Thursday, 22 September 2016

From Fiction To Myth

Myth and fiction intersect. Odin is a myth but also a character in works of fiction by Poul Anderson, Neil Gaiman and Marvel Comics/film script writers. I suggest that any fictional character who has come to be universally recognized even by those who have not read the book/seen the film etc has thereby become a modern myth, e.g.:

Alice in Wonderland;
Sherlock Holmes;
Rip Van Winkle;
Victor Frankenstein;
Count Dracula;
James Bond;
Mr Spock.

Having become part of the general cultural background, such modern myths are referred to by other fictional characters who, like us, regard them as fictional characters. Thus, in SM Stirling's Against The Tide Of Years, one character quotes Spock from Star Trek and another mentions Yoda from Star Wars. Against the Tide Of Years is set in the timeline of Stirling's Nantucket Trilogy, not of either Star Trek or Star Wars. However, Stirling's time travelers began their lives in a twentieth century which, until the mysterious Event, was indistinguishable from ours.

In Poul Anderson's The Corridors Of Time, Malcolm Lockridge is astounded when his companion does not recognize the name "James Bond" but soon learns that she is a time traveler from a later period. Anderson's Time Patrolman Manse Everard refers to "'...real Sherlock Holmes work...'" (Time Patrol, p. 529) in circumstances that are consistent with Holmes being a widely known fictional detective, as we would expect. However, the Time Patrol timeline contains an unnamed "'...private inquiry agent...'" (p. 21) who exactly fits the description of Sherlock Holmes. Anderson is playing with the idea that a fictional character (Holmes) might be not fictional but real to other fictional characters (the Time Patrolmen).

Finally, in a certain kind of imaginary multiverse, what is fictional in one universe is real in another. Thus, two men answering the descriptions of Holmes and Watson show up at Anderson's inter-cosmic inn, the Old Phoenix. And Anderson seems yet again to have covered every possibility: the real, the fictitious and the ambiguous.

Full References
 Poul Anderson, "Star of the Sea" IN Anderson, Time Patrol (New York, 2006), pp. 467-640 AT section 6, p. 529.
Poul Anderson, "Time Patrol" IN op. cit., pp. 1-53 AT section 3, p. 21.


Sean M. Brooks said...

Kaor, Paul!

I think some of the characters in JRR Tolkien's THE LORD OF THE RINGS might become so universally recognized they too will be apotheosized into becoming modern myths. Gandalf, Frodo Baggins, and Aragorn comes most easily to my mind.

And, of course, we see Nicholas van Rijn in "House Rule," one of the Old Phoenix stories. Which means Old Nick came from a timeline where Technic Civilization was REAL.


Paul Shackley said...

Gandalf, yes.

David Birr said...

Paul and Sean:
I think Tarzan has to be counted among the modern myths as well. I particularly recall that in *Return of the Jedi*, Chewbacca can be heard howling the "Tarzan yell" as he swings on a vine to attack stormtroopers.

Sean M. Brooks said...

Hi, David!

A good suggestion! I should have thought of including Tarzan as one of the modern myths.