Tag Archives: phoenix

Worldbuilding reflections: the ways the myths change

What really struck me when I researched my Phoenix article was the way the myth changed over time. When I started researching it I had a pretty good idea of what I expected to read – a physical description, plenty about burning into ashes and being reborn, maybe a story involving some mythical hero helping or being helped by it. So when I read first the Greek and then the Roman sources and found no reference to the bird actually being on fire at any point, and that these ideas only started to emerge in the later Roman and early Christian writers, it suddenly became a lot more interesting.

I think it’s hard to remember, when working on a world, that myths can and do change over time. They aren’t static. They change as the priorities of the society to which they belong change. To the Greeks and the early Empire Romans, the phoenix represented important aspects of their world: the cyclical nature of it, and the importance of deference to the gods and of carrying out appropriate funeral rites for one’s predecessors. It speaks of the stability of the world and the duties of its inhabitants.

But as the world changed and a new religion rose – a religion with resurrection at its very heart – and the Roman empire started to tear itself apart as emperor after emperor died violently after a short rule, that stability was no longer there, and filial piety was no longer at the heart of imperial rule as it had been during the Julio-Claudian and Flavian dynasties. Instead the key idea of the phoenix became transformation from something decrepit to something young and strong and full of hope – a motif that was perhaps very necessary in such uncertain times. At the same time the pagan elements – the central position of the sun god and his temple – were set aside to keep this pre-Christian pagan myth in line with church doctrine, and enable the church to use that message of hope borne from destruction without invoking pagan gods at the same time.

Then this motif of hope from the ashes of destruction was carried forward and embraced by those to whom it most resonated, who in turn added to the myth with complementary imagery and ideals.

In a fantasy world, each culture should have its own myths and beliefs, and while in a fantasy world a phoenix could well be real – or a dragon, or fairies, centaurs, gryphons and so on – that doesn’t mean that what people believe about those magical creatures, and the way a society views them, isn’t going to be informed by the society’s beliefs, its priorities and its core conflicts. And there’s not necessarily an “end point” to that – a point at which the myth can no longer change. It might seem today as though the core essence of the phoenix is fixed – widely embraced within our global society, so deeply embedded in our society it couldn’t change. But after some five hundred years of there being one singular image of what a phoenix is and what it represents to people – maybe Pliny the Elder felt the same.

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Charting my webcomic journey 1

A while back, I decided it was time I started drawing again. I used to be quite involved in a webcomics community, The Webcomic List forums, and occasionally draw a few pages here and there, one or two for a comic that, because of my own lack of commitment, didn’t get far, and a few for a “webcomic jam” where different members of the forum took it in turns to produce the next page in the story. I was not, at that stage, ready to make a webcomic myself; I tried a few times, but struggled with plotting and general dedication to the drawing side of things.

However, after November’s decision to start drawing again and my return to those forums at the same time, I’ve resumed my interest. And while brainstorming this evening for a story to go along with my Phoenix article, I wondered if I could try my Phoenix story as a webcomic. For my first comic, though, I want to keep it short, so I developed a simple plot in which a young girl witnesses the rebirth of the phoenix, which I’ve based on ancient accounts as I’ve read in my article research, and tries to help the phoenix out by feeding it. It refuses all offers of food (again, in line with what ancient sources say), and grows from a tiny worm thing (yep, ancient sources again) to a full adult phoenix in a couple of days, then flies away. It’s a brief plot, and I think I’ll try making it wordless and just depend on the visuals to tell the story. My outline, which I don’t think is wholly unrealistic, puts it at a managable 14 pages long.

The next step is to get some drawing practice in. I haven’t been drawing quite as much as planned, but now I’ve got some material to go from I can target my efforts: little girls, arabian palm trees, and various types of bird that have been linked to the phoenix as I develop the design for it, as well as various young birds to show the growth of the phoenix between “worm thing” and adult phoenix.

Once I’ve got a good idea of how each element of the story will look, I’ll sketch things out panel by panel, working out how I want each panel to look, camera angles, etc, and develop a page-by-page rough draft. Then i’ll start drawing, then inking, then colouring.

For each stage on the way I’ll post relevant updates so you can see how I’m getting on. It’s gonna be a fun new project.

Delving into myth

One of my New Year’s Resolutions relates to the articles I write for Mythic Scribes. In 2014 I started working on a series called Magical Creatures for Magical Worlds, in which I am looking at mythical creatures that are sometimes used in fantasy fiction. It’s a topic that interests me because it involves delving into the stories of past cultures and finding out how those stories changed over time and were reinterpretted by modern authors and creators. It gives me the opportunity to use things I learned at university – and books I purchased for my degree.

mythic scribes header

The problem is that in 2014, I didn’t really push myself on those articles. I wrote them in a hurry, a few hours in the days before the deadline by which they were meant to be published. What resulted was research which was too shallow – someone even accused me of sounding like a Wikipedia page for the Fairies article. With the Minotaur article I was definitely more in my home territory, because Greek myth is something I have looked at before in the course of my studies, but even that was rushed. And that’s not the approach I want to take.

For this year, I’ve set as a goal that I will research and write one article on a mythical creature per month. I will also use that mythical creature as a prompt to write a short story.

The goal here is to give myself enough time to research properly – one month – and end up with articles which are good quality for publication. Given that the schedule for articles on Mythic Scribes means that each article team member puts out approximately one article per quarter, this will also mean I have some buffer, and if there’s a dud in there, an article I’m not happy with or didn’t have the time, that month, to give proper attention to, then it doesn’t matter. I don’t  have to submit it. I can assign another month to have a second shot at it and submit something else.

I have already made a start, yesterday, on my first article on the Phoenix. I did a little digging and found passages from Herodotus, Pliny the Elder, Ovid, Claudian, Aelian, Pope Clement I and more to start things off. I found a book, a lot of which can be read on Google Books, which has some more information, proper academic research, which I will be looking at next. This is the way I want to approach these articles: by finding primary sources and modern commentaries, reading and comparing them, then building up an article based on what I find.

Phoenix-Fabelwesen

It’s interesting, actually. I mean, obviously it’s interesting, or I wouldn’t be doing it. But I was surprised by what I found out about the Phoenix, even in just a few hours’ research. I’ve been aware of the concept of the Phoenix for a long time, having read different version of it in books ever since I was a child. Fawkes from the Harry Potter books was perhaps the main influence on my image of the Phoenix, and because, hey, it’s a firebird, that’s cool, when I first ventured onto the internet I called myself Phoenix. But I had no idea that in classical mythology there was thought to only be one of it, just one solitary example of the species – which, given the way it rejuvenates, shouldn’t really be a surprise. Several of the accounts I’ve read also mention that it is not known to eat or drink anything in the mortal world. That wasn’t even something I’d thought about before.

So I’m feeling pretty good about this goal for my Magical Creatures series. I’ll learn something interesting, I’ll produce work I can be proud of, and I’ll get some fiction written along the way.

And it doesn’t hurt that it gives me an excuse to delve into my much-thumbed, heavily bookmarked copy of Herodotus some more either.