Scribble City Central and hand you over to her for another set of fantastic and fabulous Mythic Interview Friday answers. Thanks for coming to visit, Katherine!
1. Do you think that the retelling of Greek and other myths is important or relevant for the children of today? Why should they care about some “dry old stories” which come from ancient cultures they might never even have heard of?
For a start, myths and fairytales speak to the deep subconscious in a symbolic and poetic language which it’s important to learn at an early age. Otherwise a child may grow up to miss many nuances and expect only literal and obvious meanings in books such as the Bible which were never intended to be read in that way. Growing up ‘myth-blind’ can be as much of a disadvantage as growing up colour-blind. Myths are old, handed down over hundreds of generations – and anything kept alive for so long by people down the ages has undergone a sort of natural selection – only the best stories and those that really fulfill some deep emotional needs will have survived. Furthermore, without some knowledge of Classical mythology in particular, children will have difficulty fully appreciating some of the world’s most wonderful paintings, poems and music, much of which has been inspired by Greek and Roman myths and legends. In psychology too, mythological references are everywhere. But on top of all of that, these stories are fun. Flying horses, heroes with swords, snake-haired monsters, sea serpents, trees covered in golden apples – what’s not to like?
2. What age were you when you came across your first myth or myths? Tell us how you felt then about the myths you first discovered. Did you love them or hate them? Did they scare you, excite you—or were you indifferent? What kind of myths were they? Greek? Norse? Native American? Celtic? Or from another culture entirely? Were they in a book you read? Or did you hear them as oral storytelling from someone else?
I must have been quite young. I’d personally include fairytales in the general ‘myth’ category: but I was certainly reading a version of the Odyssey before I was ten. And I absolutely mopped up Roger Lancelyn Green’s retellings of the Greek and Norse legends. I loved them! They didn’t scare me: I found them exciting and wonderful. I remember trying to make lists of gods and goddesses and line them up. Mars = Ares = Tyr, for example, and Venus = Aphrodite = Freya – but there were always the odd men out, like Loki in the Norse canon, whose role might be compared with Mercury/Hermes, but whose character seems quite different. I even wrote about them. I composed a long story when I was about 12, of a a boy who goes on holiday to Greece (a country I’d never visited) and meets the Medusa in a sea cave.
I read as many as I could find from all over the world. Egyptian, Greek, Norse – Celtic legends I came to later, in my teens. And Native American legends I have only recently begun to explore as I researched for my book ‘Troll Blood’ which deals with the 10th century Norse settlements in Vinland (Nova Scotia and New Brunswick). Continent-wide and extraordinarily diverse, Native American cultural stories have often been misrepresented in European retellings, and I went right back to some of the earliest written records of the Mi’kmaq tales of the north-east and learned to distinguish between those which had been straightforwardly transcribed, and others which had been warped to suit European preconceptions. Myths and legends often have a political dimension which should never be ignored: far from being dead and dusty, they may be of immense importance to living people as proud symbols of an oppressed culture.
3. Looking back, what is your favourite myth of all time, from any culture? And why would you choose it?
This is really too hard. I think some of the most moving myths are those which deal head on with our own mortality. Orpheus in the underworld, trying to rescue his dead wife Eurydice. Achilles in Hades telling Odysseus ‘do not try to console me for dying. I would rather be a peasant and follow my master’s plough than be king over all the perished dead.’ And Baldur from the Norse myths, who cannot be brought back to life even though all the world wept for him (save Loki).
4. Who is your most hated mythical hero or heroine, and what made you feel that way about them?
I can’t say I’ve hated many heroes or heroines – after all, they are usually the ones we identify with! I suppose I wasn’t too thrilled about Theseus abandoning Ariadne – but I still like Theseus. It’s hard, I must say, to feel any great fondness for Zeus – if a god counts as a hero?
5. Is there a mythical beast you are particularly fond of? If so, which one?
I should love to see the Phoenix building its nest in the ‘sole Arabian tree’ and singing its song as it burns itself away.
6. How have myths had an influence on your writing, if at all?
Certainly myths and legends have had a strong influence on my books. The Troll trilogy was based on Norse folklore rather than myths about the gods; still, the memory of all those tales of Asgard was there at the back of my mind, and I doubt if I could have possibly written the books without it. ‘Troll Blood’ of course also took in folklore and tales of the Mi’kmaq, on whom I based the Native Americans my Norse characters encounter. And ‘Dark Angels’ (‘The Shadow Hunt’ in the USA) is rooted in the folklore and legends of Wales and Shropshire – and, interestingly, figures a genuinely medieval version of the myth of Orpheus, ‘Sir Orfeo’. For myths and legends cross-pollinate, and it’s hard to find a story which has not been brushed by the wings of some other story in the course of the years.
7. Finally, if you could choose to be the demigod child of any one mythical god or goddess, which one would it be? Which power would you like to inherit from them—and what would you do with it?: I’m not sure that being the child of a god or a goddess would be such a great thing. There is usually some catch. And imagine trying to live up to your parent’s expectations! I think I might pass.
More about Katherine:
Katherine grew up in the Yorkshire Dales, and can’t remember a time when she wasn’t writing stories. She loved reading, too, and when she was ten her favourite books were the seven Narnia stories by C.S. Lewis. When she’d finished them she was desperate to read more – so she started writing her own Narnia book. She thinks this was the moment she decided to be an author. She studied English at university, got a job, got married, had children and went to live in France and then in America. During this time she was almost too busy to write – so she began visiting libraries and schools, telling stories aloud. This turned out to be excellent practice for being an author! When she moved back to England she started writing the stories that turned into the Troll Trilogy, 'Troll Fell', 'Troll Mill' - and 'Troll Blood' (HarperCollins) which was recommended in the ‘Top 160 Books for Boys’ compiled by the School Library Association. So far 'Troll Fell' has been published in nine languages. Her latest book is ‘Dark Angels’ (published in the US as 'The Shadow Hunt'). Katherine blogs at Seven Miles Of Steel Thistles, her website is HERE, and she tweets at @KathLangrish