Sunday, January 21, 2007

The More Things Change...


Panel from the Coffin of a Woman.
Acacia wood.
Late XI Dynasty to early XII Dynasty (c.1950-1900 B.C.)
From Asyut, Egypt.
(Brooklyn Museum of Art)

When I saw this picture, my first thought was: flip-flops.
They wore them 4,000 years ago.
Often I am struck by the similarity of tools and weapons and familiar articles found in various archaelogical digs with what is used - and considered new - today.
One of my pet aggravations in historicals, besides obvious anachronisms, is the general attitude toward characters and cultures.
The past is often seen either as golden and superior, or composed - with the exception of the elite and upper classes - of village idiots.
A superficial surfing (through Wikipedia) revealed that in Asyut's ancient city -Lykopolis in Graeco-Roman times - Osirus was worshipped under the symbol of a wolf at Lycopolis.
On this panel, if I am not confused and hieroglyphically challenged, he is depicted in the more familiar form as the Falcon, the Sky Lord.
But legend has it that the Aethopian army was repulsed beyond the city by a company of wolves. And mummified wolves have been found in funeral chambers nearby.
The theme that animals from the natural world may be roused, commanded and sent into battle against an enemy is a familiar one in fantasy. And one much loved by readers.
Don't be discouraged by assertions that something had been done before.
Of course it has.
(Though sometimes I expect to see someone announce that such-and-such a story has people in it - how cliche.)
Everything we write should be both old and new.

34 comments:

Erik Ivan James said...

Quote Of The Day:

"Everything we write should be both old and new."
----Bernita

Bernita said...

Thank you, Erik!

Ric said...

Has happened more than I can count - plot bunnies - great idea for a story or longer work - certain it is original - then, channel surfing in the wee hours - only to discover that Rod Serling - or Ian Fleming - or Ray Bradbury - was there before me.

Which is why I don't write SciFi - the breadth of reading one would have to do to not revisit a plot/storyline - is too immense.

Bernita said...

Ric...Ric...RIC!
That's the point! It doesn't matter that Fleming or Bradbury have done it. Or Ovid or Shakespeare.
Your version, in your voice, with your twists, would be unique.
Am I supposed to say "Oh, Galbaldon, has done time travel adventure/with romance, therefore I can't write a time travel novel?"

Carla said...

If you believe the seven basic plots theory (or even if you don't), there isn't anything really new under the sun. I recently found out that a plot twist of mine had been used in a Greek play, by Orestes, I think, which I swear I had never seen/read or possibly even heard of when I wrote the scene. Any advance on being beaten to it by 2000 years, anyone?

Steve G said...

Bernita, you are absolutly correct. A different voice, with a different eye on the twist, makes for a new and exciting story. It's done all of the time. We just need to put our slant to it.

Ric said...

The point I was trying to make was directed at sci-fi - harder for us newbies to break in - no matter what the voice - if your plot line is Robots Run Amok. I don't think an agent would get beyond that line. Might be wrong.

Very funny, Carla - you probably get the prize. Still, some of the Bible stories are being recycled.

Fresh, new, or the seven basic plot lines combined. Boy meets girl, boy loses girl to serial killer, steals nuke to get terrorists to help him get her back, toss in inept politician, CIA, girl becomes independent, decides she doesn't need men after all...

Ric said...

wow, bopped that web page line - here, try this one instead.

Rick said...

Or as my wife likes to say, everything old is new again.

Bernita, Ric may be referring to something subtly different from merely repeating a plot. (Since they were all done 3000 years ago anyway, only with a pentakonter instead of a starship.)

Within SF-dom, a common critique of non-SF writers who attempt SF stories is that they're not aware of the shorthand conventions of the field - the rhetoric of SF - and end up re-inventing the wheel. Every genre must have its conventions of this sort, but SF may have more (and more opaque to outsiders) than most.

The best way to show this may be in reverse - a rhetorical convention that works in most fiction, but not in SF:

Her world exploded.

In most genres we understand this as figurative - her husband ran off with a redhead, or someone crept up behind her with a blackjack, or whatever.

But in SF it might actually mean that her home planet blew up.

spyscribbler said...

(Though sometimes I expect to see someone announce that such-and-such a story has people in it - how cliche.)

Hah!!! That is SO funny. Boy, did that make me laugh! Great post!

Bernita said...

Fortunately, Carla, not too many seem to read the Greek plays these days, but it is a little disconcerting.

I keep telling myself that anyway, Steve.

Ric, I'll admit, sometimes I'm afraid to look.

May be wrong,Rick, since I don't frequent SF sites ( I just enjoy certain authors) but I get the impression that SF devotees are more inclined to eat their young than any other group.
Just the same, even I would cringe at that image in an SF novel.

Bernita said...

You've seen them, Spy, no matter what, they always manage to condemn a story by relating it to this TV episode or that e-zine, or some obscure pulp from the 30s.

Bailey Stewart said...

Now this is odd. I was just talking to someone who was complaining that she couldn't think of anything "fresh" or "new" to write about and I told her there wasn't a lot of fresh or new ideas out there. That it's pretty much (in the chick lit/romance line) the same plots over and over again, just with new twists. Then I come here. Maybe I was channeling ...

I thought flip-flops too when the picture first came up. *gg*

MissWrite said...

Exactly. There's nothing new under the sun... but there's your fresh perspective. Great post, Bernita.

Bernita said...

Cute, aren't they, Bailey!
Maybe writers should stop being all sweaty and desperate about their basic plots and concentrate more on re-telling them fresh.

Thank you, Tami.
I remember early critics of Star Wars dismissing it as just same-old "cowboys in space."
Guess what!

Robyn said...

Or critics claiming that sword-and-sandal epics were dead: then along came Gladiator.

Again, it comes down to execution.

Jenn on the Island said...

When ever I realize that my plot is similar to someone elses my husband insists that every story has been written already and every writer out there is doing exactly what I'm doing.

Bernita said...

Right, Robyn, people don't care if it's the same old story - they may even prefer it - as long as it is well done.

Listen to your husband, Jenn!

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
writtenwyrdd said...

I take heart in knowing it's all been done before. One less worry. I just stick to the "write it fresh and well" philosophy and trust that to carry me forward.

Thanks for visiting my blog again, btw.

anna said...

One can only hope to be a little original. excellent post Bernita

Bernita said...

Written, I visit your blog every day, even if I don't always comment. You are on my Favourites' List.

Originality is something you have no problem with, Anna! Thank you.

Ballpoint Wren said...

Bernita, you always impress me with your knowledge of historical subjects.

I'm surprised somebody hasn't made a shoe line based on ancient Egyptian footgear--actually, it's probably already been done, hunh!

Bernita said...

Thank you, Bonnie.
Sadly, my "knowledge" is very general and woefully superficial.
Wasn't there a time when "Cleopatra" eye make-up was all the rage( courtesy of Liz Taylor?)

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Cynthia Bronco said...

When reading Shakespeare, or other works from eras gone by, I'm often struck by how little we've changed.

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