Tag Archives: myth

Superheroes as Modern Myth

A guest post by Chris Mole


What does Hermes, fleet-footed messenger of the gods, have in common with the Flash, the Scarlet Speedster of DC Comics and a member of the Justice League? Not a lot, you may think – one first emerged in ancient Greece over 2000 years ago, the possible Greek version of a Mesopotamian snake-god, while the other was created by writer Gardner Fox and artist Harry Lampert in 1939. And yet, the first appearance of the Flash (and his alter-ego, Jay Garrick) depicted him in a winged metal helmet and winged boots that deliberately evoked Hermes, while the accompanying text proclaimed him to be “the Flash, reincarnation of the winged Mercury!”

The Flash is the most obvious example of a superhero inspired by a god, but he – along with Superman, Batman, Captain Marvel and Wonder Woman, all introduced prior to 1941 – has become much more than that through decades of comic books, TV shows and movies. In reimagining what a hero could be, the creators of these household names were (unwittingly or not) tapping into a rich seam of mythology, creating archetypal characters who would thrive and survive throughout the tumultuous 20th century and be as relevant as ever in the 21st.

In an increasingly jaded and cynical world riven by injustice and seemingly entrenched hatred, superhero stories may be the closest thing we have to modern myth – epic tales of heroes and heroines with godlike power, who battle against evil and protect humanity. Since human beings were able to describe our surroundings, we’ve ascribed characteristics and personalities to them – in shinto, local kami are personifications of rocks, rivers and other features of the landscape. Since we conceived of gods, we’ve felt the urge to tell stories about them, imagining divine societies and hierarchies that mirror our own and creating liminal spaces where our realm overlaps with the divine – sacred groves, hellmouths, even churches in the Christian faith.

We imagine worlds in which those with divine powers walk amongst us, disguised as normal human beings, and we take lessons from them – the heart of every good Superman story is not the power which Superman wields, it’s the compassion with which he treats the people around him. A Superman who knows when not to punch, but instead to simply talk – and listen.

With Brigantia (issue #2 funding now on Kickstarter!), I wanted to draw an explicit connection between pagan myth and the modern mythology of superheroes. Brigantia was conceived as a kind of ‘British Wonder Woman’ – a superhero whose powers come from a divine source, but who is based on a goddess much closer to home for me than the Greek myth that Diana, Princess of Themyscira is based on. However, our challenge was that while we know a lot about the Greek pantheon and their stories (due to their written traditions and the writings of poets such as Homer), we know a lot less about Celtic deities – Brigantia arose from a society that had a strictly oral tradition, and stories that weren’t passed down were lost.

We wanted to take what we do know about the goddess and attempt to bring her to life – to show her as a fully-realised being whose personality drew from the tribesmen and women who kept her name alive. That humanity is key to the power and longevity of our myths – we look to the gods for guidance when we face struggle in our own lives, so being able to draw strength from their challenges helps us to persevere. We see Batman struggle every day with the enormity of his Herculean task to stamp out crime, and we see him rise up again and again and keep fighting towards that goal. With Brigantia, we wanted to show her struggling with defeat and failure – a goddess previously undefeated in battle, known for her power and bravery, being soundly beaten by a monstrous foe. Failure is an essential part of any mythological story, because all of us have known failure in our lives – we can draw inspiration from how our gods and heroes battle through that failure and emerge victorious.

Above all, with Brigantia, we want those who worship the goddess to feel like this is a story that they can relate to – it might not be an old story, or one handed down through the mists of time, but the awen strikes just as strongly now as it did back then. As modern superhero stories draw on the structures and patterns of stories from the ancient past, hopefully our reinterpretation of Brigantia can be the latest in a long line of regional tales about her – not the only true story, but one of many, and maybe even help evoke the goddess’ presence for our readers. After all, myths have to come from somewhere…


Brigantia issue #2 is now funding on Kickstarter, with a story by Chris Mole, art by Harriet Moulton and Melissa Trender and lettering by Aditya Bidikar. Check out the campaign here: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/chrismole/brigantia-issue-2-the-comic

Stonehouse Myths – a guest blog

A guest blog from Keith Healing

When I was a young lad, more years ago than seems reasonable, there were two places in my home village that kids avoided. One was a particular part of the local churchyard, a rounded cross about a metre tall close to the door of the church. It was completely unremarkable, old, eroded and covered with lichen. It was, however, loose on its base. Not so loose as to be dangerous, but quite easy to turn on its axis. It attracted the myth that it could be used to summon…something vague. Satan? Possibly. Ghosts? Maybe. In truth, it didn’t matter. What did matter was the general nasty potential of it. It was the local equivalent of Bloody Mary or Candyman, although less specific.

On a different road sat a tumbledown house. Looking back it could well have been a “pre-fab” – one of the thousands of temporary houses put up rapidly after the war to deal with the problem of the number of families made homeless by the bombs. There was still rows of them behind my first home close to Boscombe Down, an experimental air base in Wiltshire.

This place was to a different design, but was made of corrugated iron and hadn’t been occupied for years. It was set back from the road in an overgrown garden and was plainly unsafe. It also, according to local legend, had a huge, deep hole in the living room from which weird sounds would issue. It was so obviously haunted that my friends and I would dare each other to peer through the mould-covered windows on our way home from school.

These were myths with no basis in history. They were local, modern folklore that were spread amongst kids and that went no further.

I now live in Gloucestershire, in a small industrial town called Stonehouse. Like many English towns it has existed for at least 2000 years, the Stone House being its main building of note when William created his big list of taxable property in 1086. It still has a decent selection of interesting architecture dating from the early 1600s. Some of these have bricked-up windows. Some were old hospitals. There was an animal pound, although no-one knows where. What are the stories that have built up over the years, or that could have built up?

In order to answer that I started writing short, one-off tales called the Stonehouse Myths. The first was a simple story of madness and the perils of listening to the Jackdaws that infest the chimney pots. The second concerned destructive invisible wallaby-like beasts in an area of town called Little Australia. It was a bit of fun and people seemed to enjoy them.

And then I was messaged by a local woman who asked whether the Wallaby piece was based on reality because she and her family had repeatedly seen something weird by the railway line – something they called the Railway Beast.

The chances are, of course, that they were seeing Muntjac deer, strange little beasts with fat bodies, long back legs and little tusks. But it doesn’t matter. The myth persists. They see something odd and someone else describes it, albeit accidentally.

And the myth grows.

People respond to stories in a way that they respond to nothing else. If they are the right stories they are believed on a subconscious level because they connect to our primal brain and they gain power because we want to believe them.

So what might happen if something enabled these stories to breed, to gain real power?

I realised that the stories I was writing were linked, so I began re-writing. Over time they will form a novel that will explore the way a small town deals with stories when they run out of hand.

I have set up a Patreon page to enable me to distribute the chapters and, as support grows I will add more layers of detail, including maps, drawings, old documents and songs.

Welcome to Stonehouse Myths – https://www.patreon.com/StonehouseMyths


(A note from Nimue – Keith Healing is also the creator of The Hopeless Maine role play game, and is an excellent chap).

The Grail: Relic of an Ancient Religion – a review

I’m no Arthurian scholar, although my wide ranging reading habits and interest in folklore and mythology mean that I’ve run into King Arthur and the grail from all kinds of perspectives already. I was interested to see what Simon Stirling would do with the idea. I don’t feel qualified to comment on this as a piece of historical writing, but I found it in many ways persuasive.

In this book, Simon makes the case for King Arthur being Scottish. I found this argument compelling. To establish his case, Simon draws on mediaeval writing, period history (such as it is) place names and the names of known historical figures. He also explores why we have a southern Arthur and how that benefitted the church.

I found the exploration of texts and history to be especially interesting. One of the things this book does especially well is to look at the relationship between history making and myth making. These things are deeply related to each other. We tell stories to reinforce our sense of history. We use history as propaganda. We reinvent our stories to reinvent ourselves. Arthur has been used repeatedly in this way, and I found the exploration of the mechanics to be really helpful.

One of the other things that stuck out for me is the way language changes over time. The poetic sources Simon deals with are full of kennings, allusions and metaphors. It represents a world view rather different to our own. There’s a blurring of edges created by word play and pun, and resonance that may easily be lost to a modern reader. There’s no knowing how literally our ancestors took any of this – whether we’re dealing in straightforward symbolism where Bran = raven, or whether in some sense ravens are Bran, and Bran is ravens… How much mythology could be grown from a misunderstanding of poetic language? For me, this raises more questions than it answers, and I am very glad to have them raised.

I do not emerge from this book confident that I know what the Grail is. The case Simon makes is fascinating and I very much enjoyed reading it. It is a pleasing addition to my sense of what the grail might be, and might have been, but I’m not one for definitive answers. I’ve certainly learned a lot about how different people have perceived the grail. For anyone looking for a non-Christian take on the elusive artefact, this is a good book, I think regardless of whether you find the central argument persuasive.

For me, reading this was like investigating an ancestral dream world. Simon draws on sources from all over the world to explore ideas about what it means to be human, because in many ways, the quest for the grail is always a quest for something fundamental about humanity. This take on the grail is very much the warrior poet, masculine grail, and it has most to say about male mysteries around what is often taken to be an innately feminine object. It often reminded me of reading The White Goddess – this is not a wilfully obscure book, but it has that same sense of being a hairsbreadth from absolute truth, while never enabling me to completely grasp it. As I appreciate that sort of mythic, deep dreaming experience in a book, I really enjoyed reading this. I suspect different readers could have radically different experiences of this book, depending a lot on what you know and believe already.

Mote about it here – http://www.moon-books.net/books/grail

Journeys to mythical places

Over the last few days, I have entered the Legendary Middle Studio, and The Potionary. As with all places with mythic aspects, knowing the myths is critically important for appreciating the location. Some places are so striking that they suggest, or attract myths anyway, while others become important through association with events. I’m a big fan of knowing how stories connect with landscape, both old stories, and new ones. However, the reasons for these two locations being important to me are not as famous as they deserve to be.

The Legendary Middle Studio belongs to BBC Radio Shropshire, and every Sunday evening, Genevieve Tudor broadcasts a fabulous two hour folk show from this building. You can listen live, or after the event, online if you are further afield. Most weeks there are live performances, and these take place in the Legendary Middle Studio.

I’ve known Genevieve pretty much my whole life. Nearly five years ago, Tom, the lad and I moved onto a narrow boat. At night, in the darkness of winter it can be a bit lonely out on the canal, and all we had for contact with the rest of humanity was a small wind-up radio. We discovered we could pick up the folk program via BBC Hereford and Worcester, and so it became something of a lifeline. I’d gone from running a weekly club, to having no live folk in my life at all, so it also provided an important sense of connection. For the two years we’ve been in a flat, we’ve continued listening. Seeing the place where it all happens was a really interesting experience.

The Potionary is also in Shropshire, at a much more secret location. It is the space where the Matlock the Hare books and art have been created. I’ve been a big fan of Matlock the Hare for some time, and of the lovely creative duo behind it, so when they said ‘do you want to see The Potionary?’ I of course squealed and said yes. And it was splendid.

Everything happens in a place. We don’t tell history in terms of place location, unless you happen to be at a tourist spot. Myths and folk tales can go either way – some are very specific ‘There was once a farmer from Mobberly way’ and some have an ‘everyman’ quality that means no matter where you tell them, it all occurred just down the road from here and involved the friend of a guy in the pub who told the story teller the tale in the first place.

I think that when we lose the connection between narrative and place, we lose the sense of the place being important. Over the last few days I also saw the ruins of a number of industrial buildings. Some had history boards to explain them, some did not. If it’s just a tumble down old place, it can be left to rot. If we know it was the first, or the biggest, or the most important at one time, if we know it was the centre of working life in a place, or something else like that, the past connects to the living landscape and it becomes easier to feel a sense of connection and significance. Not only does this change a person’s perspective on a landscape, it also shifts how settled that person feels in a place. How real, or unreal the stories are, and no matter how old, or how recent, having stories of place makes a lot of odds.

Matlock the hare

I ran into this wonderful creative team on twitter, and lured them over because… you have to see this. So, a guest blog from Phil Lovesey…

Matlock Hare by Jacqui Lovesey

Matlock Hare by Jacqui Lovesey


Some years ago, whilst teaching Swift to a disinterested group of English A-level students (it was a sunny Friday afternoon, and the lure of their oncoming weekend was far more powerful than wading though the symbolic significances behind Gulliver’s Travels) we came across “the most filthy, noisome, and deformed animals which nature ever produced . . . restive and indocible, mischievous and malicious…” the Yahoos in the country of the Houyhnhnms; perhaps Swift’s finest satire on the greed, barbarity and corruption apparently innate in all human life.


The ensuing conversation, I shall remember for a while, as a student at the back raised his hand, a perplexed look on his weary face.


“This book’s rubbish, sir,” he complained.  “You’d think this Swift bloke would have bothered to at least think up an original name.  It’s just lazy, getting it off the internet like that.  We’re not even allowed to Google essays, yet he just rips it off and passes it off as literature!”


Another student confessed to being ‘quite interested’ as she didn’t even realize ‘they had internet back then’; whilst a third at least tried to go with the theme, proposing that ‘Googles’ would have been a better choice than ‘Yahoos’, as really ‘nobody uses Yahoo no more – it’s like, so last year.’


It was an exchange which I like to feel that even the great J.S might have enjoyed, if only for its unintended irony. (As a footnote to this story – I met with a perplexed parent of one of the students sometime later who admitted being a little confused when I returned her son’s internet plagiarized essay, only to be told quite adamantly by said parent that ‘We only used Yahoo, like the book says – none of it was from Google, not a single word of it.’)


I was reminded of this Swiftean episode the other day when writing the second of the Most Majelicus series of Matlock the hare adventures. It had been a long day, and I was just finishing a chapter where our unlikely majickal-hare hero is crossing high above Trefflepugga Path in a hot-air balloon, accompanied by three ‘Snoffibs’ – creatures who content themselves with amassing vast amounts of majickal-wisdom for no other purpose than their own vanity.  I wondered if I was happy with the name ‘Snoffibs’ (a crude anagram of boffins) and duly consulted my wife – the illustrator and creator of all the Matlock artworks.

“Jacqui?” I griffled (or ‘said’, as you would griffle…)  “All these stories, all these characters, all this majickal-dalelore that we create – what happens if it gets changed around in the future?”


I told her about Swift, and how I suspected that perhaps he wouldn’t be too pleased to see his Yahoos transformed by a corporate multi-national internet giant into a glossy search-engine purporting to be your online ‘friend’ as it diligently obeys your every search whim like an obedient slave.  “I mean,” I griffled to her, “it’s hardly coming across as a mischievous and malicious, is it?”


At which point she put down her brush – (she was finishing an illustration for the new book featuring Ursula the white hare-witch, Proftulous the dworp, the dripple and Matlock having a crumlush brottle-leaf brew in his small cottage garden, deep in the heart of Winchett Dale) – and calmly griffled, “Surely it’s not really about what we think, is it? It’s about what the creatures would think.  What would Matlock think, or Serraptomus, or the dripple, or Proftulous, or Goole…or any of them?”


And this, of course, is why I love her – she has what can only be defined as innate, unflappable Dale-logic; for in the way of all things creative, we tend to people our majickal-world of Winchett Dale with creatures that perhaps hold closely to our own values.  And no, I’m not sure the creatures would be concerned or worried even the ‘oidiest’ bit….and neither would the Yahoo’s be, either…


One of the reasons Matlock stubbornly ‘bliffed’ his saztaculous way into our lives was because to our peffa-pleasant surprise, people wanted to know more about him.  Beginning as just a series of collectable miniature artworks Jacqui painted then sold on eBay two years ago (and still does – somehow managing in between everything else to produce a new artwork or Matlock sculpture every week) people simply wanted to know more about the majickal-hare – where he lived, what did he do, what adventures did he go on, who were his fellow creatures in Winchet Dale?  They wanted maps and handmade books.  We developed a language – Dalespeak, using ‘griffles’ for words – then set about to create majickal-dalelore,  blending hare legends and myths from across the world to begin to define the system of all hares’ ascension, the most-majelicus tasks they have to undertake, together with other majickal-dales Matlock and his ‘clottabussed’ but loyal friends would be taken to during his saztaculous adventures.


In the course of the last two years, the world has grown, and as quite contended middle-aged luddites we set about to create a website and try and master social networking and the beginnings of a weekly Matlock blog.  Our teenage ‘leverets’ have helped (born to the digital world – a saztaculous resource for folk like us), together with the support of family and friends.


My previous books were published with HarperCollins – my agent refused to  even show the manuscript for ‘The Riddle of Trefflepugga Path’ to them, thinking no doubt the whole notion of Matlock as hare-brained – so we decided to publish it ourselves, and to date reaction to it has very pleasantly surprised us.  It’s not pretending to be a great work of modern literary fiction, it’s simply what it is – a four hundred page journey into another world – one that Jacqui and I have the most ganticus privilege being able to bring to all out here, in what the creatures of Winchett Dale call ‘The Great Beyond’.


The other day, Leveret number 3 came up to us and said ‘I put Matlock the Hare into Yahoo.  It came up with loads of results.’


Jacqui simply smiled, saying nothing, and it was only then that I truly realized the wisdom of her griffles…


www.matlockthehare.com   and https://twitter.com/MatlockHare