What about the tales now whispered in apartment buildings around a bowl of popcorn at 2am? Will they too become myths?
As a certified fantasy geek with my stacks of Dragonology books, Greek mythology pocket guides and YouTube history chock-full of game lore, I revel in ancient legends. This inevitably shines through in my writing, where I prefer to explore the mystical and magical before the realistic. Many modern works have intentionally repurposed these stories to fabricate new fables or reveal different perspectives of well-known narratives.
What is Modern Mythology?
If I asked you to think of a myth, you may think of something very old. Hades and Persephone. The Tower of Babel. Durga and her tiger. Modern mythology could be considered the reformation of these tales through new contemporary lenses. These stories which have been passed down to us were likely murmured around campfires, during work breaks, to children before bed. What about the tales now whispered in apartment buildings around a bowl of popcorn at 2am? Will they too become myths?
Many plummet into the pantheon of Greek deities in their pre-teen years, and I was no different. The dramatic, unbelievable stories of love, nature and a worrying number of affairs (really, Zeus?) sharpen the emotional intensity of situations which often occur in real life. Yet, many of these tales are at the expense of female characters. One writer attempting to rectify the fallacy of supposed inaction or acceptance by women in Greek mythology is Nikita Gill. Her poetry collection Great Goddesses: Life Lessons from Myths and Monsters is brimming with the potent powers of female deities— elegant and loving, venomous and spiteful. ‘Eurynome: The Mother of All Things’ tells of the Greek goddess who created the world from chaos. In the original narrative, Eurynome creates Ophion, a serpent, who proceeds to desire her. In a vague manner common to such tales involving sexual assault, Ophion impregnates Eurynome, and she lays an egg containing the universe. The egg hatches and a genesis narrative is created. Ophion assumes credit for the formation of the universe and Eurynome, enraged, kicks him into the darkness of the earth. Although Eurynome’s character reveals a spark of indignance towards the end, Gill focuses on the goddess’ extraordinary power, one which birthed the universe: “And she waltzed/the earth awake and the rhythm of her feet/fermented the stars alive”.
In Gill’s footsteps, I tried my hand at a short story inspired by the Celtic tale of Niamh and Oisín. During a hunt, Oisín encounters Niamh, a magical woman who asks Oisín to return with her to the land of eternal youth, Tír na nÓg. Oisín agrees and the two live happily; however, their joy is not everlasting. Developing homesickness, Oisín asks Niamh if he could return to Ireland to visit his father. Niamh agrees to Oisín’s request, warning him not to touch the mortal ground or he could never return to Tír na nÓg. Oisín departs for Ireland and—as you likely guessed—falls to mortal ground, aging hundreds of years, never to return to the land of eternal youth. This narrative considers Niamh’s fate after Oisín’s departure.
Niamh stood at the water’s lips. The rolling tide tasted the rich berries crushed underfoot, staining purple. Clutching the stems of flowers from their garden, she released them to the ravenous waves, starved of her tears. She turned, her white robes trailing heavily to the shore. The sun followed her, curiously peeking through the lush canopy to glimpse her golden hair. Chitters whispered in the underbrush, eyes glinted in the light. She did not skip over the berries which darkened her feet or avoid the branches which snapped softly as she walked. The mutterings of the forest dampened as she walked. Her gaze was set forward through saplings whose thin trunks bunched together like sticks ready to burn.
Light bathed her village in the orange-purple sunset when she arrived. The land of unending youth, filled with familiar faces of endless years. Silence stilled the air, everyone inside. Vines twisted along stone walls. Doors rested in shaded crevices. She passed their garden—her and her husband’s— bare of once-vivid blossoms. It was considered terrible to pick them, for though they were eternal, they would only bloom once. To grow more was to wait lifetimes. The soft, ambling pathways began to turn to clay. Hunching away from the sun was her father’s house. It had once seemed to lean towards light, angled so carefully that spotting shadows became a game. Now, grass fell into cracks in the clay and colours dimmed in its presence. She did not stop.
Small candles decorated the widening trail, cupped in intricate holders. They flickered as she passed, licking at her robes, drawing closer. She reached the centre of her village, marked by a single headstone.
She brushed the smooth surface, worn by whatever murmur time had forgotten here. Her father had mourned more than she had. She had more to live for; she could not remain stuck. Fingernails dug into palms, teeth into cheeks, and she bled. Gripping the headstone, her hands split into the stems she once held, leaves and petals unfurling from her fingertips. Golden hair twined together, weaving branches through the sunset sky. Heart of liquid lacquer hardened, curling into bark around a solid trunk. Her legs sifted through soil and rooted her, unmoving. The candles blew out. The headstone was crushed. The crux of her self, her spirit, was ingrained in Tír na nÓg.
Across the ocean, the overgrown land crumbles, her husband seeping into its depths.
The ‘Hero’s Journey’
Aside from characters, modern works also use other common aspects of mythology. The monomyth, better known as the ‘Hero’s Journey’, is a central narrative structure in myth. It involves the departure from the familiar, the initiation into an unknown world or circumstances and the victorious return. This framework has served as the foundation for an endless number of contemporary works including Star Wars, The Lord of the Rings and Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings.
Developed by the Chinese company miHoYo, the video game Genshin Impact is yet another example of the ‘Hero’s Journey’. The protagonist, known as the ‘Traveller,’ is torn away from their sibling by a mysterious god, waking in the foreign world of Teyvat, supposedly destined to find them and continue their journey through worlds. Genshin utilises the foundations of real-world cultures and mythologies to inform its lore and reinvent ancient fables. The land of Liyue, based on China, is home to dragons. Derived from Japanese tradition, Inazuma houses the mystical creatures known as tengu, kitsune and oni. Though these figures are well known in their respective cultures, Genshin reimagines their interactions with mortals, often integrating them into human society and expanding upon stereotypes in myth. The dragon Rex Lapis discovers the significance of carrying currency when it cannot be created on demand. Tengu are often considered tricksters or tormentors, however Kujou Sara is intensely loyal and devoted to her leader. Although Genshin utilises the age-old structure of the ‘Hero’s Journey’, it is also suffused with new perspectives on mythologies of the real world.
Creating Our Own Folklore
You may have been lucky enough (or unlucky enough, it’s debatable) to be of the generation familiar with Vine, the predecessor to TikTok. I’m certain that if you were to read the following phrases, your brain would autofill nearly all of them, including visuals.
“And they were roommates.”
“Road work ahead?”
“It’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen in my life!”
(Hint: this has multiple answers)
In a sense, have these not become myths? Their origin and context lost, continuously changing and refitted to new purposes. If they were to completely disappear, how would we convey them to others? How do you explain “look at this graph” in words? The memories of these short videos would likely be confined to inside jokes and awkward explanations; narratives no one else will remember. The YouTube channel Unus Annus created by Mark Fischbach (Markiplier) and Ethan Nestor-Darling (CrankGameplays) captures this idea perfectly. Translating to “one year” in Latin, it was designed to be destroyed after a year with no efforts to preserve the channel’s content. It embodies this concept of ephemerality—that not all will be immortalised. In many ways, it has become a myth.
Our literature and media are founded on narrative structures which have existed for thousands of years, whether in oral or written form. In a generation where everything seems to last forever, we understand Niamh’s urge to move on, while leaving our own footsteps, passing on our own stories.