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Mythopoeia (from the Greek words that mean "myth-making") is a narrative genre in modern literature and film where a fictional mythology is created by the author or screenwriter. The word mythopoeia and description was coined and developed by J. R. R. Tolkien
in the 1930s. The authors in this genre integrate traditional mythological themes and archetypes into fiction. Mythopoeia is also the act of making (creating) such mythologies. Notable mythopoeic authors aside from Tolkien include C. S. Lewis
, Robert W. Chambers
, H.P. Lovecraft
, George MacDonald
, and Lord Dunsany
, among others. While many literary works carry mythic themes, only a few approach the dense self-referentiality and purpose of mythopoeia. It is invented mythology that, rather than arising out of centuries of oral tradition, is penned over a short period of time by a single author or small group of collaborators.
As opposed to fantasy worlds or fictional universe aimed at the evocation of detailed worlds with well-ordered histories, geographies, and laws of nature, mythopoeia aims at imitating and including real-world mythology, specifically created to bring mythology to modern readers, and/or to add credibility and literary depth to fictional worlds in fantasy or science fiction books and movies.
Mythopoeia can be created entirely by an individual, like the world of Middle-earth
, or can be formed as a result of an amalgam of writings, like the Cthulhu Mythos
. An Expanded Universe
can result in the creation of one of these, particularly for Long Runners
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Film — Live Action
- Avatar: The Na'vi mythos has a strong resonance with many of the film's fans — to the extent of some becoming adherents.
- Star Wars - George Lucas has explained that he was heavily influenced by The Hero With a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell - which describes how to do this in detail
- The Silmarillion contains the mythic backstory of Middle-earth, told in the style of a collection of ancient legends. And since it was compiled posthumously by an editor from numerous texts written in different decades, with differing amounts of detail and sometimes contradicting each other (with said texts published later in The History of Middle-earth), the end result feels very much like a collection of ancient texts from multiple authors (complete with partly-deciphered ancient languages!). Furthermore, Tolkien originally created Middle-earth's histories as a mythology for England, since he was really torn up about the English not having one.
- Lord Dunsany's The Gods of Pegana forms a complete cycle of myths, from Creation to The End. Complete with multiple contradictory versions of The End. Dunsany's mythology predates The Lord of the Rings and has a completely different feel.
- The Cthulhu Mythos created by H.P. Lovecraft, with many contributions from other authors to form a dense corpus of stories.
- The rabbit' myths and legends present in Watership Down, which were expanded in a series of short stories set in the same rabbit society.
- The Wheel of Time uses many real world myths and legends in its work, from African to Norse. It's very strongly implied, and confirmed by Word of God, that the world may be the same as our own. The books say that time is cyclical, and a handful of garbled myths and fragmentary legends have persisted from the Age before last. All of them correspond to important figures from the 20th century or earlier, allowing for linguistic drift in the names of individuals.
- The Riftwar Cycle by Raymond E. Feist has an extensive mythology, which has gotten tangled up in its history at several points.
- The Dark Tower with the titular Cosmic Keystone being an extension of Gan himself.
- The term is often used to describe the narrative poems of William Blake and his complex system of gods and demigods.
- Given the profound mindfuckery of his poems, however, (where characters can symbolize emotional states, allegorical relationships with the world, relationships with eternity, political action, and can exist in multiple planes of reality (including our own minds) and temporality simultaneously) critical opinion is heavily divided on just what the myth is.
- Babylon 5: The Minbari and the Narn cultures are the best examples of mythmaking on this show.
- The Stargate Verse creates some of its mythology from whole cloth, but also integrates aspects of real-life mythology into the story. The best example is probably the altered Camelot mythos in seasons nine and ten of Stargate SG-1.
- Star Trek: There are hints at the myths of various races. Vulcans and Klingons are most noticed.
- Xena: Warrior Princess: While the series is based largely on Greek mythology (and anything else that didn't ran away fast enough), it accumulated background so fast that one is tempted to declare the result a genuine "Xena mythology" (this viewpoint having the advantage to explain away a whole lot of headscratchers).
- Nobilis, a Tabletop RPG centering on the machinations of beings for the most part above our ken.
- Exalted, with its involved cosmological backgrounds, also has some stories about the gods, demons, and titans, and ancient legends about the Exalted themselves. The game is strongly inspired by The Gods of Pegana.
- Glorantha from Runequest. It has many elaborate mythologies, from the barbarian Orlanthi deities to the monotheistic Invisible God.
- Warhammer 40,000 has built one up over time. Originally ''Warhammer Fantasy Battle IN SPACE!, the gradual fleshing-out of the backstory has created a mythic atmosphere. The most obvious is the 10000-year-past Horus Heresy, where the Emperor of Mankind and his ten loyal Primarchs (demigods in their own right) fought off the ten traitor Primarchs and the Dark Gods of Chaos, which directly lead to the sorry state the galaxy is in. Many of the figures involved in the Heresy are either still around (most of the traitor Primarchs are now immortal Demon Princes), or the echoes of their actions are still felt in the current day. Further back, there is the Fall of the Eldar, an orgy of excess so violent that it gave birth to the Chaos God Slaanesh and destroyed humanity's interstellar empire. Going back even further, there are the wonders of the Dark Age of Technology and the disastrous attempt at artificial intelligence known as the Iron Men. And all the way at the dawn of the setting, millions of years ago is war between the C'tan and the Old Ones.
- Microscope: This World Building RPG will very often include a mythic elements. The game is not meant to be an exhaustive or precise history—broad themes and arcs are the rule.
- Transformers has a considerable background mythos including a creator God (Primus) and a Satanic figure (Unicron).
- The BIONICLE universe. The first few years had some influence from Maori culture, but the franchise has deliberately moved away from that and now has a complex mythology of its own. The best part is that it tends to subvert All Myths Are True by explaining that the characters tend to come up with their own explanations as to why things happen that may not be entirely accurate, making it a case of in-universe Mythopoeia.
- Dark Souls is lauded for its deep, nuanced, and emotionally-charged lore almost as much as it is for its difficulty. The prevailing theme is the inevitability of death, with the world both having arisen from darkness and destined to return to it. The game's cosmology is somewhat similar to Christianity in its emphasis on a god's sacrifice and the fallen, imperfect nature of mortal men, while the helplessness of the gods to save their dying world is a characteristic of Norse mythology.
- Dragon Age was made to present a fully developed world right from the start of the first game. There are references to past events and people all the time and many characters that are foreigners to Ferelden, with the natives reacting to them depending on the relations of their countries.
- Touhou is going this way, it's build upon (mostly-Japanese) folklores on one end and the fan creating (staggering amount of) fan materials to cover the holes on the other end. Sounds familiar, hm?
- Starting in Rayman 2, with Polukus and the Lums, and going deeper in Rayman 3, where we are presented to the dark side of the Lums. Rayman 3 also has an ancient desert people known as the Knaaren, who worship the Leptys (also known as the Bringer of Night).
- Rayman Origins seems to go into this even further, establishing Rayman's role as The Chosen One.
- The Elder Scrolls:
- This is the primary appeal of the series story, where the free exploration is the primary gameplay appeal. There are several divergent mythologies, creation stories, and divine histories, and of course All Myths Are True to at least some degree. This is also sprinkled liberally with mythic and biblical symbolism up the yin-yang.
- It is an actual in-universe force as well. The fabric of reality in the Elder Scrolls universe is malleable to those who possess the arcane knowledge, and one can become a god by "walking like them until they must walk like you".
- Brütal Legend has a mythology spanning from the creation of the Heavy Metal world, through the rise and fall of Ormagöden, rise and ascension of the Titans, enslavement of humanity by the demons, the Black Tear Rebellion, to the events taking place in the game itself. Read more here.
- The series first gained a fictional mythology with The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, which introduced the Three Golden Goddesses as the creator deities, along with the origin of both evil in general (men warring over ownership of the Triforce) and Ganon in particular (a cunning human thief who got the Triforce and was subsequently sealed in the Sacred Realm/Dark World).
- The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time went into further detail, fleshing out the individual Goddesses and the nature of the Triforce while also portraying the Start of Darkness for Ganon/Ganondorf. Later games have brought the focus away from the central Triforce myth to flesh out the broader Hylian mythos and pantheon.
- The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword takes this even further, by establishing life prior to the founding of Hyrule and the wars that sprung up even before that. Most notably, it also delves into the origins of the Master Sword and introduces both the goddess Hylia, the one who in ancient times defended the Triforce against demons and was reborn as Zelda, as well as Demise, Hyrule's equivalent of Satan and the originator of all monsters, including Ganon.
- Final Fantasy XIII's actual plot focuses more on 6 chosen people and how they deal with it. The background story and the lore are a bit cluttered and mishandled but if you take time reading in-depth, you will find one of the more interesting mythopoeia about how the Gods decided to create the Fal'cie, which in turn annoints a L'cie.
- The sequels delve much deeper into the mythos, introducing two of the gods as main characters. The trilogy is part of a sub-franchise, Fabula Nova Crystallis Final Fantasy, which is where the mythos originate from.
- Xenogears and Spiritual Successor Xenosaga have extensive cosmologies.
- Andrew Hussie's work, Homestuck, initially revolves around four kids playing a reality-altering video game that constructs a mythology around them, casting them as legendary heroes, with all the details of their world and their mythical powers tailored to their personalities and interests. What is easily dismissed as a fun quirk of the game, however, slowly develops into a more and more elaborate plot involving the fate of reality itself. Eventually the legends and prophesies becomes so pervasive that almost every event in the plot can be tied back to some part of the previously-established mythology, adding layers of bonuses for the attentive reader.
- This is one of the draws of Ursula Vernon's long-running webcomic Digger, in which the various cultures encountered have their own myths and traditions, often combining real-world examples with facts of their world. This is most obvious with the creation myth of the hyenas, which explains both their tendency to be female-dominated and the frequency with which firstborn cubs die, both traits of real-world hyenas, but more subtle examples can be seen just in the oaths and sayings characters from different cultures use and some of the prejudices they hold.
- Tasakeru, with the core story of the Three Gods, which is interpreted in different ways by each of the eight species.
- The Nobilis game designer writes the web fiction Hitherby Dragons which also has a mythology of sorts.
- Adylheim uses this extensively, not only creating an internal mythology which mimics parts of real life greek and norse pantheons, but also making references to an ambassador to faerie named Tamlin, a dragon hunter named George, and so on.
- Websnark creator Eric Burns' Banter Latte blog had a running series devoted to creating modern-day myths. And it was awesome.
- The SCP Foundation might have gone into that territory, though we only get a small hints and glimpses of divine or demonic origin of some SCP and one of the researchers.
- Inglip has accumulated a vast mythologic background (which is even canonized by the rule that only Reddit posts with 100+ upvotes are declared canon - if one would add the non-canon stuff, it would become a Doorstopper).
- The Slender Man makes many "appearances" in mythology. Which mythology? Every mythology. More disturbingly, some of these myths are from actual mythology.
- Though not created as "intentional" fiction, the Lost Continents of Mu and Lemuria were created out of whole cloth a century and a half ago, one to explain a now-discredited anthropological theory, the other to explain a now-discredited theory of continental formation, and both kept afloat by Spiritualists and Theosophists who wanted mysterious but unresearchable lands to say that their dead friends came from. Atlantis, also, was created by Plato as a moral metaphor, not a literal location.
- The Slender Man sounds like an old folktale or urban legend but was actually created whole cloth by a member of the Something Awful forums. Some writers have even tried to expand the mythos by linking it to other web-based horror entities such as Zalgo and The Rake.
- The Fear Mythos, which estabilished Slender Man and Rake as a part of their fear-based pantheon.