Friday, August 02, 2013

Myths Revisited, part I: what are the gods?

I decided to name this little series and give it it's own tag: MYTHS REVISITED wherein I discuss a modern-day setting in which mythological characters--gods and heroes--are reinterpreted as superheroes, basically.  As I said in my previous post, this is hardly anything new: the Marvel comics character of Thor (as well as all the backstory around him) was quite successful, and spawned a fair bit of additional mythological Marvel stuff, including Hercules and later Ares as Avengers, the Chaos War storyline (as well as several others), as well as the spin-off (which was later integrated into the mainstream continuity) of the Eternals.  DC has done their part as well, since the character of Wonder Woman is strongly rooted in Greek mythology, and many characters from myth appear in their continuums as well.  And where Marvel has the Eternals, many see that as a reflection of Jack Kirby's New Gods; after it was cancelled, he filed off the serial numbers, changed a lot of the details, but basically explored a lot of the same themes--a science fiction adaptation of mythological concepts.  This more overtly science fictional presentation has a number of important legacies--Darkseid, one of the favorite mega-villains of the DC universe, for example, started as such.  Marvel, in integrating the Eternals, made the Titanians and the Uranians into Eternals, basically, so Thanos (often viewed as a Marvel counterpart to Darkseid himself) is one of them.  Curiously, although it's one of the "other" continuities of the Marvel multiverse, Superman analog Hyperion, i.e. Mark Milton, is specifically said to be an Eternal in that universe, although in the Supreme Power version of the character, he's even more overtly Superman-like, and he and Princess Zarda are aliens--bringing the concept full circle of tying mythology to science fiction.

For what its worth, the newish Thor movie, which establishes its own related but different continuity called the Marvel Cinematic Universe (Earth-199999 for the curious, who are into that kinda thing) also posits an Asgard where Asgardians, including Thor and Odin and Loki and the rest of the Norse mythological characters, are as much based on pulpish super-science as on magic and mythology.  I'd also be lying if I didn't note that the Percy Jackson movies (I never read the books, although my kids mostly all have) aren't an influence as well.

All that said, in Myths Revisited, what, then are the heathen gods of various mythologies?  Do they all exist, and how do they relate to the stories that we probably know (at least for well-known mythologies like Norse and Greek?)  The characters do exist, and they are (mostly) human-like in appearance, and in fact, often pose as human beings and live among us--or at least can do so.  Like comic-book characters, they exhibit superhuman strength, speed, reflexes, durability, resistance to injury and disease and aging, as at least a baseline.  Individual characters may have other superhuman abilities as well--Thor's ability to call lightning, for example, Hermes incredible speed, etc.  The named, known gods are characters who are more active in human affairs, and/or more heroic in terms of accomplishments than their compatriots, but in reality, there is a bigger population of these types of characters than are known on Earth.  Most of them live in pocket dimensions that "orbit" the dimension of the Earth (for lack of a better description) and are connected via a transitory dimension colloquially known as "the Earth's Porch" or simply the Porch.  Individuals from these worlds (as well as people from Earth, actually) may travel via the Porch to one or more of these pocket dimensions, and occasionally do so, but the journey is often harrowing, and requires specialized, esoteric knowledge that few in any dimension possess.

One of the great mysteries of humanity is exactly what happens to the souls of those who die, however, such is not the case with these Outsiders, as they are collectively sometimes called.  While not actually immortal, and certainly capable of being slain, the souls of Outsiders eventually re-coalesce and reform to be reborn when one is slain.  They will grow up to possess all of the abilities that they had before, although none of the memories of their prior lives.  This does grant them a measure of immortality, but a very limited one, since if you are killed, have to be reborn a number of years later, grow up, and then still don't have any of your prior memories, death to the Outsiders is fairly final, and is certainly a viable solution to dealing with the plans of a rival or enemy.

Certain rituals can give characters random (and usually more confusing rather than helpful) glimpses into their past lives, and can be done on occasion, although they are very fearful of doing so because prolonged exposure to these glimpses leads to insanity and violent, paranoid madness.

Outsiders can often manipulate "magic"--forces from beyond the boundaries of the Worlds We Know that leak through like dark energy directly from the bulk (to give a vague reference to brane cosmology theory. There are a number of other, more exotic beasts that live in these pocket dimensions--creatures that may be semi-human like, as in centaurs or rusalka, or others that are purely monstrous, such as trolls, hydras or worse.  In addition to this "magic", they have access to often advanced science--in fact, the magic is merely manipulation of energy from the bulk, and thus fits the old maxim of being merely sufficiently advanced science rather than actually magical.

In the past, various populations of Outsiders usually had limited geographical exposure to Earth, but as the population of Earth has become increasingly scattered and intermingled, that is no longer true, and the various populations of Outsiders now interact not only with humanity, but also with each other quite a bit.  In addition, as their wars and often brutal politics proceed, in many cases, individual heroes are reborn, or hidden after their birth, on the Earth, where they may be completely unconnected from their forebears (and in an ironic twist, may in fact grow up to later become more familiar with a rival population of Outsiders.)  Also, the myths as presented show a point in time only--echoes of past upheavals are reflected in the mythology, such as in the Æsir-Vanir War or the Titanomachy--are merely past upheavals, and others of often similar scope have taken place since the time that the myths were first transmitted to "mortals."

When next I return to this topic, let's discuss some more specifics--starting with the Greek mythos and its reflection in the Myths Revisited settling.

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