Monday, May 6, 2019

Mythical Monday #77 - Here There Be Dragons

Art work by: @Burntlaughter on Twitter

It seems there are many books influenced by or based on Myths and Mythological Beings.

There are many different Mythology's and Mythological Beings recorded. Some are very popular and well known, others not so much. There are many similar beings, yet different depending on the culture it’s based in.  The definition of Myth covers about anything in the Urban Fantasy/Fantasy realm to me.

I’ve invited authors to share briefly the Mythological being or Myth that influenced their character(s) or story, or what their character(s) are based on influencing their books.  Hosting here, one author and being or myth per week.

Here There Be Dragons

The other night I had a conversation with my friend Greg. Cheryl and I planned to hike at Hanging Rock and Greg lived nearby, so we stopped to invite him along. But we were worried about his health. He’d been in the hospital, and at one point had nearly died. I hadn’t seen him since he’d gotten out. I remember feeling so happy to be talking to my best friend the way I’d used to. We instantly slipped back into the ongoing and ever-deepening conversation about every aspect of life that we’d started over thirty-five years when we met in college.

And then I woke up. I instantly felt grief because, in the waking world, Greg died years ago. At the same time I felt relieved, somehow, to have seen him again. No matter what my rational mind tells me, on a gut level I felt like I really had talked with him again, and it felt like a gift.

I’m not alone in having such dreams. Many people who’ve lost someone has similar dreams. Long before modern religions took form, it was universally believed that spirits of the dead carried on. The evidence was plain. Dreams were a gateway into the spirit world.

From the earliest days of mankind, we’ve lived a split existence, spending our days in the world of the living, and traveling at night through surreal, abstract lands where the lines between life and death are blurred.  We’ve evolved to see patterns and find meaning. The glimpses of the spirit world demanded explanation. They must have some purpose, some meaning. And in this search for meaning, myths were born.

In my novel Hush, a witch named Sorrow explains myths this way: “Myths are symbolic, resonant truth… They teach us about justice and love and courage. They help define who we are.”

Which is a somewhat long-winded introduction to explaining why I write so many books about dragons.

In my Dragon Apocalypse novels, where Hush takes place, dragons are beings of spirit as much as they are physical monsters. Each primal dragon rules over a land of the dead. Hush is the primal dragon of cold. She’s worshiped as a god by the ice-ogres of the frozen north, and through her icy jaws the spirits of dead ogres pass into the Great Sea Above. When ice-ogres look up into their aurora filled skies, they see the lapping waves of an ocean full of glowing krill. Individual stars are chunks of ice. Ice-ogres will spend their eternities traveling between these icebergs, paddling phantom kayaks as they hunt for ghostly whales. The dead ogres sing eternally, to call the spirits of newly deceased family members to them.

It is one of many lands of the dead my characters pass through during their efforts to stop the eponymous dragon apocalypse. They journey through the Sea of Wine, where the waves are stained red by an eternal sunset. Here the ghosts of sailors sail toward the Happy Isles that are forever just over the horizon unless they’ve lived spotless lives. My characters also visit the Realm of Roots, the spirit land of the jungle pygmies, where the souls of the dead eventually become entangled in vines and roots and get sucked back into the living world in new forms. And, at one point, they travel through Hell, across an every changing landscape that shapes itself to give each character’s worst sins and secrets a visible reality.

I don’t have my characters journey through these hellscapes simply because they are inherently dramatic settings. I take my characters to the lands of myth so I can explore those “symbolic, resonant truths” Sorrow talks about. In the first book in the series, Greatshadow, one of my characters is literally torn in two when she’s sent to the spirit world. She’s known as Infidel, and an old god peels her into the two halves of her personality: a frightened, delicate little princess, and a fierce, wild, forest dragon. Then, in a haunted forest, the dragon hunts the little princess, to destroy the scared child that’s held it back once and for all. I won’t reveal how that particular conflict ends, but it’s the sort of moment that makes me love writing fantasy. I get these cool fairy tale icons, the dragon and the princess, and I get to reveal my characters innermost soul via the conflict between these two aspects of her personality. I suppose I could write a non-magical story where a character talks about the unreconciled aspects of her psyche and tries to find peace via therapy or medication, but my approach is a bit more visceral. Like, literal viscera get spilt.  

The fact that so many scenes in these novels take place in the lands of the damned isn’t an opportunity I let go to waste. I hate it when dead people show up in novels and movies mainly to deliver plot points, like warnings or clues. When my characters meet their dead friends on the other side, they ask the obvious, most important question: Have you learned anything about life by dying? Just what was the point of all that struggle anyway? Did it mean anything at all? And is life beyond death a punishment, a reward, or something in between?

I like trying to answer these big questions, and it’s up to the readers to decide if I do a good job or not. But, succeed or fail, I don’t start a book until I know what grand theme is going to hold the book together. Yeah, my books are full of high adventure, with magic weapons and toothy monsters and quirky protagonists quipping their way through danger. I strive to make every page as entertaining as possible. But I also want my books to be thought provoking.

It’s said that you can’t really understand the country you live in until you travel to other countries. If that’s true, you can’t really understand the world you live in until you travel to other worlds. Until they finally get those rockets to Mars up and running, the only way to do that is to immerse yourself in the world of a book. Journeying into unknown lands isn’t without risk. Here there be dragons. But, there’s treasure as well.

After travelling through the mythic lands of my books, I hope the reader comes away feeling a bit like I did after my dream. I’d been to another world, and found something I thought was lost to me. If my readers are open to the journey, I hope they return from the dreamscapes I offer them carrying something priceless.

About James Maxey:
James Maxey’s mother warned him if he read too many comic books, they would warp his mind. She was right. Now an adult who can’t stop daydreaming, James is unsuited for decent work and ekes out a pittance writing down demented fantasies about masked women, fiery dragons, and monkeys. Oh god, so many monkeys.

​In an effort to figure out how Superman could fly, James read a lot of science, books by Carl Sagan and Stephen Jay Gould and Stephen Hawking. Turns out, Superman probably wasn’t based on any factual information. Who would have guessed? Realizing it was possible to write science fiction without being constrained by the actual rules of science proved liberating for James, and led to the psuedo-science fiction of the Bitterwood series, superhero novels like Nobody Gets the Girl, and the steam-punk visions of Bad Wizard.

​In 2015, James was honored as the Piedmont Laureate by the United Arts Councils representing Orange County, Durham County, and Wake County. This is almost certainly a sign of the ongoing cultural decay gripping the nation.

​James lives in Hillsborough, North Carolina with his lovely and patient wife Cheryl and too many cats. When not writing, you'll likely find him outdoors, biking, hiking, and kayaking.

Find James Maxey:
Twitter:  @JamesAllenMaxey

Pick up the complete Dragon Apocalypse series:

1 comment:

Melissa (Books and Things) said...

Love the quote about myths. Oh this makes me curious about his work. Nice post!