Storyteller Questions

Published May 15, 2015 by Iphis of Scyros

In playing catch-up on reading the non-WordPress blogs I discovered during April A-to-Z, I came across this really interesting entry from last week.  (Yes, I’m that far behind on non-WordPress blogs.  But I did have a 15 page paper due on Wednesday, so I have at least some small excuse for falling behind in reading the other blogs.)  The blog it’s on is The Multicolored Diary, which is all about folklore and storytelling and epics.  So, obviously, it’s the first one I went to to catch up.  (Now that I think about it, I forgot to get to the rest of them.  I’ll have to do that when I’m done posting this…)

Anyway, that particular post is about diversity in storytelling, and asks questions about the diversity represented by the tales a teller knows.  And while the questions are actually about individual tales for live telling, they can adapt easily enough to other settings.  So I’m going to answer the questions, both looking at the Greek myths I’ve been working through re-telling and my YAish novels taking place 16-20 years after the Trojan War.  (Obviously for this I’m looking at the myths I haven’t re-told yet as well as the ones I have.)

The questions are:

Do you have a story in your repertoire where…

… Multiple heroes team up for a quest?

Lots of these, definitely.  The voyage of the Argo, the Calydonian Boar Hunt, the Seven against the Thebes, the Epigoni, and the Trojan War, just for starters.  And my YAish novels feature a trio of heroes…who sometimes have even more help than that.

… A hero resolves a conflict between two enemies with peace (instead of defeating one)?

Ooh…I’m not thinking of anything here, sadly, despite that the heroine of my YAish novels would prefer peace to war.  (Though I’m going to have a peaceful resolution to the attempted vengeance of the daughter of Hector against the daughter of Achilles…if that counts…and I’m terrified that I’m going to set up the daughter of Hector with the son of Patroclos romantically…)

… A hero saves a life without fighting?

Hmm…I can think of a few minor (Greek) myths where that happens, but not many.  I don’t think I put any such incidents in my novels…which is embarrassing….then again, I’m not through with the follow-up, so maybe I can put one there!  (For that matter, the first seven are still only on the first draft, so I could always add things in the re-writing…)

… A hero saves an animal, a plant, or a place instead of a person?

Hmm…depends if this means, you know, choosing an animal/plant/place over a person, or just saving them to be saving them.  Though, actually, I’m not coming up with much either way.  (Apart from my YAish heroine not wanting to shoot a captive dove for the archery contest.  Which doesn’t seem like it would count in the least, since she kills animals for food at a number of other places in the books, and her cousin shot the thing to win the contest anyway.)  That’s odd, that I can’t think of any at all.  The northern European folktales have a huge motif of saving/sparing animals, but I’m not coming up with anything for the Greek tales.  (Maybe my brain is just failing me?)

… A hero overcomes fear (instead of being fearless to begin with)?

There’s not a lot of this going around, either.  My YAish heroine currently has this, but she’s going to have to lose the current version in the re-writes.  I had her afraid of Thracians because she had heard she and her cousin were going to be sold to Thrace and sacrificed to northern gods, but Thrace is too close to Lesbos; it’s not believable.  She does tend to panic a bit, but that’s not exactly fear.  I should give her a proper fear to replace the Thracian thing.  Well, she is genuinely afraid of her cousin being hurt, but that’s not something she ever really overcomes.

… The hero makes a mistake and then makes up for it?

Wow, the Greek myths are failing a lot of these diversity questions!  So are my books…the closest I come to this one is my secondary heroine, the daughter of Odysseus, nearly kills her father due to a curse, and then the whole trio undertakes a quest to break the curse.  That’s not quite the same as making a mistake, though.  (Apart from the mistake of going to the wrong place at the wrong time and meeting Odysseus in the first place.)  Though I feel like there is some time when my heroine did something terribly wrong and went to great lengths to fix it, but I can’t put my finger on what it was.  Maybe I’m just confusing her assumption that it was her own fault that her half-sister turned on me?

… A hero disguises his/her identity?

This happens from time to time in the original myths.  Achilles spending six years as Pyrrha leaps to mind (but that tends to leap to my mind anyway, ’cause it’s hilarious) but there are occasional other instances.  Most of them being brief, though.  My heroines spent most of the first book and a half pretending to be boys, and not admitting who their fathers were.  (But who’d go to Troy in the process of rebuilding and admit to being the daughters of Achilles and Odysseus?)  And after that, they keep getting mistaken for Amazons, and many of the veterans of the war are convinced that my heroine’s mother was (somehow) Queen Penthesileia herself…but that’s not exactly a disguise…

…. A male and a female hero fight shoulder to shoulder?

This is exceedingly rare in the ancient myths; Antiope fighting beside Theseus to stop her Amazon kinswomen from invading Athens and possibly some incidents with Atalanta being the only examples I can think of.  My YAish novels have a two girl, one guy trio, though, and the daughter of Achilles and the son of Aias frequently fight side by side.  Or more accurately, back-to-back.  (The daughter of Odysseus, of course, is an archer, and tends to fight from the sidelines.)

… An LGBT+ hero is featured?

In the original myths, you have a number of same-sex couples:  the most famous examples being Heracles/Hylas, Apollo/Hyacinthos, and (of course!) Patroclos/Achilles.  (Or Achilles/Patroclos if you prefer Aischylos’ version.  Or Achilles/Antilochos.  Or Achilles/Troilos…though that’s more attempted rape than romance, but…)  My novels, being YAish, were supposed to be largely sex-free…but the intensity of the relationship between Achilles and Patroclos keeps coming up, and at some point between finishing Book 7 and starting on the new Book 8 I realized that the daughter of Odysseus is in love with the daughter of Achilles (despite that their mothers were sisters) but so far she hasn’t been willing to understand it about herself.  (Though the son of Aias has picked up on it.)  Also there’s an older male character who had been a ten year old apprentice of Calchas during the war and who had a mad crush on Achilles for the middle years of the war…but he’s not actually a hero, just a supporting character.

… A standalone female hero is featured?

Does Atalanta count?  No, probably not, not in the surviving myths.  (I suspect there were more tales about her than were ever written down.)  Either of my heroines could go on their own…no, maybe not.  The daughter of Achilles is pretty co-dependent on her cousin.  (But she grew up admiring the father she never met, and since he went crazy when his “best friend” died, she figures the same thing would happen to her, so some of her dependency is artificially induced as part of her hero-worship of her dead father.)

… The hero is a person of color? (Bonus: The hero is a person of color in a Western cultural setting?)

Sadly, no.  The only person of color in the Greek myths is Memnon, and he’s not really a hero per se, despite being heroic.  I’ve got some non-Greek characters in my YAish books–primarily the Egyptian princess the son of Aias is in love with, but she only actually shows up once–but they’re nowhere near “hero” status.

… The hero has a disability (physical or mental) that doesn’t go away at the end of the story?

Oooh…another good one.  I need to work more of these into my novels!  But the Greek myths don’t really have much in the way of disabilities, apart from blindness, and even then rarely in heroes.  (Of course, back then it would have been harder to survive with a disability.)  Oh, and, of course, Hephaistos being lame in one or both legs.  But he’s a god, rather than a hero, so that’s sort of different.  I suppose Oedipus might be considered disabled, depending on how badly injured his foot was as an infant.  (Doesn’t his name mean “club foot” or something?)

… The hero’s main ability is wisdom and knowledge instead of strength?

This one doesn’t show up too often in the Greek myths, but Oedipus comes to mind, since he defeats the Sphinx by outwitting her rather than slaying her.  Odysseus sometimes falls into this category as well.  (But he falls into a lot of categories, not all of them good.)  The daughter of Odysseus in my YAish novels is very smart, and does all the planning, and although she’s very good with her bow, she isn’t very physically strong.  (And she uses her smarts to single-handedly defeat a revived Apsu when they go to Babylon…)

… Heroes of different religious (or spiritual) backgrounds are featured together?

Hmm, not really one that’s possible in the Greek myths, given their nature.  Doesn’t really come up in my books, either, apart from the son of Aias having a (forbidden) romance with an Egyptian princess, who necessarily is of a different religious background.  But, again, she’s not a hero…

… The hero is not a young person?

The Odyssey leaps to mind here.  Individual myths, though…well, some of the tales late in Heracles’ life, or the late tales of Theseus (though then he’s no longer a hero anymore, more like a lecherous old man), and by the time of the discovery of his unwitting incest, Oedipus is no longer young.  But these are definitely rare!

… Two or more of the above criteria are combined?

I need to combine more of these in my writing, clearly.  Particularly if I get to writing the second series of YAish novels, which would have more opportunity for this sort of thing due to their different setting and plot.  (Though in planning the cast, I was consciously trying to add some much needed ethnic diversity.  Though I wasn’t thinking about disabilities.  I should definitely add at least one of those.  Maybe a child of Hephaistos…)

Phew….that turned out to take a long time!  (But it distracted me from worrying about why the doctor’s office was already calling back about my MRIs so soon.  Hopefully it was just to set up an open MRI appointment for the neck one since I couldn’t handle getting back into that noisy little tube again.  I don’t want to think about what it might have been if they were actually calling because they saw something on the brain scan!  But now I’m thinking about it again…and playing Persona Q might make everything worse…)


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