A Myths Connection: How Authors Have Used Myths in Literature

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Myths are interwoven in each of us. The stories they tell and the lessons they teach are fundamentally at the core of most literature. And therefore embedded into most of our childhoods, and everyone can connect to at least one. Whether it is the traditional myths most people think of, like the stories of Greek gods or more modern interpretations like Marvel’s Thor. This connection is made because classical mythology has been used as the building blocks for most classic and modern literature. The main reason for this is that authors, much like any other creator, look to the works of others to draw upon inspiration for their own stories.

Some authors choose to do this in a literal sense, by using the established characters from mythology to create their own story. For example, Rick Riordan has transformed the idea of Greek mythological demigods into to modern-day kids; in addition to his other books featuring varying classic mythologies. Marvel Comics has turned Thor, Sif, Loki, and others from Prose Edda (Sturluson) into comic book heroes and villains. Other authors however, have drawn upon fragments of ideas or small details from mythology and use those to enhance their own story. Like in C.S. Lewis’s, The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. J.R.R. Tolkien is another example of an author who has used mythology more subtly in some of his books.

The concept of using classic myths to tell a new story isn’t entirely new, but author Rick Riordan has reinvented it. To date he has over forty books published and out of those, a little more than thirty are pertaining to classic mythology (Rick Riordan). All of his mythology related books are about a teenaged, or younger, youth who are the children or somehow become associated with the gods from a specific mythology. His most famous series, Percy Jackson & the Olympians, about the demigod son of Poseidon, was the start of it all for Riordan.

Since the conclusion of his Percy Jackson & the Olympians series, Riordan has gone on to write many more books about Greek mythology; as well as Roman, tying it in with his Greek series. He has also written about Egyptian mythology as well as Norse mythology in one of his most recent series, Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard. In addition to the books Riordan has written himself, Disney-Hyperion has announced “Rick Riordan Presents”, in which he will offer advice and edit other author’s books about varying mythologies that he had yet to write about, like Native American, Chinese, Mayan and others. (Corbett; Rick Riordan Presents)

The connection his work has to classic mythology is quite obvious, since he references them by name and simply modernizes the gods and other characters. All of the gods maintain their original representation and their character traits. But instead of ancient clothing they wear modern clothes and interact with our world with a since of modernism that includes speaking in modern English. In addition to the gods Riordan also incorporates the monsters, creatures, and important objects from the original myths into his books.

For example, in the Percy Jackson & the Olympians series, Percy’s best friend is a satyr, his half-brother is a cyclops and in one of the books they go on a quest to retrieve the Golden Fleece. Over the course of the series they face many classic monsters, creatures and gods from classic Greek mythology. Part of Riordan’s modernization also transitions famous mythological sites to modern ones; for example, he moved Mount Olympus to the top of the Empire State Building. Riordan has also incorporated some of our modern-day ‘myths’ with the classic ones. In The Sea of Monsters he utilizes the Bermuda Triangle as the monster ridden location of the Golden Fleece.

The author C.S. Lewis, who is most famous for the series The Chronicles of Narnia, is a good example of how authors draw upon mythology in a more subtle way. Although Lewis drew upon several different aspects from various classic myths for many of his books, The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe has many notable ties to Prose Edda as well as a few references to Greek and Roman mythologies. While most of his ties to mythology are pretty passive, mostly relating to themes of good and evil, Lewis did include a few more noticeable connections. Specifically, when comparing his original version of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe to Norse mythology.

The first connection being Lewis’s choice to name Jadis the White Witch’s captain wolf, Fenris Ulf, a name that is very similar to Fenrisúlfr or Fenrir the wolf as he is known in Prose Edda. Though this connection is not often made since HarperCollins started publishing the book in 1994, and they changed the name from Fenris Ulf to Maugrim (M.). In addition to Fenris Ulf, the “Hundred-Year winter” in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe mirrors the long winter, Fimbulvetr, which preludes Ragnarök. Another connection to Norse mythology, which has been changed from the pre-1994 editions, was the White Witch’s mention of the “World Ash Tree” which is thought to represent the world tree Yggdrasil, from Prose Edda. (Ford)

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe also feature some notable connections to both Greek and Roman mythologies. In the beginning of the book we meet a faun named Mr. Tumnus. Fauns, also called satyrs in Greek mythology, are half-human, half-goat creatures usually associated with the god Pan. What’s interesting about this use of mythological reference is that Mr. Tumnus, being one of the only characters derived from Greek and Roman myths, also mentions nymphs and dryads, both of which originate from Greek and Roman mythology. He then goes on to mention Bacchus, the Roman god of wine. Lewis seems to limit the connection of Greek and Roman mythology to only be used with the creatures from those myths whereas he references other mythologies more loosely throughout the book.

As stated before, C.S. Lewis and Rick Riordan certainly aren’t alone in incorporating classic mythology into their own books. There have been many before and after them that have utilized mythology as an inspiration. Another author who drew upon classic mythology was J.R.R. Tolkien. He was heavily inspired in particular by Norse mythology for some of his books, including Tolkien’s most famous work, The Lord of the Rings (Carpenter). The Wizard Gandalf, from The Lord of the Rings, bears resemblance to Odin. In a letter from 1946 Tolkien wrote that he sees Gandalf as an “Odinin wanderer” (C. Tolkien). The Lord of the Rings also features ties to Ragnarök. The Balrogs are similar to Surtr; as well as the destruction of the Bridge of Khazad-dûm resembles the destruction of the Bifröst. Another one of Tolkien’s books, The Silmarillion, also has similarities to Norse mythology, mostly pertaining to the Valar and their resemblance to varying Norse gods.

In addition to classic literature, Marvel Comics have also incorporated classic mythology into many of their comic books stories. There are mentions of many different mythologies ranging from Greek to Native American. However, their most famous use of mythology would be their use of Norse mythology. They have made many of the Norse gods into more than just gods; some are now considered superheroes and supervillains. Despite them now being superheroes Marvel has managed to stay a bit faithful to classic Norse mythology. Asgard is a common setting, the Bifröst still stands, Thor wields Mjölnir and most of the other characters also remain somewhat unchanged. Though, like with any adaptation, creative liberties have been taken with each author’s new take on the Thor comic series.

Overall, when an author chooses to use mythology as a building block in their own stories, in either a subtle or bold way; it aids in keeping classic mythology alive and active with the readers of today. The purposeful connections authors make to classic myths help not only their own story, but also the ongoing story of myths. Since people are innately curious, when someone reads a story that incorporates mythology, it can trigger further reading into classic mythology. Because of this, authors have transformed the ways that myths are shared and passed down through generations. Whether it’s an adventure with Percy, saving the day with Thor or spending time in Narnia or Middle Earth; mythology is interwoven into each of us.


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A Myths Connection: How Authors Have Used Myths in Literature. (2021, Jun 23). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/a-myths-connection-how-authors-have-used-myths-in-literature/



How myth is used in literature?
Mythology can be used to add a layer of depth to a story, providing context for the characters and their motivations. It can also be used as a tool for exploring universal truths and human nature.
What is an example of myth in literature?
An example of myth in literature would be the story of Prometheus in which he steals fire from the gods and is punished by being chained to a rock where an eagle eats his liver.
What is the authors purpose of a myth?
The author's purpose of a myth is to explain the natural world and human behavior.
What is the relationship between myths and literature?
Myth cannot exist without literature and literature cannot exist without myth , neither of the two can exist on its own. Myth forms the basis of literature and remains an integral element of the different types of literature one comes across.
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