Myth—a story that explains how your world came into being and includes fables, folktales, sagas, epics, and legends. Join Mythos & Ink as we journey through fiction to find great examples of myths! We also give practical questions to ask yourself when building a myth into your own world.
Examples of good worldbuilding that we reference in the show:
- The Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon
- Avatar: The Last Airbender
- The Color of Magic by Terry Pratchett
Produced by Mythos & Ink.
Announcement Music: Coffee Beats by Aaron Parsons (Used with permission).
Welcome to the Wayfarer’s Guide to Worldbuilding. A podcast by Mythos & Ink Publishing, where we build worlds one story at a time. I’m Kyle and Mr. Elephant. Today’s topic is Myth. Myth, it’s a story that explains how a world came into being often involving supernatural beings or a traditional story that explains historical events. think things like fables, fairy tales, folk tales, sagas, epics, and legends.
I’m excited to talk about my example today, because it is one of my favorite fantasy books of all time. It’s called the Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon. So in this book, 1000 years ago, there was this giant evil dragon that went rampaging around and then eventually, it was defeated. The various countries in the story interpret what happened differently, so that each have a little bit of a different myth to what happened. So the western people think that this great dragon slayer named Galleon killed the dragon and rescued the princess and then married the princess and everything was hunky dory. And the people of the East believe that actually, the woman, the princess, was the one who slayed the dragon. And the guy didn’t really have anything to do with it. So it’s really interesting how this myth, and the interpretations of it play out in the story itself. And you see, like, these two countries just don’t really like each other. And like, because they don’t, they don’t believe the same things. And they argue and you know, and it’s just fascinating how the truth comes out in the story itself, because obviously, the name of one and the story is coming back. And so they have to defeat it again. And as they do, it comes out what really happened 1000 years ago,
Well, here’s my question then for you is you have these two contradictory have this knight in shining armor, versus she kind of does it or herself and is independent? Do you see those beliefs come up in those societies? Like how they interpret the myth that determine how they behave in so many ways?
Yeah, it is interesting. The Western society, they think that all the descendants of that guy and the princess are why the nameless one doesn’t come back. So like, they have to keep having kids, they can only have a girl for some reason, whenever they, this is the Queen and the king, they have a kid, it’s a girl, then that girl goes on to be queen, marries someone has a kid, it’s a girl, etc, etc. And they believe that that line continuing is what’s keeping the nameless one at bay. And then the other, the eastern people don’t really believe that. They think that has nothing to do with the nameless one coming back and are looking for, you know, ways to stop it.
So a divided Society of two extremes, I don’t think we can relate to anything like that. So unrelatable.
Politics in real life don’t happen.
I was wondering if there’s anything in the book between the Eastern and the Western societies that differ in their gender roles? Because they have a different gendered interpretation of that myth? Does the country that thinks that the earth is it like it was two separate? Is it two separate countries? Or is it two separate areas of the same country?
It’s like the eastern and western sort of continents.
Okay, so yeah, so it was like this one is the continent that saw the woman is having more power in that story, do they? Are they more of like a matriarchal society? Or does is that not?
There is a mark matriarchal society in the story. It’s actually like, a southern area, it’s not really either east or west. And then, of course, the western is ruled by a queen. But at the beginning of the story, she doesn’t seem to have a whole lot of power, like she’s being kind of moved around by her advisors and doesn’t have a lot of choice. And eventually, you know, as the story progresses, she starts crying for power, and to do the right thing, etc. So yeah, there are some really interesting plays on matriarchal and patriarchal societies in this book, which I also really enjoy, because obviously, fantasy is full of patriarchal societies. Something different. So I find this really cool world building because it’s not just: here’s this myth that some people believe it’s here, these two contradictory things that people believe and they actually have an impact in the story, which I don’t want to spoil too much.
Well, the example I’m bringing is, I don’t know, like it gets semi-patriarchal I mean, it starts manly avatar. I’m sorry. I’ll redeem it, I promise Avatar The Last Airbender and the Legend of Korra would be the creation myth story that I’m going for. We see in The Legend of Korra, that they actually go back to the first avatar. And the story of that is the, there’s this hunting group, they would ask the giant lion turtle for the power to wield fire so that he would go out, they would hunt, and then they would give that power back. Well, there was one guy who was tired of being bullied and hungry, and everything else. So he decides to volunteer takes the firepower. But he doesn’t give it back, he steals it, he keeps it, he goes back. And then he basically gets justice on all of these people. He delivers it himself. And then what he does is he gets banished from the city, but the line turtle, he begs for the power and he keeps the firepower. And from him all avatars are then born out of so there, once he dies, other avatar comes up, and eventually they master all four elements, etc, etc. So that’s kind of how this all starts. And what I loved about this is that we see that the origin of this avatar, the Savior of the world, was all about the ends justifies the means. That he lied that he used the power illegally against other people inside the city of the lion turtle. That was all wrong. But the ends, which was the Avatar and save the ends of all of this justifies the means. And then we see an avatar with Aang, he has to buck that trend, because he doesn’t want to kill the Fire Lord, in the end of the in the end of the third book, and he doesn’t want to kill them. But all the other avatars are like no, you kind of have to set yourself aside the ends justifies the means the ends justifies the means. And Aang says, No, there has to be another way.
I love that.
And just that, like they really wrestle with that. And what’s interesting is that ang has this story, but we don’t actually learn the first avatar story and tell the next series. I liked how those two really played together. So the example I’m bringing as good myth to the table would be Avatar The Last Airbender slash The Legend of Korra.
So it’s Korra who learns about this myth, right? Somehow?
Yeah. How does it affect her? Well, what’s so you see this, not just ang and Cora, but you see it through Everyone, this idea of the ends justifies the means, right? With the Fire Lord, basically, wreaking havoc the ends of you know, him having rule of everything justifies the means of genocide, you see that in all of the villains in Korra, and Korra herself has to wrestle with that of does the ends actually justify the means when she has to fight against these bad guys, when she does just want to redeem she wants to follow in Aang’s footsteps, but she gets burned by it. And what I love about Cora is that she gets PTSD from it, and she has to really battle it because she failed in some ways. So yeah, it she does wrestle with it, but like Aang justifies it. But Korra, we get to hear like the, you know, the existential angst that it brought her throughout the series.
So Korra finds out about this. So is this sort of origin not known to the world in at large in the story? Or is it just that Korra didn’t know about it? And then she found out about it? Or was this like a totally new thing being revealed to everybody?
I think both. And it’s one of those things of like, they people might not be able to voice the actual thing that happened. But the lessons of the ends justifies the means just gets passed on from generation to generation to generation. So the story, the original story may have been lost, but the culture that the story bred continues to pass on from generation to generation, which is what I think makes a really cool myth because you get to see it evolve in that way. So that’s my example, Avatar the Last Airbender.
So my example is from Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series. Specifically, it’s talked about in the color of magic, I think, is the first time that we really see it kind of expanded upon. So the myth is sort of the way the world is set up. And then it’s a little bit about how it came into being so Discworld, so it’s a flat disc balanced on the back of four elephants, which are then standing on the back of a giant turtle swimming through space. Now, yes, which is really how I would like to think of our world. Who doesn’t want to be on four elephants on the back of a turtle. So in Discworld originally the great turtle was just a hypothesis until one of the kingdoms were able to create a giant pulley to lower some of their astrobiologists over the edge of the disk, at which point they then saw the elephants and the turtle and were able to confirm it, in fact, did exist. But of course, they were still left with a bunch of questions, such as, what was the sex of the turtle? And how did it come into being? Which are still, you know, questions that need to be answered. So now there’s a few different theories. So one theory is just that a great turtle whose name is Aktuellen, had come from nowhere and would continue at a uniform crawl forever into nowhere. So apparently, this is a theory popular among academics. Then there is a another theory, which is claimed a little bit more by the religious people the society is that I too, was crawling from the birthplace to the time of mating. And all of the stars in the whole universe are doing the same thing they would and I’m going to just read a little passage here so when they arrived, they would briefly and passionately mate for the first and only time and from that fiery union, new turtles would be born to carry a pattern of new worlds. This was known as the Big Bang hypothesis.
In my mind, I’m like, could they just lower the Astrozoologists lower to find out the gender? gender the sex of the church? Like why not? And it’s grew and and does it ever say why four elephants and why a turtle? Or is that just like eternal mystery?
I yeah, I so I’m not sure. So I haven’t read the entire Discworld series. It’s really long. Yeah, no, I don’t know maybe at one point I’ll discover that I think when I was doing some more research for the podcast I think I saw on some forum people were talking about how original there was supposed to be five elephants and that this world is is different because only has four elephants and I don’t know if that’s just like hearing me or if that’s confirmed later, so I guess I’ll have to read the series and find out.
I feel like the world on the back of a turtle is a is a known Miss from different cultures in the world. Like that’s actually a thing. Yeah. Terry took from that. And then just
Yeah, he did.
I know several North American indigenous cultures have that that idea of the world being on the back of a turtle is very, it’s got that very nature sense to it. There’s this. I don’t know. I love turtles for that reason. Yeah. And are you sure there was no turtle in the orange tree? Like there’s no, maybe the dragon was a turtle?
There were water dragons, but no turtle.
Like a snapping turtle? I could go with that.
What I like about this one is that it just fits perfectly with the genre of Terry Pratchett like, humor, and ridiculousness. But also like clever absurdity. Like, it’s not just ridiculous. It’s like, I don’t know, it makes a weird sort of sense. And it’s funny, and it’s strange, but it also really does sound like a real myth, you know?
Yeah, exactly. And I love that the theory was that they were on the back of four elephants on a turtle, which sounds ridiculous. And then they’re like, oh, let’s go check. And they’re like, Oh, yeah, it is actually four elephants on the back of a turtle..
That begs the question, though, because normally, those things like they come off of like, observable. And then there’s some like strange logic that sometimes accompanies some of those very fantastical stories. So somewhere, somebody who gets that, right, you know what I mean? Like somebody somewhere where they just like did they’re truly a prophet at that point where they just get proven correct, like this absurd theory. Actually, you’re right, we were wrong.
I also like it because it sort of shows the evolution of mythology, in culture. Because a lot of times we start off creating myths. When we don’t understand the world, we want to explain what’s happening. And then over time, sometimes those myths continue on. And we think that they still continue to explain things. And sometimes the myths change, or they’re confirmed or unconfirmed. And people have different beliefs about them like they do about the turtle. And I think those are all really interesting roles, that myths play in society. So I really enjoyed this little thing. It doesn’t have a huge impact on the world. Like it’s a little aside one of his books, but it’s I still liked it.
So this is a podcast for World builders. So if you are wanting to build your own myth, in your story, what three questions should you ask yourself?
Ooh, well, should we go in the same order that we kind of shared our examples?
That means I get a question first, and then Emma has the hardest part of coming up with one last. Great.
Works for me.
My question that I would like you to ask yourself is, how does the myth impact your main character? Hmm, I’d like to know Know how the myth actually intertwines with your story and isn’t just there because it’s cool, or because you just want to know the history. Like those are good reasons to, but you need to have your main character interact with this myth in some way. So I’d love to see you think about that.
See, for me, similar to that. But I would like to know how it is this myth affect your society at large. In particular, like a good way to think about this is if you were to tell your creation myth, in a game of telephone. And, and each section of that game lasted a week. So you tell one person, that person has to tell another person, that person has to tell another person all like all oral, and you get through across it over a week? What does it sound like at the end? Because things evolve, things change, but but primary ideas end up staying throughout. But they get applied in very different ways. And so let it evolve. Don’t let it just be static, like, you know what really happened? But what do you tell the reader happened? Like, what are people believing?
Actually really good writing exercise, if you’re trying to come up with your myth, like, start with what really happened, and then move down several iterations and see what you’re left off with.
But just just head to Google Translate and go into various languages, come back to English, and you’ll not recognize it.
Alright, so you guys kind of took both of mine.
That’s why we went first.
Like I could tweak it. So they’re subtly different. But it’s kind of the same question, how does and this doesn’t necessarily need to be incorporated into your story. Because not all the world if you’re writing a story, or whatever you’re doing, not all world building has to end up in your final product. But I think it can be helpful to think about just in terms of what your world is going to look like. So my question is, how does this myth affect art in your world? Do people depict it? What does that look like? How do they interact with it?
And you know, what, like, medium as well really changes how myth is understood. Right? Right. Like if it was, if this is myth that is seen in cave pictures versus one that is passed down, you know, through an auditory experience, it’s it’s a very different way of understanding the world.
Oh, you find you have your character find some old book with a myth. But it’s not the same as the one you know, you know, that’s always interesting.
Yeah, dun dun, da.
I love doing that. Oh we misunderstood this the whole time.
Yeah, I like when characters have to deal with believing something and then having that belief shattered.
Yah. Shake their whole foundational belief system and throw them into an existential crisis. Do it.
Alright, well, we have some time to do a little bit of behind the scenes stuff. What’s going on for Mythos & Ink. And what we do as publishers behind the scenes without recording our entire meeting that we have every week, because nobody wants to listen to that. And the rabbit trails, we go down. Alli, what are you working on this week.
So today was pitmad, which it won’t be when this goes live. Yeah, it’s a online Twitter event where writers can pitch their book in one week. And then agents and editors go through all these tweets, and like the ones that they want to see queries of in their inbox. So it’s a lot of fun for me as an editor because I get to go see all these awesome pitches for books and then like a bunch of them and then I get queries in my inbox. So I always have a lot of fun with that. There’s just so many ideas. It’s also overwhelming because so many people participate and I can’t possibly go through every single tweet, which is a little sad, but I go through as many as I can. And also sometimes I’ll search for so you search the hashtag pit med and then you can also search like, there’s special tags for fantasy for science fiction for adults, etc, etc. So I can specify exactly what I’m looking for. And sometimes I will also take comp titles that I really like. So, like, search pitmad, The Legend of Zelda. See if anyone out there comparing Zelda
Yeah, no, this is this is insider info right here. That’s why we’re doing this.
I also do Studio Ghibli because I just love the weird world building and the Studio Ghibli is very much like it’s not all action. There’s a lot of just like quiet moments in those movies, which I really don’t see a lot of in books.
So this week. I am starting we’re not starting to I’m continuing To organize the blog tour for our upcoming fantasy novels, so Shelly Campbell’s under the lesser Moon is coming out. Yeah, due to the magic of time travel, this podcast is coming out in the future. So it’s coming out and I’m pretty sure it’s coming up before the book does so it’s probably still coming. So keep an eye out for it. I would contacted all the bloggers who are subscribed to our newsletter to find out who wants to participate in the blog, blog tour. And so now I’m compiling a list of who all wants to be involved in that and then this weekend, I’m going to be sending out more information to our bloggers, and getting that all set up. So that’s super exciting.
My week this week is I’m interviewing a practicum student to be joining us for 12 weeks potentially, I’m very excited.
Yes, we can slack off and they will do the work.
So the next episode of the podcast…
Now this particular person is like well versed in theater, so maybe we do bring them on at some point in time, that might be kind of cool. That is the end of Episode One of the wayfarers guide to world building. Until next time, wayfarers go build worlds. Bye.
That was pretty good for our first time.