Since the beginning of mankind, mythology has had an impact on pop culture. From the stories told around fires, all the way to the IMAX theater. Whether it’s the tales of the Norse or Greek gods, Celtic fairies, or maybe the Egyptian gods. Intentional or not, these tales have influenced the stories and characters of our favorite comic books, mythical/fantasy novels, and movies today. But, when it comes to telling the stories of these mythological characters, is it important to stay true to the original tales?
Many people will rage at even the slightest change from the original stories. Others don’t mind the new takes and twists added to the characters and their tales. Let’s take a look at some examples that stray away from the original stories, and a few more that obey them as closely as possible.
The Impact Of Mythology
Mythology is a fascinating subject, and one of my personal favorites. Think of it for a moment: Stories of beings who can shake planets with the force of their battles, who can control the sea, or turn you into stone just by looking at them in the face. It’s mind blowing that at one point in time these stories were believed to be true. In fact, a select few people will tell you they still believe them to be true. These tales have inspired the creation of many new characters and stories we are all familiar with today.
Mythology is the birthplace of stories. Stories can have a beautiful impact on a human being. Whether that’s joy, sadness, love, etcetera, a great story can be a source of motivation and inspiration for anyone. Stories depict worlds full of imagination and endless possibilities. Imagination is one of the most important things a person can have. It allows us to break out of the realm of reality for a period of time, and dream up a world we view as perfect. Tales of heroes and their journeys inspire us today to be the hero in our own lives.
Inspiring Stories Today
The great thing about mythology is the vast range of people and cultures it reaches. Whether it’s African gods, Hindu, or ancient Egyptian, all of these different beings and mythoi create an endless number of incredible stories. I believe it’s important to be as accurate to the original material as possible — to an extent.
When writing about these characters, it’s important to keep the core of each individual character as close to the original as possible. If someone today wrote a story about Thor and made him an intellectual weakling, that wouldn’t work. But if minor changes to a character’s background or origin are made, or a location is portrayed differently from what it really is, that can work as long as the core of that character or place are still there.
Stories around the Nordic gods have been retold and altered in many different variations for decades. For people not familiar with the history of Norse mythology, the Marvel Studios Thor movies are where most people will look to. Marvel portrays the characters in a more comical way with a lot of quips and humor, much to the chagrin of many Norse mythology fans. However, deep down, the characters still maintain the core of who they are portraying. How Marvel portrays the nine realms is a good representation of staying true to the core of an idea while using it differently.
Yggdrasil, the Norse tree of life that connects the nine realms, is never actually mentioned in the movies but is still represented in a more cosmic way. Then you have an example like Neil Gaiman’s book, American Gods – a fascinating modern take on the same characters living among everyday people. Gaiman’s book is a much more accurate representation of how cold and dark the original tales truly are. Even though Gaiman’s book is more accurate than Marvel, even though it strays away and does something different.
The Depths Of Nordic Mythos
The video game God of War is an incredible depiction of Norse mythology. It explores the old tales much more deeply than just those of Thor and Loki. Filled with blood and violence, God of War shows the sides of these Nordic tales and characters that most have no knowledge of.
Names like Thor and Loki have reached the point of being household names. It can’t be denied that Marvel Comics and their movies have had a massive impact on that fact. Though these characters are prominent in Nordic tales, there are many other characters of whom most people have never heard. Aegir, for example, is the god of the sea, or there’s Tyr, the war god. Exploring more deeply into the realms of Nordic mythology can only help bring these worlds further into the light for all people.
The Greek Influence
One of my favorite examples of Greek mythology’s modern influence is Wonder Woman and the Amazons. Themyscira is an Amazonian world heavily influenced by the Greek gods. Though Wonder Woman is an original character, we see her cross paths with characters such as Ares or Zeus in her comic books, and in her movie. The movie, however, strays away from the original Greek source material. It follows something closer to a Christian tone which provides a more optimistic view of the world.
The movie portrays the battle between Zeus and Ares as a battle between good and evil, which isn’t exactly what the Greek tales did. In the original Greek mythos, battles were most often about power and who is viewed as the higher power. There’s no question why they went in a different direction in the movie and comics. Wonder Woman preaches a narrative of spreading love and compassion to the world, whether people deserve it or not.
Mythology In Percy Jackson
The Percy Jackson books are another great example of Greek influence. Depending on who you ask, you will either be told the books are incredibly accurate, or others will point out all the hiccups. It’s not all that fair to be critical of these books, though, when there are so many different versions of the Greek tales already. The books make for a great way to introduce young readers, or anyone, to mythology. When it comes to accuracy, is it sensible to criticize Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson books for being accurate or not?
Riordan is not writing the old stories. Riordan creates new, modern stories using characters from the old stories. While Riordan adds his own twists to his modern take on these characters, he stays faithful to their ancient tales. This is the case with many mythological books, movies, or any form of entertainment. When people say something is “accurate” when it comes to the ancient tales, I believe they truly mean “faithful.” Though many of Riordan’s stories and characters have slight differences, they still remain faithful to the original tales.
Celtic Mythology And Beyond
Most people are familiar with Norse and Greek mythology. Even if they don’t know much about it, people have a basic understanding of these mythoi. But what about other versions of mythology? Celtic, Egyptian, Hindu, et cetera – all of these have had just as much of an impact when it comes to storytelling as the Norse and Greek. Ancient cave drawings are believed to be the oldest form of mythology and storytelling.
Stories have been told through word of mouth, dancing, music, and almost any other form possible. That’s the great thing about storytelling. Something that took place hundreds of years ago could inspire a story to be told today. Writers today have the power to create new mythologies, and new stories. Writing is a power that can influence stories to come far into the future. One can only imagine the adventures that await, that will take us through different cultures and different worlds.
How Important Is Accuracy?
The answer to this question all depends on who you are asking. When you talk about Harry Potter, for example, there are plenty of hardcore fans of the books who dislike how much the movies miss. But the Harry Potter movies are based on the books, meaning they are not new stories. In my opinion, when creators are using these characters in new stories, they have the right to make changes to the characters and history as long as they stay faithful to the originals. As amazing as the original tales are, what good would it be to write the same stories the same way every time.
New takes and interpretations can be just as great as the originals. When you look at movies or comics today, the mythological influence is hard not to see. Many of the heroes and villains you see in comics or on the big screen were inspired by the ancient gods. Accuracy is important, but it isn’t the end of the world when small changes are made. Mythology’s impact on the world of pop culture is incredible and the stories will continue to grow forever. When discussing mythology, the word “accuracy” is a bit of a cloudy subject. With so many different versions of the original tales, you can’t follow each version when creating a new story.
Every version of mythology has had an impact on storytelling today, and that impact and those stories will live on through future iterations forever.