Myth & Folklore: Finding Old Stories To Make New

Today author Bish Denham is with us, tackling Myth and Folklore and the growing popularity of retellings. I absolutely love it when an author takes a classic and fractures or spins it into a modern tale. I’m not the only one either–this is a growing market for books and film.

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What is it about myths and fairy tales that readers find so attractive?

Perhaps they appeal to our need for adventure with the hero taking on a seemingly impossible task: Theseus killing the Minotaur, Scheherazade winning the love of a murderous Persian king. Or maybe it has to do with a longing to have some extra-special power: having a cloak of invisibility, being able to fly. Or maybe it’s about defying the odds: Cinderella going to the ball, Jack believing in three magic beans.

There are probably as many reasons they sing to our hearts as there are stories and people in the world.

Story telling is as old as speech, it is built into the DNA of our psyches. It is a way of passing on information, of teaching a lesson, of explaining the unknown and mysterious. In olden days it was a way of passing the time, particularly in winter and at night when it was scary beyond the flickering firelight. Who could know what lay beyond the shadows: wild beasts, monsters, invisible spirits that could steal the soul? Story telling gathered people together, helping to make them feel safe even if the story was about the horrors of the night.

Nowadays, the retelling of myths, such as putting a mythical character into a modern setting, is quite popular. Familiar stories are being up-dated, archetypal themes are being woven into new fabrics. But where can a writer find a new story to retell when it seems all the big ones, like those from Greek or Norse mythology have been used?

Stories exist all over the globe. What about exploring countries that people may not be familiar with? How about Central American and African mythology? You could look at just the creation myths from different Native American tribes to work up something unique. There are stories through out Appalachia and in the Louisiana bayous. Rich tales can be mined from Mongolia and Tibet. Think of what might be hidden in the jungles of Thailand!

And who made these hand prints in Argentina and why?

SantaCruz-CuevaManos-P2210651bIf you’re into retelling fairy tales but want to get away from the Brother’s Grimm, look into the late1800s early 1900s. Collections of fairy tales were written by authors such as Lord Dunsany, Holme Lee (real name Harriet Parr) and Laurence Housman to name just three. Or you can explore The World Guide to Gnomes, Fairies, Elves and Other Little People, by Thomas Keightley.

One place to begin finding names of mythological deities, monsters and places from all over the world is Encyclopedia Mythica. There is also THIS SITE which lists books on world mythology. And THIS electronic collection of folklore and mythology is available at the University of Pittsburg. And there is World of Tales where you can find folk stories from all over the world.

Because my family has lived for over a hundred years in the Caribbean and because I was raised in the Virgin Islands, I was exposed to the local culture, its history and folklore. Anansi the spider is a trickster character who came into the Caribbean with the Ashanti of West Africa. His stories evolved and were adapted to the new environment. They filtered into the Southern United States where they evolved further becoming the more well known Uncle Remus stories. What I find particularly appealing about Anansi is that his tricks so often backfire on him, making his actions very human. Yet through his stumbling and bumbling he not only manages to survive, he changes things. Win or lose, Anansi keeps on living.

There is no end to the possibilities and no right or wrong way to rewrite a story. It’s a matter of letting your imagination run wild. Whatever path you choose to go, the object is to have fun as you retell a story that’s been told since the beginning of time.

BishBish Denham was raised in the U. S. Virgin Islands. She says, “Growing up in the islands was like living inside a history book. Columbus named them, Sir Francis Drake sailed through the area, and Alexander Hamilton was raised on St. Croix. Pirates plied the waters and hundred of years of slavery left its indelible mark. It was within this atmosphere of magic and wonder that I grew up. My hope is pass some of that magic and wonder on to my readers.”

You can learn more about Bish by visiting her blogFacebookTwitter, and  Goodreads.

AnansiAnansi and Company: Retold Jamaican Tales  How do you escape a hungry tiger? Why do ram-goats smell? What happens if you get too greedy? In this collection of ten retold Jamaican stories, Anansi the spider tricks, sings, and dances his way into and out of trouble. In these ten retold Anansi stories from Jamaica, the trickster spider dances and sings his way into and out of trouble.

Angela says: If you are looking for a kid-friendly book with multicultural flare, this is it! Find out more about this book HERE.

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Angela is a writing coach, international speaker, and bestselling author who loves to travel, teach, empower writers, and pay-it-forward. She also is a founder of One Stop For Writers, a portal to powerful, innovative tools to help writers elevate their storytelling.
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Joanna Dawes
6 years ago

This links in really well to Scholastic’s tweets today about 162 YA retellings of myths and fairytales. A really inspiring post – thank you!

Becky Shillington
6 years ago

Wonderful post! I read A CURSE AS DARK AS GOLD several years ago, and ever since I have been drawn to retellings of fairy tales, folk tales, and myths. It is great to hear that this is a trend that will stay strong!

Bish Denham
6 years ago

I read that book too and thought it was a great re-telling of the Rumpelstiltskin story.

6 years ago

This is a fun and useful post. Thanks for posting it. Unfortunately, a couple of the links don’t seem to work — the one for the electronic collection of the University of Pittsburgh and the one for World of Tales. I will do some searching and see if I can find them on my own as they sound pretty interesting.

Bish Denham
6 years ago
Reply to  Rosi

I hope you get the links to work, Rosi. They are fun places to visit.

Lyle Tanner
6 years ago

I’ve always had a thing for the reinterpretation of old myths and legends, especially ones that I haven’t read the originals of before. I have a giant book that I like to flip through and keep trying to figure out how to put some of them into my own stuff.

Bish Denham
6 years ago
Reply to  Lyle Tanner

Those old books, aren’t they the best, Lyle! Hang on to it!

Bish Denham
6 years ago

Rosemary, I KNOW Scotland is loaded with stories. Don’t wait, have fun and start looking!

As for you Angela, I am blessed to have your friendship and guidance. Thank you!

Rosemary Gemmell
6 years ago

Great post, Bish – I love the retelling of fairy stories, myths and legends. I keep meaning to investigate more of our Scottish myths up here!

Bish Denham
6 years ago

I agree, Julie. The Bible is a great source.

Yes, tracikenworth. Reading retold fairytales is great entertainment.

Julie Musil
6 years ago

I love fresh spins on old stories. Another thing I’ve considered is retelling Bible stories. There were all kinds of betrayals and heroism and drama, oh my!

6 years ago

I love retellings of fairytales!!