Mythopoeia: The creation of a myth or myths. –Oxford English Dictionary
How do you decide if it’s a mythopoetic book? I’m not entirely sure, but to me these books display a deep and believable magical system, drawn from old gods and stories. They create myths that I want to believe in. Possibly one of the best examples of this, The Wood Wife by Terri Windling, changed my understanding of the desert, art and poetry. It’s a mesmerizing combination of entrancing language, compelling characters, and deep mysteries.
If you consider the Mythopoetic Fantasy Award, which includes some rewritten myths, some new stories, and some world building in which mythic creatures/gods have significant sway, it seems as thought that first definition is inadequate. Mythopoeia becomes something more like an all-encompassing magical system, that includes an explanation of the rules that the world exists in.
Subverting those rules can sometimes be the story; for instance, Haroun and the Sea of Stories by Salman Rushdie. This is a story about journeying to the source of story and rewriting the hero’s story along the way. It’s very meta, but also an extraordinarily joyful read, and one which captures the real power of magic (and of story)– that it fundamentally changes the world. It’s a force, a power, a swift moving tidal wave, and if we tap into it, we can both explain the world and remake it.
That can go horribly wrong, of course, as is frequently the case in Neil Gaiman’s books. Both American Gods and Anansi Boys are books that deal more with how to get yourself back out of a magical world of trouble than finding doors in. I particularly love how American Gods, while incorporating Norse deities, codifies a weird sort of American Roadside Attraction mythos as well.
Reading one of Patricia McKillip’s books, on the other hand, is like being woven into a tapestry. You follow one thread, and that leads you into an increasingly complex and dreamlike world, where the rules and mysteries are gradually revealed. Alphabet of Thorn is one of my very favorites, with a mysterious library and language at its heart. Charles de Lint’s works, which I adore, also spiral out of an intensely mythic world, where spirits of the land and cities pursue an artful kind of balance.
Sometimes it’s not the little spirits, though; it’s the great ones, and the gods come out to impose their will directly. In Gameboard of the Gods by Richelle Mead, the gods are clamoring to return to a postapocalyptic world where they’ve been thoroughly banished by technology, and atheism is enforced by paranormal investigators. For something a little more humorous, try the extended adventures of the wombat Digger, in Ursula Vernon’s hilarious graphic novels. Digger is an enormously sympathetic and straightforward character, trying to work through quests imposed on her by a manipulative elephant headed god. Vernon also writes wonderful short fiction, which often explores mythopoetic themes.
~posted by Jenny C.