Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Power Of Myth-A Different View Of Love

Chapter seven of The Power of Myth was an interesting view of love.  According to Joseph Campbell, love as we know it, the joy in having a deep and usually passionate relationship with our other half, didn't exist in the early western culture.  For centuries there was the harmony of arranged marriages built on mutual needs, like having children with a spouse of equal social rank or needing a nother parent for their child when the spouse died, and there was the quick burning passion of a sexual relationship.  The idea of two souls melding to become one, or finding your other half, wasn't popular until the twelfth century when the nobility of an area in France started what I would call a "romance with love".  Why would I call it that?  Because it took centuries for love as we know it to be a reason for marriage.  The love that developed in France developed outside of marriage.   Marriage was designed by the parents or the head of the family but the new version of love was more infatuation than anything healthy.   Campbell said it was a meeting of the eyes across the room and an instant recognition of a great love.   This love was often something pursued while ignoring their spouse (which was common in the time of arranged marriages in society). It is from this time that the term "savage" became popular. Women were expected to make their suitors prove their love by some deed (supposedly a popular test was to have a man guard a bridge for a certain amount of time)before giving the man permission to "love" them. By the action of love, the woman could mean many things. It could be as simple as giving him permission to sneak a kiss every once in a while or as complete as welcoming him into her bed. Either way, a woman who asked too much of a test was "savage" as was a woman who asked no test of a man's love before granting him the permission he asked for.

Why do I tell you about the history of love? I'm not sure. I'm reviewing what was in this chapter and there wasn't much for a fiction writer to learn in this chapter. It was a fascinating history lesson with a number of stories or facts I plan to look up. It may be useful to know how love, an emotion needed for happiness but not survival, became so common. I'm sure that it is useful to learn different types of love so you can get the accompanying emotional story right. A lady struggling between choosing a man she shares a passionate sexual relationship with and a man she's been best friends with all her life due to the early understanding that they would marry would react differently to each and may not notice that her "other half" is really the neighbor helping her through the tough decision. In that case her emotional story could depend on how well you understand the various depths of love and how she would express the different levels or emotions. I'm a big fan of never knowing too much about your characters or setting, but reality is that this chapter had little to offer fiction writers, in my opinion.

I did find a few interesting facts. Apparently there is an idea that hell is really getting what we think we want throughout eternity. If you devoted your life to building wealth on earth, you'll be wealthy in hell. If you sought fame all your life, you'll have it in hell. The writers Campbell quoted say that to the angels who are used to living with God, it seems like eternal punishment. I think it would have more to do with the saying "too much of a good thing is a bad thing" and never being able to get a rest from "your greatest desire". Can you imagine maintaining a business empire through eternity and never going on vacation or meeting someone to come home to at night? What about never getting a break from the cameramen and scrutiny of fame? You may be famous but what if there are no fences or security guards in hell? That doesn't sound so fun any more.

The last thing I want to mention from this chapter is the idea that love is pain. It seems that the original idea of true love was the willingness to ignore society to have who you loved. I guess that the jealousy and insecurity that comes with finding your other half could be considered "the pain of love". I just don't think that love in today's day and age, when divorce or breakups are common, compares to the pain of loving someone already married to someone else, someone like a friend or family member, when there was no emotion in marriage but the only way out was complete shame or death.

Sorry to have reviewed a chapter with so little to offer fiction writers, but it was an interesting read from a history and psychology standpoint. Still a recommended read, just not if you expect a lot of insight to improve your craft of writing fiction.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

The Power Of Myth-The Goddess Was First

Chapter 6 of The Power of Myth by Joseph Campbell with Bill Moyers was mostly about the Goddess.  Campbell talked about how most religions first worshiped a goddess.  From the Goddess came the earth and from the earth came the food the people ate.  As the cultures moved from agriculture to hunting and fighting other cultures for territory or animals, women were no longer as important.  The women did the "less necessary" tasks of raising the children and tending the plants in small gardens or hunting for plants in the nearby land while the strong men went hunting and gaining more wealth and prestige for the clan or town.  In most myths, as agriculture became less important than hunting or wars, a male deity overpowered the Goddess and often the Goddess seems forgotten or at war with the male deity.  From what I learned looking at the small Wikipedia article on Gaia, the Greek mother goddess and considered to be Earth itself, she was never conquered.  When Cronos killed Uranus, she became less popular, rather like the weak grandmother than an all powerful goddess.  It did mention that oaths sworn in the name of Gaia remained the strongest oath a person could take for a long time.  However, Campbell seemed to think that Hera was the Goddess, not Gaia, at least in this context.  According to Wikipedia, Hera does seem to have been worshiped before Zeus was popular in Greece and beyond.  I also recall a number of current fictional items (such as television shows) that are set in that time or speak of that time that refer to Hera and Zeus, or at least their cults, being at war with each other.  As in most cultures the Goddess (Hera) and the conquering male deity (Zeus) eventually made peace and were worshiped equally (although the male deity became the "king" and the female merely his queen).  In many cultures though, the male deity killed the Goddess and her body became the earth we live on and depend upon.  Oddly enough Christianity (including the Muslim and Jewish variations in this context) never had a Goddess figure.  As it spread, the faith destroyed all who worshiped the Goddess on the hills and destroyed her temples.  Although a short arguemment could be made of the Mother Mary being similar to the Goddess in how she was worshiped, Campbell made a point of saying that the one religion (that split into three and more over time) is the only religion he knows of that has no Goddess figure that created the male deity that would destroy or devalue the Goddess.
    Campbell also mentions that most ancient cities had their own deities that protected it.  Although the city-states acknowledged and worshiped the other known deities around, it focused it's worship on one, maybe two deities.  (The example that comes to mind is Athena and Athens.)  He also talks about the older religions that thanked the animals themselves for giving their lives to be dinner and mentions that most religions have some sort of "rebirth".  Most religions (Christianity included) strive to be dead to their animal nature or the desires of the flesh in order to be reborn to the desires of the spirit or universe.  Commonly referred to as a "rebirth" or "enlightenment" the goal is common in most faiths.
   Why do I bring all of these ideas to your attention?  You are here to learn to write better stories, create better characters, and take people to other places known only in your mind at the moment.  Why do you want to know about ancient myths in order to write science fiction?  First of all, your setting may be on an alien planet that still lives in ancient times or your ship may go down on a planet that still believes in ancient gods and goddesses ruling according to their whims.  More than likely, you will never write about prehistory times but it is important to remember that the future is built on the past.  It is the ancient myths and religions of a culture that create rituals and holidays of the present.  Just think about Christmas: the Catholic Church at the time wanted to stop a bloody celebration where people couldn't be punished for anything that happened in that week.  Instead they changed the reason for the celebration and over centuries turned the bloody celebration into a warm and fuzzy time for memories while merging other rituals and traditions with the old Roman holiday.  (Here is an interesting article I found on origins of Christmas and the accompanying traditions.  Caroling anyone?)
    Events and rituals of the past or of today create the culture and society of the future and knowing the origins of a few of the customs your characters encounter, being able to tell the story of the history or significance of a cultural event or item can make your culture and story come alive for your readers.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Power Of Myth-It's All In The Story

Joseph Campbell and Bill Moyers make some interesting points in the fifth chapter of The Power of Myth.  The first one is that all the myths about a hero's journey, including the three major religions of the Western world, say that there can be no reward without sacrifice.  The main reward that readers look for, although most readers don't realize it, is that the main character loses a great deal, enough to send him through some sort of journey, and learns that what he lost was so much more than what he (or she) gained in the end.  The person accused of murder finds a true friend they never knew they had in their partner or someone finds their true love after a hard journey.  Often a person learns to forgive themselves or to love themselves or how to let go of the past and move on to a happy future after a hard mental journey.  Many readers don't realize that the real journey the main character is on in any good book that has stood the trials of time is a mental one leading to the climax, whether it's standing up to the villain or kissing their beloved or feeling welcome in their family or friends again after a long time away.  In Moby Dick Captain Ahab couldn't let go of his past obsession and it killed him.  In Emma she realized that love in a marriage was better than a wealthy husband and she let her friend marry the poorer man Emma had been avoiding the whole book.  Even movies show this reality of stories when you look at Star Wars and the first Avengers movie.  They had to move on from their insecurities and past experiences in order to conquer the evil threatening what they knew.  They talk some about the two types of heroes: the one that purposely sets out on a "quest" like most of the heros in mythology and the one more common in real life, the one who doesn't chose to be a hero but it happens.  Their example of the second type was the soldier that got drafted.  He/she didn't chose to go to war but their number came up and they had no choice.  They still become a hero but they didn't chose to set out on a quest.  In fact, many characters don't realize they are on a quest, like the main character in the movie The Game who thinks he is on a safe Hollywood treasure hunt while really having switch places with a mob hunt, or they drag their feet the entire time, wondering "why me, why me?" and complaining until they decide to do something about their predicament. All those people are heroes in the end that go through and internal journey while moving through the plot, they just started out differently.
    Another thing Campbell comments on is that the villain in a story depends on the perspective of the reader.  Some villains are evil because they want to be or because they were hurt and believe the hero deserves to be hurt.  However, most real people who are seen as villains see themselves as heroes.  Terrorists are furthering what is right and those who get hurt are standing in the way of "progress" or are hurting "the cause".  From the point of view of most villains, they are morally correct and therefore not doing anything "wrong".  It's how so many "evil" characters can continue doing hurting people for years.  They're god is protecting them or they are creating a better future.  Can you imagine watching the some of your favorite movies from the villain's point of view?  In that story, the hero in the regular version is the antagonist in the villain's version.  It is definitely something to keep in mind while you create your characters.
   Campbell also talked about the story of Icarus and Daedalus and the wax wings.  He compares Icarus's urge to fly too high to the modern idea of getting really excited about a new adventure or idea.  How many times have you had an awesome idea you really wanted to tell everyone about before you sat down to start it?  I often tell people about my great idea, only to sit down and not have it turn out at all like I'd hoped and told everyone about.  The choice then is to decide whether it's worth continuing on to strive for days, months, years on the idea or give it up.  Often the initial enthusiasm means that details can be overlooked and science imperfect.  He also mentions that science is proving what myths have told us about.  How many times have you heard about a scientific discovery and assumed it's merely urban legend?
   Something else Campbell talks about which I have often realized.  Our past has made each of us who we are.  Often people can't accept their past, they hide parts of it or refuse to speak of things or even large parts of their lives because of shame or pain.  However, our individual pasts, the friends we made and things we did, are at least as important to our development as the temperaments we are each born with.  That is one reason why twins are never carbon copies of each other's personalities.  One twin was closer to one friend than another, one twin had a teacher that the other twin didn't.  A lot of stories deal with people finally dealing with their past shame or pain and once they do deal with it, once they accept what happened to them and that they are exactly what they should be, only then can they live full lives in the light instead of hiding partially in the shadows.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Power Of Myth-The Evolution Of Myth

My latest reading of The Power Of Myth by Joseph Campbell with Bill Moyers had some fascinating ideas such as that following your bliss shows you that you are exactly where you want to be in live.  He went on to say that everyone needs their "bliss station", that place where they are at peace with the universe and nothing can affect them.  For me that is often as simple as putting on my headphones or, on really bad days, turning on my favorite television show.  It's a place that makes everyone relax and forget about that bully at work or the pressures of too many deadlines or responsibilities.  In ancient times, sacred spots were where people were allowed to find their bliss, to get a few minutes or hours away from the demands of this world and worship something they trusted.  He goes on to explain that when people settled a new spot, they "sanctified" the spot through rituals such as having their house face depending on their beliefs of the sun or spirits, or having their settlements a specific distance apart.
   One of the interesting ideas Campbell and Moyers talk about is that geography helps shape a culture and religion.  If you compare the nomadic cultures to the agricultural cultures, you can often see what they mean.  They often mentioned that the Goddess religions were often found in agricultural societies, where women domesticated animals and harvested the crops while the men would go on long hunts.  The women became very important in those days but the spread of Christianity, with the unusual idea of only one deity, a male, turned women into little more than a possession to power hungry men.  They also speak of the idea that most early religions were very familiar with the idea that from death comes life.  There was not the finality that death possesses in Christian cultures where death is the end of things on Earth, but an idea that one end really is a beginning for new life of something else.  It's an idea that Christians have forgotten.  Death is not the absolute end but merely a new beginning to a much longer life in Heaven or Hell.
   They continue to talk about how creation myths, such as the Native Americans and the Bible tell very similar stories but don't quite explain how two sons become whole nations when wives are not mentioned as being created.
   An interesting side note to think about when creating fictional societies comes from the Mayan version of basketball.  I remember learning about the game in grade school so I know it is at least partly common knowledge.  The teams would arrive at the huge court and play a hard game to get the balls through the vertical hoops while crowd watched and cheered.  Then the victory celebration was that the winners were sacrificed to the gods.  Unlike the Hollywood idea that the ancient sacrifices were forced to die or were resigned to their fates, these teams fought hard for the chance to die in honor of their gods.  It definitely creates a different possibility for religion.  What would a culture be like where the aim of people's lives was to be worthy of kill for their gods' pleasure, that to die of old age or sickness was a shame?  It would certainly be different from the modern American idea to accumulate material goods and live as long as possible as comfortable as possible. 
It’s interesting thinking about all the parts and pieces that go into the psychology of a budding society, according to historians.  Figuring out where your fictional society is in its evolution can do a lot in telling you the mythical history of your people.

Friday, February 17, 2012

The Power of Myth-Chapter 2

Last post I said that I hadn’t figured out how The Power of Myth by Joseph Campbell With Bill Moyers could be useful to fiction writers. In the second chapter I found at least one explanation as it deals with what a myth is and how it was created and adapted through time. Although I don’t agree with his philosophy that, as I understood it, claims that the universal ruler, if there is one, isn’t as important as the bit of that creator inside each of us that unites us, I do recognize his usefulness in creating mythology for our fictional species.
Mythology is how people explained and related to the world around them before they had the time and technology to explain the world scientifically. Deities and mythical creatures helped the ancient people accept any natural disaster that occurred, entertained nomads then farmers around the nightly fires, and the worship rituals gave the people who had to spend all day everyday doing the same job, such as working the fields or caring for the family, that they may not have liked doing something to look forward to. The belief that the world was ruled and judged by unseen eyes provided order as people feared the wrath of a powerful being more than the punishment of a friend or a town. Ceremonies like asking the blessings of a god on planting or harvesting or a birth allowed people to leave the fields and gather together every few weeks or months and see family members and friends that may have moved away.
Mythology is an important part in the development of a culture and helps form the morals and laws of a culture or species. This book tells of what Campbell believes is a single truth that is retold throughout the world in different variations depending on the culture telling it. He believes the truth for Earth is to live in harmony with everyone and everything but the truth of your planet may be one creature that created the world from loneliness or a need for an army to defeat his enemies. I believe that to create a culture you need to decide what the focus is (is the creature a warrior’s culture like the Klingons, a merchant culture like the Ferengi, a culture aimed at watching other species without interfering, or any other type of culture) and decide how the planet created. Once you know those two things you can decide what myths entertained the early nomads or cave dwellers and how those myths progressed to create the current religion/culture.
Even if you have no intent of knowing the entire mythological evolution of the culture you are creating or that one of your characters comes from, you should still have an idea of what the “religion” or focus of society is whether it’s the reputation of a person or family like with the Klingons or money like the Feregis or understanding and peace like the Minbari spiritual caste or family or success or anything else you want your species to aim for and a few cultural

Friday, February 3, 2012

Power Of Myth Review, Part 2

I read the first chapter of "The Power of Myth" this last week and was impressed. Joseph Campbell’s thinking process is very different from the common thought on things that it really does make one think. It is fascinating from a psychology and philosophy perspective but I haven’t seen how it applies to story writing. For a science fiction of fantasy writer it is an interesting way to think about the creation of culture based on myth. That is nearly all I could get out of the first chapter for story writers but other ideas Campbell talks about are interesting to consider.
One of his big discussions with Bill Moyers is on his idea that modern marriage doesn’t work because modern couples look more for physical pleasure than for the spiritual connection of two halves creating one whole and that a family is as much about the relationship between the parents as it is to raising the children. Couples that spend all their time and energy focused on the family as a whole and seeing their children succeed often find that once the children have left home for college or their own careers, the parents no longer have much in common or are comfortable with their spouse, leading to the modern trend of marriages that end after decades of “successful” marriage. Campbell believes that if couples take the time to keep interested in their spouses life outside the family and maintain the emotionally intimate relationship they had when married, there would be fewer divorces and more happy marriages.
One of his quotes that I rather like and that does have to do with writing stories: “The only way you can describe a human being truly is by describing his imperfections…It is the imperfections of life that are lovable.” No one wants to read about a perfect person or society because perfection is boring and predictable. People want to read about someone learning to work with an imperfection instead of hiding it or working against the imperfection. It is our imperfections that make us individual and our imperfections that make life interesting. It’s a good thing to remember when making characters and a great thing to remember as you create your storyline and plot.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

The Power Of Myth-Part 1

I am sorry about this but I only made it through the introduction in the book "by Joseph Campbell with Bill Moyers" this week. I had planned to get through the second chapter but I didn't. I can say I'm looking forward to reading the book. Just reading the introduction told me it was my kind of book. It said that Campbell's works helped inspire the Star Wars stories and he became friends with George Lucas when Lucas "acknowledging a debt to Campbell's work, invited the scholar to view the Star Wars trilogy." Seeing how popular the series was (at that time it was just the first three movies) you can imagine how curious I am about what part this research played. I'm also fascinated by Campbell's idea that people don't really search for the meaning of life but that they really search for the "experience of life". This is definitely an interesting guy to learn from and I get a front row seat to the book, written in interview form. This promises to be a very interesting read and I could get a very different view of storytelling afterward, or at least a few ideas.