Our inaugural podcast episode explores ways to keep fantasy writing fresh. And one of the things we explored is drawing inspiration from ancient myths and legends. Here are a few that are a bit outside-the-box…
I once dabbled in a bit of fantasy writing. Never really got the knack for it, though. For one thing, I expect I was too young to understand the greater process of world building. The amount of history that goes into these things, as you see in Tolkien’s Middle Earth legendarium, or the world of George R. R. Martin… in short, it’s no small feat crafting a successful fantasy world.
As discussed in the first episode of The Dale Hurst Writing Show, when writing fantasy, we sometimes look to comparable works such as those of Tolkien and Martin, as well as maybe those of C.S. Lewis (The Chronicles of Narnia), J.K. Rowling (Harry Potter), and Andrzej Sapkowski (The Witcher). Other times, we draw from what we grow up learning about ancient cultures – gods, goddesses, heroes, and monsters. In other words, figures featuring in myths and legends.
I was a bit obsessed with this sort of thing when I was younger. And while, of course, I would read about the feats of Zeus, Poseidon, Odin, Thor, and Loki, I also remember some of the more obscure mythological figures I read about. So, when it comes to creating your own fantasy story, maybe you’d like to take inspiration from some of these characters, rather than the usual go-tos…
LOUHI (Finnish mythology)
The Witch of the North in Finnish folklore, and already an antagonist in some pre-existing fantasy series. All the same, Louhi, or a character inspired by her, could be quite a harrowing villainess. Some portrayals have her taking the full guise of an eagle or some other monstrous bird. Meanwhile others, including the first depiction I saw of her, showed a frightening-looking woman (white eyes, fanged teeth) with handmade wings and talons, the latter made from farmers’ scythes. If I were to head back into the realms of fantasy writing, Louhi would have to be in there in one form or another.
RAVANA (Hindu legend)
The Ramayana is possibly one of the earliest legends I ever remember hearing. We were taught about it in school when I was either five or six years-old. It’s the tale of Rama and Sita, but it also features one of the most memorable villains ever, in the form of Ravana. A demon king with ten heads and 20 arms. Hindu tradition already regards him as a symbol of evil, so why not inject a bit of him into your next dark lord?
BABA YAGA (Russian mythology)
One of my main guilty pleasures is the film Anastasia; in part for its music, in part on account of my obsession with Russian imperial history. This film produced a direct-to-video spin-off called Bartok the Magnificent, an antagonist of which was Baba Yaga, who is actually a prominent figure in Russian folklore. A child-snatching witch who lives in a house mounted on chicken’s legs, and who travels the Russian skies in a flying mortar and pestle. In Bartok, her portrayal was relatively light-hearted compared to what it could have been. Maybe you could push her to the other extreme in your fantasy villainess.
ACALA (Buddhism, particularly Japanese Buddhism)
You could include a character based of Acala based on his depictions alone. This is one scary and angry looking guy. Bulging white eyes, fanged teeth, a sword in one hand and a noose in the other. Acala is what is described as a wrathful deity; in some cases, he is the wrathful manifestation of the buddha Vairocana. Either way, he gives plenty with which to inspire up-and-coming fantasy writers.
ANANSI (African mythology)
The trickster spider Anansi gets a passing mention in the podcast episode. He is a god in African and Caribbean mythology, who knows all the stories in the world. As such, he is attached to a great many myths, stories and parables. He is the only entry on this list that does not specifically fill an antagonistic role. Anansi typically uses cunning and creativity to outsmart his opponents. With that in mind, he could always serve in a similar capacity to the MCU’s Loki. Or a would-be fantasy author might push Anansi one step further and make him 100% evil, who plays tricks purely out of sadism.
Any more weird and wonderful mythical or legendary figures you think would inspire decent characters, whether hero or villain? Why not let me know in the comments? For more author news and views, my Facebook and Instagram pages are here.