Welcome everyone to this fantastical guest post by Garrett Calcaterra. Yep, he was one a few weeks ago in an interview, chatting about his dogs, good beer, and his books. Please give him a warm welcome again, and sit back and be entertained by his take on mythical creatures in literature. Oh, and yes, we have a lovely giveaway at the end of this post. To enter, leave a comment and for extra points check out the rafflecopters.
Mythical Creatures: Loving Them Means Sometimes Leaving Them Alone
by Garrett Calcaterra
Several readers, after having read my new fantasy novel Dreamwielder, have asked me why I don’t like fantasy creatures. They point to the fact that there are absolutely zero dragons, elves, dwarves, trolls, and orcs in it, and take that to mean I don’t care for them. As it turns out, I do in fact like fantasy creatures, so much so I purposely did not include any of them in Dreamwielder. Let me explain.
As you might expect, I’m a huge fan of The Lord of the Rings, and like many others I feel the myriad of creatures Tolkien incorporated are a big reason why Middle-earth is so rich and rife with peril for Frodo, Aragorn, Gandalf, and their companions. Many of the creatures, of course, were inspired by Norse mythology, a topic Tolkien was well versed in. Dwarves, elves, frost giants, and dragons are all part of Yggdrasil, the tree that represents the nine worlds of Norse mythology. Smaug was also likely based partly on Fafnir, the dragon Sigurd kills in the Volsunga. Other creatures Tolkien created himself. Orcs, for example, were wholly his invention. Balrogs, I’m uncertain of. And really, it’s unimportant what inspired them. Tolkien did such a good job of making them his own, and giving them each their own sense of history and place in Middle-earth, that they became fantasy archetypes in and of themselves. And that’s exactly why I avoided them.
As a reader, I adore the creatures of Middle-earth. Sadly, too many authors over the years have adored them so much they wholesale ripped them off from Tolkien. Now they’ve become cliché landscape of the fantasy world. Fantasy novels with generic elves, dwarves, and orcs are a dime a dozen and unmemorable even when they’re a fun fantasy romp. The writers who have been successful are those who have taken creatures of mythology and literature and made them their own, just as Tolkien did. Anne McCaffrey took dragons and reinvented them by giving them a telepathic link with their human rider. James P. Blaylock took the standard fantasy races of dwarves and elves and made them his own by making them whimsical, witty, and simply hilarious to read about in The Elfin Ship. George R.R. Martin reinvented vampires in Fevre Dream; and in A Song of Ice and Fire he’s taken the overused zombie and recast it as the white walker, a creature far more shrouded in myth, and far more frightening because of it.
So do I like creatures? Absolutely. It’s just as a writer, I respect them enough to only use them when I can remake them with my own unique vision. I’m a huge zombie fan, but have written only one zombie story, “The Sway of the Dead,” which casts zombie as humans stricken by complacency in a materialistic, consumer-driven world. (The premise was jarring enough to incite the anger of several magazine editors, one of them who went so far as to call my protagonist a vile murderer. I took that feedback as a sign I’d successfully challenged the reader’s expectation of zombies.)
I’m also a big fan of H.P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu mythos, but as of yet I’ve not had any brilliant ideas to do something innovative with The Great Cthulhu or Yog-Sothoth. (My good friend and frequent collaborator, Ahimsa Kerp, did though. Check out Cthulhurotica from Dagan Books for a great story where he puts Nyarlathotep in a hippy commune during the late sixties only to get caught up in free drugs and free love.)
The other notable creatures that are near and dear to my heart as a reader are Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Tharks and the white apes from the John Carter books, as well as the dinosaurs and saber tooth tigers from his Pellucidar series. But again, these were Burroughs’ take on Martians and prehistoric beasts. As a writer, I have to rely on my own imagination. In Dreamwielder, that meant sticking primarily with humans, but also a couple of my own twists on mythological creatures. The scent-hounds are part human, part dog, part machine contraptions created by an ancient magic to sniff out sorcerers—as much steampunk invention as they are fantasy creatures. The sinister Wulfram is a shape changer, but nothing like your typical werewolf. He has been transformed by magic to have the ability to take other forms, but the shape changing process for him is gruesome and unnatural.
It’s out of respect really that you’ll find no prototypical fantasy creatures in my writing. I love them, so I leave them alone. And when it comes down to it, human characters offer plenty of strife and conflict all by themselves, just like in real life.
But what are you favorite creatures? What authors have reinvented them and made the fresh and wonderful for you? What authors have defanged them and made them lame?
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For the giveaway, Garrett is offering ebook copies of Dreamwielder to 3 winners and then a paperback copy of The Roads to Baldairn Motte. Leave a comment to enter the random drawing – leaving a way to contact you. The ebook giveaway is open international and the paperback copy is open US/Canada due to shipping. For additional entries, enter the rafflecopters below. Good luck! Giveaways close on April 26th.
Giveaway of 3 ebook copies of Dreamwielder (International)
Giveaway of 1 paperback copy of The Roads to Baldairn Motte (US/Canada)