When you say it, the idea that books about mythology are, in effect, using parts of old myths to create new ones is fairly clear. However, it isn’t often that books point this out or speak of it directly. Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s Gods of Jade and Shadow does this, especially toward the end, when Moreno-Garcia’s protagonist Casiopea is nearing the conclusion of her quest to restore the ruler of the Mayan underworld Xibalba, Hun-Kamé. Faced with a seemingly impossible situation, rather than giving up she becomes concerned with the process of mythmaking.
The villain, Vucub-Kamé, the temporary lord of Xibalba and Hun-Kamé’s brother, is a seer, able to view possible versions of the future. Myths (and when I say myths I mostly mean Greek myths (which I mainly learned from D’Aulaires’ Book of Greek Myths, because I am, unfortunately, less familiar with others)) seem to revolve around being able to determine ones destiny and Vucub-Kamé’s gift seems to follow along with this track, but at one point he comments about mortals being harder to predict, more able to escape destiny, which seems to go against the idea of myth-making, the idea of destiny, except I don’t really think it does.
Hun-Kamé’s victory comes down to Casiopea being able to change what everyone seems to think is her fate. She’s losing a contest, but she defies everyone in her way using only her wits. Casiopea spends a lot of the novel defying her destiny, from her escape from her cruel grandfather’s house, to her defiance in the face of Vucub-Kamé telling her to give up. Even her love story with Hun-Kamé defies the genre, breaking the two apart at the novels end rather than finding a way for them to be together at the end of the novel. Her final wish, when all is over, is for her own freedom. It’s through these acts of defiance, through breaking with convention, that leads Casiopea to her victory.
So, which is it? Is it destiny that creates stories or defiance? “The Chosen One” is a fairly common trope that revolves around heroic destiny. I grew up with series like Percy Jackson and the Olympians and Harry Potter that focused on prophecy – quite a bit in the case of Percy Jackson and perhaps less so in Harry Potter. Percy receives many prophecies that dictate the shape of his adventure. Even if the interpretations of these prophecies turn out to not be what we first expected them to be, destiny still happens as it should. In Harry Potter, prophecy is a little less clear, perhaps, with Voldemort causing his demise by listening to the prophecy when it perhaps wouldn’t have mattered if he hadn’t heard it, but it still carries the same flavor as Greek myths, where many cruel kings launch their downfalls by trying to avoid following prophecies.
However, she acts because she feels it is her duty to do so, so does duty replace destiny in this situation or is it not the same because she chooses to follow it? Heroes in books often seem to take their quests as their responsibility, so often duty and destiny feel as though they are intertwined, but then this same arrangement is often, at least in the young adult fiction I’ve read throughout the years, paired with a protagonist who is utterly clueless to whatever conflict they are to be engaging with and have their sense of duty developed over time, or perhaps, because they are of the heroic type – or I suppose are just a kind person – they feel the need to offer assistance, and that sense of duty comes from within despite a lack of ties. In the end, are people’s duties to the prophecy or do prophecies align with what their subjects already feel? I mean, enough people have tried to defy prophecies that it often seems that the latter is true, but at least in series like Percy Jackson, the hero is the one that has a duty to follow the prophecy. Does this mean that loyalty to fate is a heroic quality? If so it implies that prophesies are always good, that they always lead to something better, perhaps because the creator of a book’s fate, the author, is trying to create a good outcome for the characters and the reader.
So then, how do you write a myth? What even makes a myth? Is it destiny? The presence of heroes? The concept of destiny is not something I personally prefer in my writing, so I picture myths differently than someone who wants to write about fate. I hate to always pull the ‘it depends’ card, but I think it really does. Stories, in whatever form, are what we make of them. Concepts are there to be explored, to be played around with. We can work off of templates to create a thousand different works, can bend and shape similar concepts and reveal different ideas. For me, at least, uncertainty makes writing interesting, though it’s also fascinating how people can take similar ideas and create something new and enjoyable from it. Gods of Jade and Shadow feels familiar, but it leads away from that sense of familiarity to become something entirely its own.
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