Tag Archives: retelling

Working with myths

One of the things that makes a truly archetypal story so powerful is that you can change a lot of the superficial details and it still holds up. There’s something in the essence of the story that can bear being stripped of its original details, and will still make sense. It enables retellings, and the translating of myths into more familiar settings where we can be readily reminded of their relevance. It can also be fun and playful. For these reasons there’s a lot of borrowing from established greats.

Artistically speaking this creates a number of challenges. Firstly you have to figure out what you think the essential parts of the story are. If they don’t automatically make sense in the context of your re-telling, you have to work out what parallel thing they can become. Secondly, retelling needs to be more than transforming the surface details to fit a new setting. It has to speak to us, showing us why this story is interesting, or relevant. As a creative person you can’t just rehash the familiar, you’ve got to try and bring something of your own to it, as well.

Back last winter I was asked to write a series of short stories for a podcast. Curious to see what potential listeners would like, I floated out a request for themes and suggestions on facebook. One of the things that floated back to me was the idea that I could do a modern re-telling of Beowulf.

How do you make Beowulf make sense as a story in a modern context? First and foremost it is a tale of a lone hero overcoming the monster that has decimated a community. We have the hero, the mead hall, the killer, the fight leading to the torn off arm, the premature celebration of victory, return of the deadly return of the monster, perilous journey, the pool, the monstrous mother and finally, success. In a Viking narrative world, all of those features make sense because they are how reality works for the people inhabiting it. I could see the space to go a bit Clive Barker on the monster side, but everything hangs on the set up that will get you to suspend your disbelief just far enough…

And if you’re curious as to what I did, you can listen here…

Mr Grendell Requests