Sometimes, I nerd out about academia.

by Shannon

Painting, "Odysseus Returns Chryseis To Her Father," by Claude Lorrain, 1644

Lorrain, Claude. Odysseus Returns Chryseis To Her Father. 1644. The Louvre, Paris.

One of the courses I attend this semester is “Ancient and Medieval Literature.” Now, I had taken a similar course at my previous school, which due to the professor’s specialization focused primarily on the British Isles and northwestern Europe, and it was okay. It overlapped nicely with my faery tales course, at least in the beginning, and I really appreciated the opportunity to touch on Irish mythology, which I suppose due to the overtly Catholic history of the country tends to be forgotten.

This one is different. The instructor is from a different generation, for one, and seems to have been raised on the classics. Our syllabus focuses nearly entirely on the Mediterranean Basin, and so far, we have covered The Epic of Gilgamesh, and Homer’s Iliad. Now I’m about to start The Odyssey, and can look forward to Aeschylus and Euripides, and then Virgil’s The Aeneid, which I actually have already studied. It occurs to me now that I might have encountered this same syllabus at my previous school, had Ancient & Medieval only been covered by a different professor.

While I am admittedly disappointed that there is no real northern folklore to speak of (Norse mythology is fascinating and I would love to read the eddas in an academic setting, and my school has an Irish language and culture minor, so studying the folklore here would be wonderful), I am forced to admit that this course has infected me. I see it everywhere! My instructor made us purchase Mythology by Edith Hamilton, with the admonition that in order to understand any of these stories–not to mention literature from any period after–basic knowledge of the mythology behind it is essential. As it turns out, she was correct, and not only from a modernist perspective. I am beginning to see it everywhere. Nearly all character archetypes have their roots in classic mythology, or in Homer at least, and oh, the hero’s journey! Never have I appreciated Carl Jung or Joseph Campbell more than I do now.

But more than that, I see it in life. The album Babel by Mumford and Sons just came out, and when I listen to it (over and over again; it is brilliant) I can hear nothing but the classic adventure epic, rife with religious imagery and travel and war motifs, temptations and testing of values. And as a lover and writer of fantasy fiction, I find myself reevaluating my favorite stories in this light, and finding new weaknesses in my own. Have I gotten lost with Molly Worthington? Should I stop focusing so much on politics and get to the sea monsters and gods and the underworld? Because I suppose that if I am going to turn it into a proper adventure epic, it should follow the hero’s journey, whomever that hero ends up being. That is another problem. I want the hero to be Molly, but I have this kid narrating and for the life of me cannot get him to focus on her. I wonder if I shouldn’t try again with her as the narrator. Should I? Please offer your input in the comments.

And that brings me to another point: it’s NaNoWriMo time again! I have very nearly decided that I do not have time this year. I do have quite a bit of homework, not to mention an actual job, and two works in progress that I have not managed to finish. Three if you count fanfiction, and four if you count the fanfiction sequel I will inevitably write after this one. And I’m pretty okay with this. There is now a good chance I may re-outline Molly Worthington and start again from the beginning. Even though it did win me last year’s NaNoWriMo, there has to be a reason I haven’t been able to finish it, and I think maybe this is it. Possibly enforcing such a structure will give it the focus I need. And perhaps I also have the wrong narrator, I don’t know. Unless it should be third-person omniscient like a proper epic from oral tradition and avoid the question altogether?

Once I have thought about this a bit more, it will probably be material for another post. Until then, have “The Broken Crown,” far and away my favorite track from Babel: