Thursday, July 9, 2020

Jen Finds Fantasy's Roots in Mythology, Fairy Tales, and Folklore

I’m more of a fantasy reader if I have to chose a seat under under the whole Sci/Fi Fantasy umbrella. I loved reading Greek myths when I was younger, and reading fantasy books that incorporate myths or folklore are my jam.

What do I think of as a myth? How about -  a classic or legendary story that usually focuses on a particular hero or event to explain mysteries of nature, existence, or the universe without much basis in fact. Myths exist in every culture; a culture’s collective myths make up its mythology. Here are some fantastical books that bring myths jumping right out of the page!

City of Brass by S.A. Chakraborty is one of my favorites. The first in the Daevabad trilogy*, this lyrical historical fantasy brings to vivid life ancient mythological traditions of an Islamic world. Set in the 18th century Egypt, a young woman with an uncanny gift for healing unleashes a supernatural being and sets in motion an otherworldly adventure.

*Side Note - Book 3, The Empire of Gold was just released June 30th.

Another example of mythology making its way into a fantasy novel is Tomi Adeyemi’s Children of Blood and Bone. The first in the Legacy of Orisha series that's set in a kingdom with traditions and mythology reminiscent of Nigeria and greater West Africa. Eleven years ago, Zelie’s mother was murdered on the night magic left her people, a night known simply as “The Raid.” The brutal King Saran ordered the slaughter of all Maji, thus keeping the next generation under his heel. But that was then, and this is now. By coincidence or maybe divine intervention, Zelie has a chance to restore magic to her people. It’s a long and treacherous journey - one that will change Zelie and her companions forever. A compelling tale filled with magic, betrayals, danger, and heroines who are forces to be reckoned with. Children of Blood and Bone is explosive, and I loved everything about it!

Next, is from Silvia Garcia Moreno. Her latest, Mexican Gothic is a Gothic novel and not a fantasy. But I enjoyed it so much that it made me want to read more of her works.

I think I’ll dive into Gods of Jade and Shadow, which is a fantasy steeped in mythology and is out now in paperback! The Mayan God of Death sends a young woman on a harrowing, life-changing journey in this dark fairy tale inspired by Mexican folklore. The Jazz Age is in full swing, but Casiopea Tun is too busy cleaning the floors of her wealthy grandfather’s house to listen to any fast tunes. Nevertheless, she dreams of life far from her dusty small town in southern Mexico. Yet a new life seems as distant as the stars, until the day she finds a curious wooden box in her grandfather’s room. She opens it and accidentally frees the spirit of the Mayan god of death, who requests her help in recovering his throne from his treacherous brother. Failure will mean Casiopea’s demise, but success could make her dreams come true. In the company of the strangely alluring god and armed with her wits, Casiopea begins an adventure that will take her on a cross-country odyssey from the jungles of Yucatâan to the bright lights of Mexico City and deep into the darkness of the Mayan underworld.

Moving on to Fairy Tales, which I think of as a story often intended for children that features fanciful and wondrous characters such as elves, goblins, wizards, and even, but not necessarily, fairies. Fairy tales are often traditional; many were passed down from storyteller to storyteller before being recorded in books.

The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden (the first in The Winternight Trilogy) is an enchanting mix of fairy tale, fantasy, and historical fiction, set in medieval Russia. Nestled between the northern wilderness and civilization is a village where old and new traditions live side by side. Vasya, the last daughter of Pyotr and Marina, is born on the howling winds of autumn. She is different from the others in her village. Like her grandmother, she is gifted with powers that are her birthright. As time goes by, Vasya will be tested. Caught in the conflict between the old spirits and the new religion, Vasya must do everything in her power to save her family and village. Katherine Arden’s novel is a rich, mesmerizing novel. It’s the fairy tale you’ve been waiting for!

Another topic that interests me is Folklore, which refers to tales people tell. Traditionally passed down by word of mouth rather than written in books, though many books have been written with folk stories as their inspiration.

One awesome collection is A Thousand Beginnings and Endings, edited by Ellen Oh and Elsie Chapman. It’s a collection of short stories by sixteen bestselling and award-winning authors who reimagine the folklore and mythology of East and South Asia. This collection has something for everyone, from fantasy to science fiction to contemporary stories of spirits, magic, family, love, and heartbreak are combined with elements from modern teens’ lives. In a starred review, Kirkus calls this “An incredible anthology that will keep readers on the edges of their seats, wanting more.”

The stories are endless when it comes to reading Fantasy books that draw from folklore, myths, and fairy tale elements, which can make for an enriching reading experience. Be prepared to fall down the rabbit hole.

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