Guest Blog Post: Telling and Retelling: How the Werewolf and Atlantis Myths Fit So Well Together by Jeff Shanley

by Vanna on February 21, 2012

Mathion: Book One of the Mavonduri Trilogy by Jeff Shanley

Today I have another guest post for you to enjoy. This time Jeff Shanley explains a little bit about the inspiration behind his fantasy series, the MAVONDURI TRILOGY. Book One of it, called Mathion is already available from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and elsewhere.  I definitely suggest you check it out, especially in shapeshifters, rich fantasy worlds, and deep characters are what you look for in the books you read. More about Jeff can be found at the The Mavonduri Trilogy Official Blog.

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Telling and Retelling: How the Werewolf and Atlantis Myths Fit So Well Together

by Jeff Shanley

As the author of the MAVONDURI TRILOGY, its origins are an interesting story for me to tell. But that’s not what this post is ALL about. This is about how fantasy, as a genre, can retell ancient myths in new and exciting ways, using two mythic archetypes as specific examples. I’ve always found both the Atlantis myth and the werewolf myth extremely fascinating for different reasons, but it wasn’t until I began writing Mathion that I found that I could retell both of these myths in one story.

I’ve done my fair share of research, and found that almost every ancient culture has or had some kind of shapeshifter (i.e. “werewolf”) myth and an Atlantis (or Deluge) type myth. Coincidence? Perhaps, but I’ve never thought so. Both of these mythological archetypes are so ubiquitous in human culture that I thought there had to be a connection. And it was through writing Mathion that I found a way to make that connection. In their most basic forms, they run thus:

•In the Atlantis/Deluge myth, you hear of a prosperous island empire that is consumed by the sea. But it’s not that simple, and this is where the “proximity phenomenon” comes into play. Those cultures that are closer to the source of the myth will be able to convey more detail concerning the real events that inspired the myth (Atlantis), whereas those further away are less detailed (deluge).

•In that same vein, we have a similar derivation with the werewolf myth. Whether or not it is specifically a “wolf”, the idea of a human being able to assume the form of an animal is one of the most common and pervasive myths in human culture. It could be a wolf, yes, but in Norse cultures there were tales of “berserkers” and further east there were legends of werepanthers and other similar shapeshifter myths. In the Americas the most noteworthy shapeshifter myth is that of the Navajo “skinwalker”.

So what could be the ultimate “source” of these two myths? Well, upon finishing my research I came to the conclusion that the sources are one and the same: these shapeshifters inhabited a vast landmass in the middle of the ocean, and upon its destruction they spread out over the world and these “myths” emerged in our cultural subconscious.

The idea of “reinvented (or lost) history” is among the oldest in terms of the fantasy genre. I myself have always found that an immensely interesting aspect of it, and when the opportunity arose to reinvent history myself, I took it and started running with it. To take an icon of horror and set it in the fantasy genre opens up so many more doors in terms of character than if you were to put it in any other medium.

Finally, I would just like to say this: if you are writing or are going to write a fantasy story, and in particular an EPIC fantasy story, I believe there are three central “tenets” you as an author should follow. Not have to, mind you, but should. They are:

•The Map- this is the world in which the Tale is told, and it goes far beyond just the actual map found in the book itself. It comprises the history, cultures, languages and even religious ideals that add depth and legitimacy to the world in which your characters inhabit. It’s very important that there be a cohesion within the Map (place names, language, etc.)

•The Quest- this is the tenet which allows both author and reader to be introduced to and explore the world in which the Tale is told. It also can reflect your Hero’s inner journey and be just as, if not more perilous.

•Sub-Creation- this tenet has its ultimate source in the father of modern fantasy, J. R. R. Tolkien. The art of sub-creation isn’t a conscious one, but it emerges as a result of the depth you add to the Map, to the extent that you begin to “discover” certain aspects of the world that were not consciously created but fit within the context of it. Some of the best fantasy worlds and stories are a product of sub-creative processes and as a result have such a realistic feel to them that there is no need for a suspension of disbelief.

In the end, “to create a convincing story, you’ve got to know what you’re talking about in every detail.”

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Are you a fantasy or sci-fi author and would like to submit a guest post to this blog? Drop me a line at vanna.smythe@gmail.com and we’ll discuss the details 😉

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Michael Offutt February 21, 2012 at 7:17 pm

I’m not necessarily convinced that the Atlantis “myth” is actually a “myth”. Plato seemed pretty convinced of it and they think it may have been someplace in Spain. It’s pretty obvious that the ancient world was different from what it is now. There are sunken houses and roads that run off into the Mediterranean Sea, hinting at some kind of catastrophe that occurred there. Too bad they didn’t keep very good records. Otherwise we might know the truth of it, right?

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Jeff Shanley February 21, 2012 at 8:57 pm

Agreed, and plate tectonics offer a very reasonable scientific explanation. But sadly, mainstream science won’t bite.

But I use “myth” as a term of convenience. Tolkien said that a “myth” is a story that everybody knows about, even if they haven’t read it.

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Vanna February 22, 2012 at 8:03 pm

I’m thinking it’s more the barbarian hordes sweeping over the area after the fall of the Roman Empire that’s too blame for so much knowledge being lost.

Overall, history as we know it was written by the victors, whoever they were. That alone suggests that much of it is more (wishful) fabrication than fact.

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Daniel R. Marvello February 22, 2012 at 4:58 pm

I’m looking forward to reading Mathion. The excerpt sold me.

The level of detail you developed in creating your story world is phenomenal. World building is one of my favorite aspects of writing as well. I know some readers just want to get to the action and become bored with too much detail, but I personally like the immersive experience of a well-wrought world. That’s one of the reasons I can put up with an entire series of doorstop fantasy books.

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