Friday, 20 August 2010

Mythic Friday Interview: Number 20 - Herbie Brennan

Nicolas Tucker of  The Independent called Herbie Brennan's Faerie Wars, (first book in his Faerie Wars Chronicles), "a crossover title from which few readers of any age would wish to cross back" and I quite agree with him.  If your kids want to move on from Potter, Herbie has created three really excellent characters in Pyrgus Malvae, Henry Atherton and Holly Blue for them to do so with.  Now I want you to brace yourselves here.  If you don't know about him already (and if not, why not?), Herbie Brennan has a CV which might make you reel slightly when you read it in the notes below.  A journalist at eighteen; youngest newspaper editor in Ireland at twenty-four; booksales of over 8 million in fifty countries. I could almost say Blimey! if I used that sort of expression, but in any language it's an impressive record, you'll agree (well, you'd better or I'll be after you with those wolfy fangs of mine!). If that wasn't enough, then just for a little additional awesomeness, Herbie is also an expert on stuff like comparative religion, being a magician (of the Merlin sort, not the rabbits and hats kind), reincarnation, esotericism and quantum physics--things which, with my links to shamanism and wicca, I too find of great interest.  (Well, maybe not the quantum physics, because my brain simply won't cope with the understanding bit.  The spirit is willing, but the little grey cells are holding up placards saying "What?" and "Eh?" and "Come again about Schrödinger's blasted Cat."  If only someone could EXPLAIN (where are you Anne Rooney)...but I digress.)  Back to Herbie.  On the subject of magicianship, he talks a little below about the concept of Pathworking (a technique which has something in common with the shamanic vision quest), and the power of journeys of the imagination when combined with myth.  Having experienced something similar when I worked with the great British mythologists and shamans John and Caitlin Matthews a few years ago, I can attest to that.  Working in that way with myths brings up some extraordinary and exciting paths of the spirit to explore, and it's something I very much want to go back to doing.

I wrote about the Faerie Wars Chronicles over on An Awfully Big Blog Adventure a little while ago when I picked my Five Fabulous Forays into Faerie and said how much I liked them (and how much I couldn't wait for number 5--The Faeman Quest which is coming from Bloomsbury in January).  After that, I thought a bit about whether Herbie would ever consider doing an MFI for me.  To cut a long story short, Reader, he said yes!  (Well, I am VERY persuasive.)  So here we are on the second last Friday of the series, and I'm delighted to welcome Herbie to Scribble City Central, and to share his mythical thoughts and wisdom with you.  Here we are definitely not going to be disappointed.

1. Do you think that the retelling of myths is important or relevant for the children of today? Why should they care about some “dry old stories” which come from ancient or forgotten cultures they might never even have heard of?
Ah, but they’re not just dry old stories — they’re the basic patterns of human existence. They teach everything we need to know about how to lead our lives, what to embrace and what to avoid. Furthermore, myths contain a very special type of magic; and I mean that word literally. Search any myth and you’ll quickly come across what Jung referred to as an archetype, a creature who is certainly a spirit and quite possibly a god, trapped in the web of the story like a djinn in a bottle. Release him or her and they’ll accompany you forever, wandering in the depths of your mind giving you guidance and sharing their wisdom. Important for today’s children? Myths are absolutely vital and much of the mess the world is in today springs from the fact that the West has largely abandoned its myths.
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? Celtic? Greek? Norse? Native American? Or from another culture entirely? Were they in a book you read? Or did you hear them as oral storytelling from someone else?
Can’t remember exactly, but it must have been when I was a child, almost certainly Greek and almost certainly in a book I read.
3. Looking back, what is your favourite myth of all time, from any culture? And why would you choose it?
I’ve always been drawn to the Arthurian mythos, the Matter of Britain. When I was a young man I trained for nine years as a magician and much of the work involved imaginal journeys through aspects of the myth — the Grail Castle, for example, or the Isle of Avalon. The process is known as Pathworking and at one stage of my magical career I developed a freeform style of Pathworking that permitted groups to engage on such inner journeys without preconception or guidance. The first group to experiment with the technique went straight to the Lady of the Lake and had an experience of the Eternal Feminine, with profound implications for several group members. These myths are alive and the figures in them are living entities. There is nothing to beat the feeling of excitement that arises when you realize this.
4. Who is the mythical hero, heroine or being you most dislike, and what made you feel that way about them?
I can’t say I dislike any of them. Even the mythical baddies have something to teach.
5. Is there a mythical beast you are particularly fond of? If so, which one and why?
Well, that would have to be the dragon, wouldn’t it? Even as a boy I was trying to work out how it could breathe fire. (My best guess was flint teeth to strike the spark that would ignite methane belched up from a double stomach.) In later life I was fascinated by the widespread stretch of the dragon myth from China through South America and all across Europe. It proved remarkably tenacious as well. The last reported sighting of a dragon in England wasn’t in the depths of history but during the Victorian era, in St Leonard’s Forest in Sussex. I’m not sure we don’t still have dragons in our skies, except that now we call them UFOs and mistake them for space ships. In mythology, dragons have always been the most magical of creatures, dangerous and helpful by turns, guardians of treasure and, most important of all, the vital element in one or our most important life myths — the need to slay the dragon in order to release the feminine within.
6. How have myths had an influence on your writing life, if at all? 
Huge. I wrote a series of gamebooks in the 1980s that were based, in a completely batty way, on the Arthurian mythos. More recently, there are mythic and archetypal elements in all of my Faerie Wars fantasy series. The fourth book, Faerie Lord, is one long mythic epic outlining a quest that culminates with the slaying of the dragon guardian of the hero’s beloved, as arranged by the Trickster archetype. I didn’t even bother to disguise it.
7. 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 was tempted to say Venus, the Roman goddess of love, then rabbit on sanctimoniously about the power of love, the need to love one another irrespective of race, creed, colour, sexual preference and yada-yada-yada. Then I remembered Julius Caesar was descended from Venus and all he ever did to get famous was kill people. So I think I’ll opt for Merlin instead. His parentage may not have been directly from the gods — Geoffrey of Monmouth insists his father was a demon and his mother was a nun — but he is the premier Western archetype of the magician and I like that. What would I do with his power? Take things as they come, I think.

More about Herbie:
A professional writer whose work has appeared in more than fifty countries, Herbie Brennan is enjoyed by children and adults alike — sales of his 108 published titles already exceed 8 million copies.

His young adult fantasy novel, Faerie Wars, rocketed to international success, achieving best-seller status in more than 20 overseas editions, and was voted No 1 Top Ten Teenage Pick in the United States and listed as a New York Times Best Seller title.

Equally prolific in the adult market, Herbie has a powerful reputation for challenging conventional assumptions. This is reflected in his interests, which range from transpersonal psychology, spirituality, reincarnation and psychical research to comparative religion and quantum physics.
Web site:


Rhiannon said...

I know this is about myths but I can't let this post go by without saying thank you to Herbie for his wonderful Barmy Jeffers books. Comedic fantasy can easily become farce but that series was offbeat, quirky and heaps of fun. Also not sexist which is unfortunately rare in fantasy humour which can relegate the girls roles to eye candy.

Back to your scheduled mythic subject... Wherever our writing takes us an upbringing in myth provides strong roots and a powerful resonance in the back of the narrative. The power of myth should not be used lightly - it affects even those readers who are not aware of the source text.

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