Happy #MythpunkMonday! Last month we talked about the power of Mythpunk, this week I’m going to ask how we wield that power responsibly – or if we even need to? I’m going to look at one particular Mythpunk song by my favourite singer/songwriter, talk about my own journey in Mythpunkery and give you a little snippet of one of my own Mythpunk stories.
So, last week we looked at the power of myth and the importance of Mythpunk as a subversive form that can challenge mainstream culture and instigate social change.
That makes Mythpunk powerful too and – as all us true geeks know – ‘with great power comes great responsibility’ (cheesy but true, guys, cheesey but true!)
So what responsibility do Mythpunk creators have and to who?
It’s not an easy question and the answer is likely to be a very personal one for all of us – different for each punk who puts pen to parchment. But I think it’s vital for us all to consider and to create ongoing discourse around this point.
From my own point of view, I came to Mythpunk (although I wasn’t aware of the phrase at the time) feeling as though I wanted to bite back at the restrictive, prejudiced, tired and boring old tales I had grown up hearing. I was carrying fire in my blood and in my head and it flowed out through my pen in rage against the morals and values inherent in those tales, all of which seemed to say that ‘people like me’ were not acceptable, could not be heroes, needed either rescuing or destroying and would certainly get our comeuppance one day … etc etc.
So I wrote to bite back, I wrote to destroy and obliterate and to replace all that ancient, old hat, prejudiced nonsense (as I saw it) with my own values, morals and world-view.
As I got older, I learned a revelation that made me stop and think. It didn’t make me regret what I’d written before, but it did make me proceed from that point onwards in a different way… I learnt the history of my people – a history which my family had been forced to hide from us because of deep rooted and continued prejudice against our people, a history which, I now realise, had been partly encrypted in story and song and passed down through generations in the hope that one day we would understand… and here I was taking a scythe to it all in anger.
Worse still, I soon found – as I now hungrily hunted for more stories, myths, tales, legends and songs which would tell me more about our culture and history – I came up blank ; most of it has been lost and what remains has been twisted and manipulated (not ‘punked’ which is something quite different) out of all recognition by other cultures in order to maintain the myth of the ‘Gypsy Creature’ by people who are not even Romany.
I felt hurt and lost and angry and guilty and very many other things as well and eventually those feelings lead me to write Mulengi Sinija (a tale of cultural appropriation and white-washing which shows how a less powerful culture can be forced to hide themselves while the dominant culture wears their clothing and beliefs like an exotic mask, until eventually the grandchildren of the less dominant culture have forgotten who they are. ) and also The Road Back Lost, which I’m going to share an exert of today.
So after that point I decided that although there really were parts of my culture that needed to evolve, so much had been lost that I wanted my Mythpunk to focus on preserving the good, the beautiful, wise and historic aspects to make tales worthy of passing on to my own children.
I’m still on uncomfortable ground here – there are definitely dark moments when I ask ‘do I have the right to do this?’ and I can only comfortably answer ‘yes’ because it is my own culture and belief, my own experience, the voice of my own blood that is singing through me. I am not certain I could always give a resounding ‘yes’ if that were not the case.
I think that, for me, the subject boils down to questions of Power,Voice and Ownership – does the mythology I’m punking from exist in enough written forms that its power and voice resound through history and are unlikely to be altered / obliterated forever by my work here and now? – does the culture which this mythology hales from have enough power and voice on the world stage to protest against my meddling with it, should it choose to do so? – and lastly, is the culture my own?
But this is just my story, my journey, my own evolving view on things, – I’d be really interested to hear what you think on the subject! Should Mythpunk be a free-for-all? Is it OK to punk from other cultures? Should we not punk at all? Or is there a middle road and if so, how do we stay on it?
It’s a Mythpunk’d version of the child ballad The Raggle Taggle Gypsies / The Gypsy Laddie / Black Jack Davy, a ballad I grew up with, which tells the tale of Lady Cassillis and her lover the Romanichal folk hero and Rom Baro Johnnie Faa.
In that folk tale, the Earl of Cassillis marries his young wife against her will, but her lover, Johnnie Faa, or Black Jack Davy, rescues her and they run away together. The Earl eventually catches them, hangs Faa and his brothers and imprisons his wife for the rest of her days. There isn’t any truth in the tale as far as Faa and Cassillis are concerned, and of course there are aspects of it which seem wonderful and other aspects which seem dreadful.
Here’s the song and above it I’ve included Heather’s introduction/ explanation of it as well – I’ve chosen it because, as with the original, there’s a lot about it that I love from a fun and feminist perspective and also a lot that feels uncomfortable … see what you think?
And finally here’s the excerpt I promised from The Road Back Lost, if you like it and want to read the whole things you can find it on Vocal… https://poets.media/the-road-back-lost
THE ROAD BACK LOST
Do you know what it is like to gut a wolf, child? Do you think you have the stomach for the knife? If you are a daughter of the wood, you ought at least to have that. But perhaps the tool they have given you is not up to the task? Faced with the breath, the lure of iron scent, the clinging claret clots that call to your own quickened pulse, the sharp, sharp teeth a grotesquery of your
Perhaps you would rather flee?
Or perhaps that dilation of your dark and precious orbs betrays your lust to leave this wood and simply be devoured, melting on a hot tongue, melting in a hot belly, melting like a shadow into night? How many times have you tried to lose yourself that way? How many times have you wandered from the path, waiting for your wolf?
Here she is, child, here she sits; white throat waiting to welcome you home.’
Thanks for joining me for another #MythpunkMonday and please feel free to join in a share your own / others Mythpunk either in the comments or using the hashtag – let’s fill every Monday with marvellous Mythpunk madness 😀
Good Morning Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to Max and Collin’s rambunctiously raucous and chi-chi to the core parlour located high above it all on board our beautiful rainbow-sailed ship, The Harlequin Ladybird. Our tentacles are all of a quiver this morning and our china cups are chattering because we are honoured to have our good friend Mr David Lee Summers joining us for elevenses this morning, authour of the Clockwork Legion series which we very much adore.
Do please have a seat, David, (Max, get off the chaise and let him sit down … hm? … no he can’t sit on a cat, cats are not cushions Max how many times must I remind you?)
I do apologise, David. Would you like tea? Earl Grey? Lapsang? Assam? Darjeeling? (We are all out of oolong Max so don’t even think about making that joke again.)
I do believe a nice robust Assam would be just what I need to get this day off to a splendid start. Thank you.
There you go.
Now then, we are deeply concerned about our puppet mistress, Penny; there are rumours that she has a secret laboratory where she takes stories (and I’m talking about ancient, respected myths, legends and Moral Tales here, David, the backbone of what you humans call ‘Sophisticated Society’ I believe?) and does unspeakable things to them so that when they emerge they are… forgive me an affected shudder… changed! Warped! Twisted – almost out of recognition…but not quite, which I think is even more disturbing. Certainly I, as an octopus, am disturbed. We are certain that it is some sort of illness and we wondered if you might have heard of it?
I have indeed heard of this condition though fear not, I don’t believe your mistress is more ill than most writers. Though she might suffer from an excess of making connections in stories the original writers did not see or intend, or connecting them to new and different time periods. The condition is not especially dangerous as long as your mistress is allowed to explore her thoughts in writing.
But tell me that this is not normal human behaviour, I mean, do you know anyone else who behaves so disrespectfully towards the written word?
I know a few such authors who have looked at legends and fairy tales through new lenses and seen new meanings. Such people as Jody Lynn Nye, Jeff Young, and Danielle Ackley-McPhail have all explored these ideas. A grand example is the anthology Gaslight and Grimm which Danielle edited.
Of course, Catherynne M. Valente coined the term “Mythpunk” to explain such behaviour and has engaged in it a few times herself. Neil Gaiman and Theodora Goss are a couple of other authors who have done this.
Hm, I’m becoming a little suspicious here, David, please tell me you are not one of these fiendish writers yourself who thinks that ancient, sacred tales are merely cadavers that you can dissect and use to create new life?
Oh dear, it seems you have found me out. Though I will say that I do not see these ancient and grand tales as cadavers at all. Rather it’s because they live and breathe that they are so adaptable to new kinds of characters and different situations.
Oh. I see. Um, oh how remiss of me I haven’t offered you any cake! (Max, I’ll keep him talking while you run and find some sedative to slip into his tea, it seems these writers are all as mad as each other)
No need for the sedative. Yes, I heard you, Collin, but I will take a little cake, thank you very much.
Hm, but what is the point of it? What do you all hope to achieve? I mean, aren’t the old stories perfectly fine just the way they are? And even if they aren’t, can’t you just write something entirely new?
Of course, the original stories are timeless and beautiful. However, they are, sometimes, rooted very firmly in the times and places they were written. Not everyone can read one of these stories and see themselves reflected in the story, so it doesn’t seem relevant to them. Rewriting them with new characters can help a more diverse audience find the stories. Sometimes those stories are rooted in prejudices of the time they were written or collected. Rewriting them from a different point of view allows one to see the story through a new lens and perhaps bring out different or new meanings on top of the lessons one might see on the surface.
Ah, I think I’m starting to understand… (No not now, Max, just hold off with that laudanum-laced-sugar bowl for a moment..) So it can actually be a good thing to re-tell or re-imagine stories from the past?
Indeed, I have taken classic stories and turned them around so the “villain” becomes a hero, which allows you to see the story in a new light such as I did in “The Griffin’s Tail,” which appears in Jennifer Brozek’s anthology, Human Tales. In “The Vrykolakas and the Cobbler’s Wife,” which appeared in Cemetery Dance magazine, I substituted a vampire husband for elves in the story of the “Elves and the Shoemaker,” which made it a story about relationships. When I wrote “The Slayers,” I wanted to get past the madness of Ahab, which dominates the novel Moby-Dick, and look at what the story says about hunting beautiful, intelligent creatures we don’t always understand. By setting this story on an airship and using dragons instead of whales, it freed me from the expectations one might have when reading Melville’s novel. So, yes, I think retelling stories allows an author to examine aspects of a story that might be overlooked by a casual reader.
Hm, I think you’re starting to win me over, but I do have one last concern – I mean, we Octopuses have a great store of oral tales but very few of us are up here on the land to share them with you humans – this Mythpunk makes me almost afraid to share them in case they end up being ‘re-imagined’ by some mad-mythpunker and what then eh? How would people know the original version from the new? Or what if – Devon forbid – I should perish in some act of great daring heroism (stop giggling Max it is very rude) and the stories die with me… I suppose what I am asking is, do you think writers have some sense of responsibility to the cultures whose tales they chose to play with, or is it one big free-for-all?
I agree, authors do have a responsibility to respect the original tales and the cultures from which they come. I own a collection of the original Grimm Fairy Tales in German, complete with notes about the stories by the Grimm Brothers. All of my Grimm Fairy Tale retellings have involved me translating the stories myself and reading those notes to understand where they came from. I don’t think one always needs to go that extent, but I do think one needs to understand the stories and the cultures where they came from.
It’s common advice that a writer should “write what they know.” If a story goes beyond the life experience of an author, the author has a responsibility to conduct research to become familiar with the culture and time period they’re writing about. This is true whether you’re writing mythpunk, steampunk, fantasy, or science fiction.
I see. Well, I think I have been quite hasty in my initial judgement of this mythpunk phenomenon, I would very much like to find out more. Can you point us at some worthy works of marvellous mythpunk (including your own of course)?
My works of mythpunk have appeared in two anthologies, which present works by many authors whose work is worth seeking out. These include:
Gaslight and Grimm edited by Danielle Ackley-McPhail and Diana Bastine https://www.amazon.com/Gaslight-Grimm-Steampunk-Faerie-Tales/dp/1942990316/
and Human Tales edited by Jennifer Brozek is available at: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00563YEBW/
My story “The Vrykolakas and the Cobbler’s Wife” is in Cemetery Dance, issue 66, available at: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00BBJVJVI/
My story “The Slayers” is available as a standalone short story at: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00A9H1BSO/
I also highly recommend the novel Baba Ali and the Clockwork Djinn by Danielle Ackley-McPhail and Day Al-Mohammed. As we’re speaking, the book is in the last days of the Kickstarter campaign to fund a beautiful new edition. I’ll share the link as it will no doubt tell people when the new edition is available for purchase. https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/e-specbooks/discover-the-magic-of-baba-ali-and-the-clockwork-djinn/description
I have some new works coming out in the not too distant future including a story called “Horse Feathers” where witches under the tutelage of Russia’s Baba Yaga have an encounter with marvels from the Arabian Nights. Watch my blog at http://davidleesummers.wordpress.com for news of new stories and the anthologies they’re in!
Thank you, that should keep our tentacles occupied for a while! Ah, the kettle is boiling again, more tea?
Yes, please. This is a delightful Assam.
Did I hear someone say there was laudanum in the sugar? Hmmm… perhaps just one lump.
Oh dash it all Max, I told you to lay off with that sugar bowl; and now we have yet another authour out cold on the parlour floor. Oh well, just add him to the pile over there and we will drop them all at the next port, which I believe is The Night Market in Bohemia? I’m sure they can find their way home from there…