind is brought onto that level, and you have a nice, mild, slow-burning rapture all the time.”

― Joseph CampbellThe Power of Myth

Most writers, English teachers, and helpfully prodding parents like to quote the old adage “write what you know” when you fall into the abyss of writer’s block or cannot begin to fathom an idea for a class assignment. For the most part, I have stuck with that. Wholeheartedly.

And when I tell people that I have stuck with that and that the theme of my novel series is young adult supernatural, I get looks like, “So how many vampires do you hang around with?”

That’s not what I mean at all. Supernatural and mythological themes are what I know because I have been reading about them for ages. Most stories involve research. My story did involve real research, and I don’t mean Dracula.

Here’s how it started…
How did I get good at being a wannabe mythologist? I took classes and read for years. No really, I started reading in Egyptian mythology during elementary and moved on to Greek and Roman mythology books in my Catholic middle school. I never stopped.

I watched Buffy religiously. There was a time you could tell me a plot, and I could tell you episode name and number. (I’m going to go stand in this corner of my library, and clean my glasses, and talk like a walking text book. For real.)

I took a Classical Lit class in high school, in which we read Edith Hamilton’s Mythology (which began my deep love of Norse myths) and parts of the Bible, and bits of Egyptian stuff, and for fun, at the end of the year, we studied the Force. I walked into that class knowing all those myths and religions, and I did all of the extra credit things (including but not limited to a rewrite of “We Will Rock You” as “Wield Your Hammer”. Go, Thor!).

Then I went to college, I got to write papers about it! For my degree! For multiple classes! I’m sorry. I can’t hear you over the sound of my squee.

The mandatory freshmen class at my university involved reading such things as Genesis, the Epic of Gilgamesh, the Bagavad Gita, readings from the Koranand others the first semester. The second semester involved Utopia, the Prince, and the Inferno. I got to do a presentation about Cinderella and the evolution of the tale over the years, from China to Disney.

For fun, I picked up a class on Biblical Hebrew, and enjoyed memorizing the Alphabet (alef, bet, vet…), wondering why hey looked like the Egyptian “h”, learning to love “Behold!”,  and learning about things like midrash from a classmate. (Love how spell checker is going nuts at all these non-English words.)

I also took a Norse Myth class. We opened with Beowulf and eventually covered the Prose and Poetic Eddas, the Volsunga Saga, the Saga of the JomsvikingsNjal Saga, and other things I can’t pronounce.

For my Senior Seminar, we read a lot of great books including Joseph Campbell’s Primitive Mythology, the Lord of the Rings (which was an again for me), Der Ring des Nibelungen, T.S. Eliot’s The Wasteland, Prufrock, and Other Poems (which enthralled me, please ignore my drool), Jessie Weston’s From Ritual to Romance. In the ultimate act of geek-hood, I wrote my thesis on Star Wars and Mythology. Luckily, I had a professor that also loved Star Wars and mythology.

Why it matters…

But the important thing in all this to keep in mind is that in the margins of all my class notes, are novel notes. No joke. I sort of came up with my story when I was 12, revised and revised until I came up with the more solid form that I have stuck with when I was 16. So everything I read in class, anything that might apply, I made a note of it and how it could tie into my story in the margins.

All of this because I was bored. I don’t think I would have become as invested in my novel series ideas as I am now if I had had internet or television between the ages of 10 and 16.

Don’t give me that look. I lived in a valley. We didn’t want to pay for cable. Such is life. Instead I read the classic myths and tales and loved them for what they were, and now I love them for what they have become through the lens of my mind.

Right now? My research is a bit more funneled into exploring Japanese and Asian myths in general. So when I watch anime with yokai, I am doing research. And learning some basic Japanese phrases. I ended up doing research into these myths because my Star Wars project revealed to me how much bushido influenced Jedi. And honestly, there is nothing prettier than a gleaming katana.

This is how I feel like I can write what I know when it comes to supernatural and mythology; I’m sort of a mythology nerd.

So keep in mind that if you decide to watch episodes of Supernatural with me, you might end up discussing ancient apocrypha to prove fan theories.

–M

P.S. This is in no way the complete list of all the things I’ve read, and you also need to factor in waaaaay too many hours surfing the interwebz

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One response to “Research, or how you too can be a wannabe mythologist

  1. Pingback: Write what you know | jblamping

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