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Mythopoeia

What is Mythopoeia?

To define Mythopoeia simply, it is a work (we're talking about books here, but it could take other forms) of artificial mythology. This definition does make it seem like most Fantasy is Mythopoeia, but that is not the case. Fantasy does have detailed world-building and there are often elements of myth, but Mythopoeia takes the myth further. It's not just a backstory, the mythology is fully developed, and the mythology's relationship with the world's history and people are fully realized.



Mythopoeia as a term and the development of its definition is tied to J.R.R Tolkien. His ideas about Mythopoeia are expressed in his poem sharing the same name -- it is his defense of creative myth-making. The poem shows us that myth is about deeper truths and should enlighten readers about the human condition.

It should be mentioned that Mythopoeia is not exclusive to Fantasy, other genres, like Science Fiction, also include Mythopoeia narratives.

 

Other Features of Mythopoeia

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  • Level of Magic

    Variable. The role and scope of magic will depend on the particular mythology. Some Mythopoeia is more Sci Fi in nature and so does not have magic -- other narratives will have complicated magic systems with a detailed history of its own.

  • Level of Grand Ideas/Social Implications

    High. Mythopoeia is grand in scope, so there are naturally big ideas. Mythopoeia has many layers -- social, historical, political, and theological aspects that create the world and its mythos. When creating a world so intricate, coherent, and detailed writers cannot escape exploring ideas with social implications. A big question Mythopoeia attempts to answer is about how we make sense of ourselves within the context of the world -- the present and the past. It's a question of identity.

  • Level of Characterization

    High. Mythopoeia is filled with details, details that help shape the world and its characters. In order to create a mythology a writer must create mythic and legendary figures -- characters who are well developed with personalities and histories of their own.

  • Level of Plot Complexity

    High. While it's true there is a lot of world-building in Mythopoeia, it doesn't necessarily all make it into a single narrative -- the narrative itself is usually just one part of the greater mythos. This means that the conflicts and the actions that create the mythos are freely explored. This also means that there are many potential plotlines that all intertwine within the larger mythos at some point (maybe in a different narrative), creating large, complex, and still engaging plots.

  • Level of Violence

    Variable. Violence is not a defining feature of the Mythopoeia sub-genre. There is definitely more graphic and gritty stories in this sub-genre than in others, but not all stories adopt that level of violence.

Related Fantasy Subgenres

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  • Mythic Fantasy. Mythopoeia is Mythic Fantasy, but it creates its own mythologies rather than using existing traditions.

  • Wuxia. Wuxia often employs the ideals of Mythopoeia in its storytelling and world-building.

  • Epic Fantasy. The creation of myths and the stories of the legendary is grounds for a pretty epic story.

  • Series Fantasy. Mythopoeia is very detailed, it is rich with the stories and events that make up the mythology, which makes Mythopoeia a great basis for a series.

Mythopoeia isn't for you if...

If you want a quick read. Mythopoeia is rich and has great depth -- so if you want a quick and easy read, Mythopoeia is not for you.

Popular Mythopoeia Books

  • J.R.R Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings. Middle Earth has its own mythos and its own legends -- Tolkien created a world complete with origin and creation myths, languages, geography.
  • C.S. Lewis, Chronicles of Narnia. The world of Narnia and its characters are mythic creations.
  • H.P. Lovecraft, The Call of Cthulhu and Other Weird Stories. There are several collections of Lovecraft stories available, this is just one example. The Cthulhu mythos is quite the creation and has quite the fan following. As well, other writers have been influenced by Lovecraft and have adopted the Cthulhu mythos in their own works.
  • Roger Zelazny, Chronicles of Amber. This series is noteworthy because of its mythic and metaphysical themes. The series does have inspirations from Celtic and Norse myth.
  • Stephen King, The Dark Tower. Much of King's work draws on an intricately developed mythos, but this series in particular is a central piece in it.
  • Frank Herbert, Dune. The saga of Dune is a great one and within it Herbert has created legends and myths.
  • Richard Adams, Watership Down. The rabbits of this world have their own myths and legends -- narratives that are expanded in other stories.
  • George R. R. Martin, A Song of Ice and Fire. This series has a rich backstory that reaching back thousands of years. Martin hints at the wider world and its history, and readers are still waiting for more.
  • George MacDonald, The Light Princess. This is just one of MacDonald's fairy tales, a story about a princess cursed to lose her gravity. MacDonald is cited by C.S. Lewis as an influencer and one of the first writers of Mythopoeia.
  • John Jackson Miller, Lost Tribe of the Sith. This series of books is part of the Star Wars Legends saga, of which Miller is only one collaborator. Star Wars is a great example of the collaborative possibilities of Mythopoeia because it has narratives across so many platforms (movies, television, literature, games).

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