Of humans and gods elemental

I’m a committed reader and I do read fairly widely and there’s one particular thing that I love when it comes to fiction; I love stories that blend and blur the lines between reality and mythology. The kind of thing where the lives of men and meddling gods coexist and the environment holds some physical form.

There’s loads of examples of this throughout literature – the Greeks and Romans loved to tell these types of stories, and those stories continue to be told in our own time – think of John Banville’s ‘The Infinities’ and ‘Fifteen Dogs’ by Andre Alexis . In both books the Classical Gods get involved in the modern life of humanity (and canines). And more recently there’s been ‘American Gods’ by Neil Gaiman, and ‘Good Omens’ a joint effort between Gaiman and the late Terry Pratchett. Both of which will be getting the screen treatment very soon!

Cover of The infinites Cover of Fifteen dogsCover of American GodsCover of Good omens

But what about the more elemental gods, the older gods, gods of the earth, environment, and the supernatural world…?

Cover of FlamesI’ve just finished reading ‘Flames’ by Robbie Arnott – a young Tasmanian author with some serious talent! He’s been writing for some years now and has a string of awards following in his wake, and he’s a very welcome addition to the burgeoning Tasmanian writers scene, a scene which includes the rural romances of Rachael Treasure, the gritty historic fiction of Rohan Wilson, and the Booker Prize winner Richard Flanagan. I’m a Tasmanian myself so I do enjoy keeping up with what’s coming out of the beautiful isle, but I wasn’t really prepared for how good ‘Flames’ was going to be! It feels as you read it as if the land of lutruwita (the indigenous name for Tasmania) is itself telling the story and we are the privileged few who get to gain some insider knowledge.

It centres on two young people just after the death of their mother, which itself acts as a catalyst for all that follows. The brother is steadfast and pragmatic and wants to protect his sister so decides to build her a coffin, to which her response is to flee into the wilderness of the South West where she discovers a supernatural aspect to the world around her, and to herself and also to her family. Meanwhile the brother mounts a search to find his sister. On the journey we meet characters that are both at one with the natural world and still finding and settling into their place in it. We meet their father, we learn more about the family’s background, and other characters each of who are portrayed perfectly to outline their purpose in the narrative.

Robbie Arnott’s use of language is poetic and evocative of times past, of the smell of earth, the feel of wind, and the heat of fire. The narrative moves organically from one character to the next, shifting perspectives and fleshing out the magic of the story as it progresses. His descriptions of Tasmania (and you can rely on this ex-pat to confirm) are stunningly accurate and establish a very strong sense of place – you can smell eucalyptus burning, hear the rush of the waves onto the rocks, and you can feel the semi-decayed earth under your feet as you negotiate the wombat burrows.

So; beautiful language, strong sense of place, great characters with depth and purpose, and an engrossing story line – it’s ticked all the boxes for me!

Cover of The buried giantAnd ‘Flames’ is not the only book to achieve this balance between the real, the myth, the supernatural. ‘The Buried Giant’ by Kazuo Ishaguro is the tale of an ageing couple on a medieval pilgrimage with their purpose obscured by a think fog affecting memories, or there’s the outstanding series ‘The Tale of Shikanoko’ by Lian Hearn where we follow a journey of growth within a fantastical Edo-era Japan that has such imagination and rooted in strong mythology and where the everyday is touched with magic both light and dark. As is fellow Tasmanian Richard Flanagan’s great piece of surrealist historical fiction ‘Gould’s Book of Fish – a novel in twelve fish’ which I’m sure was both inspiration and license for Robbie Arnott to create this work, ‘Flames’.

And if you like this particular sub-genre then there’s plenty of films and tele series’ that are similar. You could have a look at ‘The Kettering Incident’, Tasmania’s own supernatural, David-Lynch-esque, tele series. It’s brilliant, dark, a bit creepy, and it’ll show you some places and environments very like those Robbie Arnott has depicted in ‘Flames’.

Enjoy your reading,

^DevilStateDan

Salman Rushdie: Storytelling as Scheherazade

I love reading Salman Rushdie. He weaves the most colourful and beautiful stories, with a little magic shining through like gold threads. Transporting the reader to different cultures, countries and times, his stories often address current issues through the medium of fantasy.

Cover of Two years eight months and twenty eight nightsTwo Years Eight Months & Twenty Eight Nights is a fabulous tale of a War of the Worlds. If you can do the maths, this adds up to 1,001 nights in the Arabian Nights legends. The gates between  Earth and Peristan (Fairyland) have reopened after thousands of years. Mischievous Jinn (Genies as we know them) are messing with human lives in terrible ways, in order to subjugate humans, or ultimately destroy us.

Rushdie adopts the role of Scheherazade, unfolding many stories like the Chinese box sent to poison the King of Qaf. Dark Jinn, creatures of fire, visit curses on mankind – rising curses to make people float above the atmosphere, crushing curses to kill us with gravity, infectious diseases and open attacks.

But Humankind have someone on their side. The Princess of Peristan, Aasmaan Peri; Skyfairy the Lightning Princess. Naming herself Dunia (The World), she fell in love with a human; the philosopher Ibn Rushd, the last time the gates were open. Dunia becomes mother to a race of humans who are part Jinn and part human, with latent powers waiting to be whispered into action to save the human race.

Ibn Rushd was a philosopher in ancient times. He really did have a feud with Ghazali of Iran (a champion of Islam). Ibn Rushd, an Aristotelian rationalist, believed in a kinder God and a less fanatical faith. Salman Rushdie’s father changed the family name to Rushdie to align himself with Rushd and his arguments against Islamic literal interpretation of the Koran.

This is the first book of Rushdie’s that I have really noticed an undercurrent of parable, between the fantasy story and the world of today. Rushdie’s narrator writes from a future Earth a thousand years after this historic battle: without religion, discrimination and war; making clear that the world has no use for “murderous gangs of ignoramuses (whose aim) is “forbidding things.”

Further reading

Rick Riordan’s Introduction to Norse Mythology

Rick Riordan, the creator of Percy Jackson, has just released the first book in his new series.  Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard follows Rick’s new character, Magnus Chase, as he tries to prevent the end of the world, Ragnarok. If you love Percy Jackson you’ll love this new series.  You can reserve your copy at the library now.

Cover of Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard 1Magnus Chase has always been a troubled kid. Since his mother’s mysterious death, he’s lived alone on the streets of Boston, surviving by his wits, keeping one step ahead of the police and the truant officers. One day, he is tracked down by a man he’s never met a man his mother claimed was dangerous. The man tells him an impossible secret: Magnus is the son of a Norse god. The Viking myths are true. The gods of Asgard are preparing for war. Trolls, giants, and worse monsters are stirring for doomsday. To prevent Ragnarok, Magnus must search the Nine Worlds for a weapon that has been lost for thousands of years. When an attack by fire giants forces him to choose between his own safety and the lives of hundreds of innocents, Magnus makes a fatal decision.

If you read Magnus Chase and the Sword of Summer and want to find out more about Norse mythology or read more stories featuring the Norse gods we have the perfect book list for you.  We’ve just created an If you like…Norse Mythology for Kids booklist that has some great books that you could try next, including:

Are the Gods Amongst Us?

godsI was a big fan of Greek Mythology as a child and was always mystified how Christianity was able to overcome such wonderful and colourful creations. Gore Vidal’s Julian remains a readable novel, in the style of I Claudius sympathetically focussing on the attempts of the Emperor to reinstate the old beliefs in the face of Christianity.

What though if the Gods are still here? Supposing the immortal Minotaur is working as a short order cook amongst the sterile wastelands of Mid-Western America and still trying to find a meaning to its life?

Then there’s the entertaining and witty Percy Jackson series written for children, but great reading for adults. An ordinary American boy discovers his father his Poseidon, that monsters roam the land, Las Vegas is the land of the lotus eaters and that Olympus is now on top of the Empire State Building.

In Gods behaving Badly though the Olympic deities have fallen on hard times: Aphrodite works a sex phone line, Apollo is a failed TV host, Eros has become a Born-Again Christian and Artemis walks dogs for a living. All share a squalid North London home with a senile Zeus and DJ Dionysus. However, things might change with the arrival of a cleaner with  whom Apollo has fallen madly in love.