Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Another Fine Myth


Has anyone read Robert Asprin's Myth series?
Enjoyed them much - though I thought they went sadly down-hill as the series progressed.
While tooling through English history in search of a suitable myth to contort and corrupt in the same way as I did The Luck of Eden Hall, I found reference to the enchanted Raven Banner of the Danes, woven by the daughters of Ragnar Lodbrok.
When the Raven fluttered as if it were alive, the Danes were assured of conquest.
Interesting alignment with the winds of victory.
Magical flags and banners evoke many echoes, are a classic motif, cropping up with delightful regularity.
The fairy flag of the MacLeods, for example, continued to have a certain credence even in the century just past.
The legend of the Raven Banner is entirely suitable on another level, as I use ravens as a kind of kenning throughout Damie's adventures in Time.
Parallels with present terrorist threats could also be organized.
Unfortunately the time period is out of the question - circa 9th century, King Alfred and Exmoor.
To thrust Damie Tempest further back than the 11th-12th centuries might violate one of the basic premises of the series arc - that her travels in time are genetically based and connected with her Conyers legacy.
Could get around that with some fast footwork.
The main obstruction is I know damnall about that particular period and would have to really dig to discover those details which lend superficial verisimilitude to any story.
The background to engaging this myth would also have to be firmly suggested, implied and rooted much earlier in previous narratives so that the basic arc remains continuous and not entirely episodic.
While each book in a series should stand alone, it should derive from and in turn contribute to the over-all saga.
A definite problem for a series that grew, rather than strictly plotted from the beginning.
Paperback Writer put up an excellent outline yesterday on series writing.
Was encouraged to see my primitive logic about series writing confirmed and enlarged by a professional.
Your thoughts on series and problems/advantages related thereto?

28 comments:

James Goodman said...

I loved the series and he's (Robert Asprin) a great guy too. He is just as entertaining in person as his characters are, especially once you get a few drinks down him. :D

Carla said...

Where did the Conyers family come from? If they were Normans, they likely had Norse blood and that might give you a link back to the Danes and the raven banner. Unless the time travel gene somehow came into being when Roger Conyers killed the Sockburn Worm (did he, as its killer, take on some of its magical powers?), then Roger Conyers presumably got it from somewhere too.

BTW, there is a legend about a raven banner woven for Sigurd the Stout of Orkney by his sorceress mother, that brought victory in battle but death to the man who carried it. Nobody was prepared to carry the raven banner at the Battle of Clontarf, so Sigurd carried it himself and was duly killed (Orkneyinga Saga). So that takes you to 1014 for a magical raven banner. And Harald Hardrada had a legendary banner, the Land Waster, at Stamford Bridge in 1066 - I don't think it's known for sure what the design was, as I've seen it described as a dragon and as a raven. So that might get you to 1066. Either of which is a good deal nearer your core period than 870-odd, if that is any help.

Carla said...

PS, is the 'kenning' of the ravens in Damie's time-travelling related to the two ravens who were Odin's messengers?

S. W. Vaughn said...

Oh! Problems with series! I have lots of those...

1. They must get better with every book.

2. They must stand alone, yet include a lot of the information found in previous installments, thereby necessitating hasty plot summaries that do not read like backstory.

3. If one should happen to employ surprise twists in one's suspense-thriller series, one must write the following books so as not to give away the twists in the others.

4. There are only so many ways one can say "this man is pure evil."

5. In series that stretch to more than three books, the main characters must keep evolving and changing without reverting back to their original states--and yet not achieve perfection or their ultimate personal goals.

6. Throughout a series, one gets to know the characters so well that one forgets the reader who begins with Book Number Four does not know anything about them.

I'm sure there's more, but this is a start! :-)

MissWrite said...

Wonderful post, Bernita. Writing a series holds so many more pitfalls than a single release. I'm loving PBW's workshop on the subject as well. I have one attempt at a series I'm working on at the moment, and the art of connecting, while standing alone is a real bugger for me, in this case. I have a lot of respect for anyone who can do a great job with such a feat. (I'm a big fan of PBW's Darkyn series, too. *shy smile*)

I can certainly see where your point of the series growing further than its original plotting could really create hazards for the overall story line. I'm not sure it's a general lack of planning so much as that when a series is started with certain intended limits, and then becomes so popular that the demand requires more it gets sticky and out of control.

Bernita said...

~sob~
Wish I had names to drop like that.

Carla, you are a jewel!
Thank you!
Have read about the Orkney banner but forgotten it completely. That one, with the sorceress mother, would satisfy many criteria.
My loose impression is that Hardrada's banner was also a raven, and that Earl Harold's was the dragon, but I might be quite wrong.
Conyers were Norman, I believe. Though I was thinking more of a "bean-si," the "semi-sidhe" as a source. Wonder if I can work references to them all in...hmmm.
~ rubbing hands~
They operate with multiple functions, I hope, without any heavy emphasis - though mainly as a harbringer. I also hope the the association with Hugin and Munin, Thought and Memory is implicit.
Thank you so MUCH!

I'm treading a delicate line here. Both promoting a myth while destroying it, or providing an alternate explanation. The Sockburn Worn, for example, turns out to be an enormous but natural creature.

Flood said...

As a reader, SW's #3 is so important. Gotta keep in mind that someone could start a series out of order. There should be something that compels the reader to peruse the entire series, but not give enough away to make it seem like a redundant exercise.

Bernita said...

Excellent, Sonya!
Nos. 2 and 6 offer the most problems from the technical point of view.

I prefer a simple "evil bastard," myself...

Think the problem of "getting better" - or not - is caused by either the writer's complacency or his bewilderment.

Exactly, Tami. We sometimes see a tendency to mechancially create incidents and a repetition of the same formula without progression or development ( or revelation) of the main characters conflicts and goals.

Bernita said...

Always, Flood.
One wants them to lust for the before and after books.

M.E Ellis said...

Oh Gawd, writing and having to research would do my head in. I had to do some for Garou Moon and it pulled me out of the write.

:o)

Carla said...

Glad to be of service :-) Sigurd's banner is in Orkneyinga Saga chapters 11 and 12, if you want to look it up. I don't know if it's mentioned in other sources.

Harold Godwinsson's banner(s) is/are variously described as a golden dragon and a Fighting Man. I don't think either is known in detail. (Julian Rathbone decided to make the Fighting Man the Cerne Abbas giant in his novel The Last English King, which is a great joke although probably an anachronism since the Cerne Abbas giant is now thought to have been cut in the 1640s as a political cartoon of Oliver Cromwell). The dragon is such a powerful heraldic motif that it wouldn't surprise me at all to find it on both sides of a battle. Ditto with the raven and the wolf.

Thought and Memory are the only form of time-travel we can all do - backwards, at least.

I have a feeling that if you could go back and talk to Norsemen and early English, they would say the same about trolls and dragons - an enormous but natural creature. Certainly the Svinafjell troll in Njal's Saga is referred to as if it was a real beast, rather than a myth. And a renowned naturalist in the 18th century produced a learned tome on the different species of dragons to be found in the Alps, derived from talking to the locals. (Yes, they might have been pulling his leg, but if so they did a very good job as he clearly believed that the dragons were real). Have a feeling that the separation of 'myth' from 'reality' is a very recent idea, post-Enlightenment (unless the Greeks thought of it first, as they usually seem to have done). Arguably that's an important thing to consider in time-travel. While Damie might think of the Sockburn Worm as a myth and be surprised when it turns out to be real, I doubt Roger Conyers would have made such a distinction.

Scott said...

I read the Myth series and was quite delighted with it. An easy read and funny.

Bernita said...

Eh, Michelle, I love research, so much food for the imagination.

My bad, Carla.
The dragon if present wasn't Harold's exactly.
Checked with William of Poitiers, who mentions both were displayed, ie. the golden dragon of Wessex as well as Harold's personal standard, the Fighting Man.

Damie as a myth buster, thinks that there is a logical basis to the myth, ie. a real creature or phenomena of some sort. Roger has what I've seen described as a neo-Platonic mind-set, accepting both the seen and the unseen as co-existing, but also believes in hard-headed Norman fashion that the dragon is a natural creature - though he is not entirely sure.

Bernita said...

VERY funny, Scott.
Aziz ( sp?) is my favourite character.

kmfrontain said...

Most of what Paperback writer's got makes sense to me.

Bonnie Calhoun said...

I've been remiss in my blog reading the last few days, but I'll start with Paperback reader1

I agree with everything S.W. says.

I've read so many series that should have been cut off at 3 or 4 books...so I think an important point would be...knowing when enough is enough!

Gabriele C. said...

If you think your raven banner is complicated, try to distribute several subplots/plotlines that connect three books taking place at the same time in a way you don't get repetitive for readers who read all three books but not lose those who read only one. :-)

Gaul in 410-415 AD is such a mess.

Well, it's a mess later, too, but that doesn't play a role for my novels. The personal conflicts for the - surviving - major characters come to an end with the death of Athaulf, the founding of the Visigoth kingdom at Tolosa and the official acknowledgement of the Burgundian one at Worms, both as foederati of Rome.

BTW If you're at Hastings, the first crusade (1096) isn't that far off to play around in case you don't only have Roger Conyers featuring in your series but his son and maybe grandson as well. And they could easily have kept the ravens or the wyrm as their personal arms.

Check into myths about the lance the Roman stuck into Jesus' flanc, there's some interesting stuff about its whereabouts I remember. Could have Damie looking for it. And if you want some real fun, use the Grail and tie it in with the present Hisbollah war. *grin*

Bernita said...

Looks like she's begun really valuable posts this week, Karen.

So true, Bonnie. Have seen successful 6-sets, but they had a strong central character.

Erik Ivan James said...

I'm somewhat on the same page with Bonnie. Many, many should have been cut off at 3 or 4. Some at the end of 2.

EA Monroe said...

Will you have a map in your myth epic, Bernita? I love maps (useful for keeping everyone from getting lost, especially the writer!). When I opened K. Elliott's final book in her "Crown of Stars" series and saw how her original map had been transformed after the Great Cataclysm to resemble a more modern day Europe, that gave me a shiver.

Bernita said...

Yup, Erik. Such a let-down when a promising series fades.

~still casting blessings in Carla' direction ~

You've got me thinking, Gabriele.
~ a few your way too, as always~
In fact, the second deals with Roger's grandfather, circa 1080 something, and the introduction of the Falchion into the family's possession with an allusion to Stamford Bridge.
Hmmm.
There is an instance of a "twa corbies" seal somewhere and Roger's banner - must make sure it's a raven.
Hmmm.
Some of the set-up is already there.

Bernita said...

Hee, EA, not an "epic!"
Just a time travel series - set, so far, in the north countree - Durham and Cumberland counties in England.

Rick said...

My first thought was that unless Damie's ancestors were cooked up by an 11th c. alchemist, she obviously had some ancestors going back to the earlier period! But Carla seems to have useful specifics at hand, as well.

I've never read the Asprin books, but agree with the Problems of Series. It's interesting that the mystery genre has a lot of series of a different type, call them episodic series, with few direct connections between the books except for the protagonist. (And maybe a girlfriend, police detective, and sometimes - in the Moriarty tradition - a Criminal Mastermind.)

But historical and para-historical fiction can't really be episodic, so you need a long plot arc. Which brings you full face on to all the series challenges.

Bernita said...

My main problem is knowledge of the period and place for the Banner I mentioned, Rick.
Carla's example I intend to research.
Otherwise,it's mainly me. I have to know there's a semi-legitimate genealogical connection, can't just pick any event/myth and stick her in the middle of it.

Carla said...

No idea what sort of records might exist for either Roger de Conyers' line or Sigurd the Stout's around 1000. My guess is, not all that many. How about a connection through the Anglo-Danish nobility of Northumbria? Quite a few Norman lords married into English families to legitimise their land grabs (Henry I marrying Edith daughter of Margaret Atheling leaps to mind, as does Simon de Senlis marrying Earl Waltheof's daughter). The male English nobility mostly perished at Hastings, but the women didn't, and they didn't all go into nunneries. Could Roger de Conyers' ancestor, who was presumably given his lands in Northern England by William I, have married the previous incumbent's daughter or sister, and could she have been related to Sigurd the Stout and his raven banner?
Just a thought.

Bernita said...

A good thought, Carla.
The second Roger married Emma, da. of Ralph Aslaby.
There are fairly early connections with the Neville's and the Bulmers ( who I think were a Saxon family).
To work, the genealogical connection can come later into the bloodline to affect a descendant.

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