Wednesday, 4 July 2012

Writers that changed me (3):

This one’s a furphy, or at the least, a change of tack. This is not a writer, rather it is about a genre that changed my life. I first discovered this genre as a boy of about nine while visiting the local Glenroy library. The library was a simple, new grey brick, seventies building and the books were all seemingly new. I read some fiction and I sometimes sought information for my assignments but it had a section that devoured me as much as I devoured it.

The genre was Mythology.

I started with the Norse myths and read everything that library had on Asgard and Odin and Thor and the like. I’d sit in a chair in the library and read the sagas over and over, almost crying at the death of Baldar, feel my heart pounding at the start of Ragnarok, or of Odin’s demise and I would laugh at Thor’s adventures, like wrestling Death, until I was called to go home. If allowed, I would take two or three thick tomes up to the desk. Sometimes the librarian’s eyes would flick up at me; more often than not, though, they simply stamped the books and handed them over.

Norse first. Everything I could find on the Aesir and Vanir, on Yggdrasil the sacred ash tree and the various gods and their adversaries.

When I had finished the Norse myths found at the library, I moved to the Dreamtime stories of the Indigenous Australians. Stories about how the emu lost its ability to fly, or how fire was stolen for man, or why the kookaburra laughs.

Looking back I can almost smell again, the unique aroma of those large, hard-backed books with their pages smelling dusty and new because they were hardly touched in Glenroy except for the odd assignment. I can see again the library with the seventies d├ęcor and the sliding front glass door.

I read the whole section of Indigenous stories and then I came to the Greek and Roman section and that took a long, long time to work through. Roman and Greek myths branched out into all the myths of the world’s ancient civilizations. Right up until my early teens, all that I could find, I read. The myths gathered by Robert Graves, myths from Joseph Campbell, and so on.


And this myth reading began to influence the fictional books I read. I found the Arthurian legends, the Mary Renault books on Alexander or the Henry Treece books. I lost myself in other worlds. The worlds of gods and men and the eternal struggle. the hero myths, the fallen myths and the myths about the end, The Rognorak’s, the end of Arthur or other heroes, and so on.

Then as I grew older the books changed from simply retelling the myths to the examination of myths. Books like The White Goddess, The Golden Bough and Barberous Knowledge began a shifting from seeing them as mere stories to understanding these myths are central to our understanding of ourselves.

At around seventeen, I decided I wanted to be a writer but, really, it wasn’t until I had read books like the Golden Bough, the White Goddess or Campbell’s entire series of The Masks of God that I began to understand what that might entail.

In poetry it is essential to read mythology (or even the Taro in the case of T.S.Elliot’s The Wasteland). The more I explored poetry, its forms, its rules and history, the more I turned to myths for inspiration. So too, with my foray into the Theatre - my first work as an actor was examining the myths surrounding blood.


I read other works too, the esoteric works of Wilson and studies like The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind by psychologist Julian Jaynes or the ideas of Freud and Jung – particularly Jung’s archetypes.


And so my life-long love affair with myths and legends began all those years ago as a small child finding his way around the library and coming to the large shelf that sat at a forty-five degree angle from the Librarian’s desk, down two steps to the sunken floor and then a walk across to those shelves that were filled with stories from around the world. Stories from ancient Babylon, Sumeria and Egypt; from Germany, New Zealand and the American Indians. I read them all.

In my twenties, I read every single Arthurian myth I could lay my hands on, then the Celtic myths and so on – along the way discovering Tolkien and a whole range of fantasy that drew their ideas from mythology.

And still do.

In fact the novel I have begun to write is a merging of the Greek Minotaur myth with early Celtic myths. I think everything I have ever written in tinged with the ancient whispers of those myths from times so distant and yet, so very like our own.

And so that journey started by that innocent nine year has covered millions of years now and many, many miles also, and the most astounding discovery of the similarity of myths - how ideas and characters are repeated over and over again and how there are stories of heroines and heroes or the anti-stories where the existential void wins out.

My stories are a direct result of those earliest myths read by a boy who didn’t realize the gift but does so now, and thanks everyone, the writers, the myth-gathers, the librarians, everyone that helped me discover the wonderful world, a world where time travel is not on possible, but probable and yet where, upon returning, we find the Times have not changed so very much after all.


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