Merry Christmas, in Ukrainian!
As I writing this, I look out the window occasionally to see snow fall gently in my yard, piling heavier and heavier on my cedars. Many are bent low. I hope they don’t break under the weight.
It’s inspiring. Every time I see snow spread evenly over my yard, piling on the evergreen trees, drifting across fields, I want to write something about it. A real winter’s tale, one that captures the terrible beauty (that’s a phrase a remember from CS Lewis) and the power of winter.
I just hope that we still have winters in a few years, and when my kids get to be my age.
Today, January 6, is Christmas Eve in the old Julian calendar, which is still used by the Eastern Rite churches to work out religious celebrations and observances. Religious celebrations and annual events, particularly Christmas, have also inspired writers, musicians and all other artists for centuries — probably since people have created art and religions.
A different Christmas and the beginning of a new year represent an opportunity to look beyond the borders we’ve drawn around our art, and to look for new sources of inspiration, and new stories to inspire.
Fantasy writers draw much of their inspiration from the mythologies of ancient cultures. Since Wagner, Western
writers have been drawing from northern and western European mythologies for their stories. JRR Tolkien, CS Lewis, Eddison, Marion Zimmer Bradley and more added detail and richness to their stories by alluding to elements of mythology. Because their readers knew at least a little about these myths, the writers could tap into back-stories. It was a short-cut; write “dragon,” and every reader gets a fairly consistent picture in his or her mind.
Celtic, English, Roman, occasionally Greek mythologies have been the starting point for countless modern fantasy stories. And don’t forget how the Judaeo-Christian Bible provides the matrix, characters and back-stories for so many “urban paranormal” fantasies (including Bruce Blake’s Icarus Fell novels).
While I support pulling from mythology, I get the feeling that the path is becoming worn as a hiking trail near a major city, showing litter along the sides and too many signs of civilization along the way. Worse, writers are copying the elements of other writers, rather than going to the source.
The result is less originality.
A different starting point
With my first novel (the first I published, that is, but not the first that I started or completed), The Bones of the Earth, I drew my inspiration from eastern European cultures. While the vampire myth is used (some may say over-used), few writers seem to even know about ancient Slavic myths. I have never even heard of a book based on the mythologies of ancient Eurasian peoples, like the Sarmatians or Scythians. In fact, those peoples seem fascinating, probably because there’s precious little to read about them.
What I find most curious in our ethnically diverse twenty-first century Western culture is the lack of reference to Asian cultures in fantasy literature. There are a few, here and there — but given the numbers of people in the English-speaking and -writing world who can trace their heritage back to Asia, this is very strange.
Guild members, I challenge you
I challenge all of us to create new stories this year drawing on new sources of inspiration. I challenge all of us to look beyond our familiar boundaries, to stretch, to do something even more difficult than writing the tales we’ve been writing to date. Learn something new, something unfamiliar, something totally foreign. Or, look close to home.
The point is, let’s do something different in 2013. Let’s expand our worlds by challenging our own deepest assumptions.
Let me know how it works out for you.