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Curiouser and curiouser...
"Sei had never been comfortable in the presence of books. Their natural state was to be shut, closed, to grin pagily from shelves, laughing at her, promising so much and delivering such meanness, such thinness. They displayed only men and women with dead eyes and rituals of living she could not understand. When closed, books gave impressions of perfection. They did not need her."
"We raise and raze our city like the strangest house of cards..."
— S.J. Tucker, "We are Shangri-La"
refers to "a subgenre of mythic fiction" in which classical folklore and faerie tales get hyperpoetic postmodern makeovers. Coined by author Catherynne M. Valente
, the term describes a brand of speculative fiction which starts in folklore and myth and adds elements of postmodern fantastic techniques: urban fantasy, confessional poetry, non-linear storytelling, linguistic calisthenics, worldbuilding, and academic fantasy.
Characterized by baroque multicultural fashion
, alternative/ queer sexuality
, bizarre retellings
of familiar faerie tales
, pervasive anxiety
, fear of inevitable change
, elaborate symbolism
and radical reinterpretation
, mythpunk is a cross-media movement. Although largely defined through literary works like Andrea Jones's Hook & Jill
, Francesca Lia Block's Weetzie Bat
series and Catherynne Valente's The Orphan's Tales
, the mythpunk aesthetic occasionally manifests in music (The Decemberists), film (Pan's Labyrinth
), jewelry and other media forms.
Although this (sub)genre shares many elements with Urban Fantasy
, mythpunk stories tend to avoid linear or obvious story structures
, simple prose
and easily-discernible character archetypes
. You may find talking dance shoes or carnivorous zebra-satyrs in a mythpunk tale, but lovesick vampires
are right out!
(The name "mythpunk" also refers to a fiction blog
; see below for details.)
- Adaptation Expansion: Common in such stories.
- Arabian Nights Days: Middle-Eastern influences (or outright) homage is common.
- Breaking the Fourth Wall: Common in narrative, not as much among characters.
- Dark Is Not Evil: Monsters are often gentle, even heroic, and almost always misunderstood... yet still monsters.
- Cloud Cuckoolander: Many mythpunk characters are decidedly, often wonderfully and occasionally frighteningly eccentric.
- Cryptic Conversation: Characters often speak in riddles, stories or baroque metaphors, often to the annoyance of other characters.
- Deconstruction: Almost a foundation for this genre.
- Deliberate Values Dissonance: Faerieland often isn't a nice place to be...
- Down the Rabbit Hole: Sometimes used to link the setting with the "real world".
- Everyone Is Bi: Sexuality and gender are often rather... um, fluid.
- Fairy Tale: The foundation for this genre.
- Framing Device: Many mythpunk stories involve tales-within-tales.
- Grimmification: Especially notable in Block's works, but typical overall.
- Lyrical Dissonance: Beauty and misery are close companions in this genre.
- Mind Screw: Almost by default, this genre presents almost everything in surreal terms, sometimes to excess.
- Metaphorgotten: The genre's "linguistic calisthenics" can occasionally get rather thick.
- Nightmare Fuel: Disturbing, even horrific, imagery are used deliberately in-universe as a hallmark of these tales.
- Our Fairies Are Different: Mythpunk authors hew closer to The Fair Folk than to Disneyfied pixies.
- Our Monsters Are Different: A staple of Valente's work in particular. In a larger sense, expect mythpunk to give its monsters a twist — and maybe even make them the protagonists.
- Purple Prose: Often on the borderline and occasionally over the edge.
- Steam Punk: Often overlaps with mythpunk, especially in its Victorianna trappings.
- Talking Animal: As in traditional folklore, mythpunk animals are quite chatty.
- This Is Your Premise on Drugs: In-universe, the "punk" element of mythpunk often comes from the rampant symbolism and surreal atmosphere.
- Twice Told Tales: Many mythpunk stories have origins in older tales, with a twist to the moral.
- Urban Fantasy: Usually the starting-point of an adventure that gets stranger as it goes along.
- World Building: Mythpunk stories often feature polycultural stews of elaborate degree.
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Anime and Manga
- Dantalian no Shoka does it in-universe: storybooks have powers that can be drawn into Real Life, and it's the job of the main characters to stop such effects before they harm people. Some of them are more willing to Shoot the Dog than others.
- Kagihime Monogatari also does it in-universe: the main character is an avid reader and amateur writer, so he's more than pleased to find out that fairy tales begin to play in real life... initially, anyway.
- An apparent progenitor of this subgenre can be found in Neil Gaiman's Sandman series, especially the "Season of Mists" story arc and the tales "Ramadan" and "Dream of 1000 Cats."
- Alan Moore's series Promethea is mythpunk from end to end.
- Hellboy has shades of this, combining fictional cosmic horrors with real-world mythological figures like Baba Yaga and Hecate.
Film (Live Action or Animated)
- Tim Burton's 2010 version of Alice in Wonderland treads this territory with gusto.
- Of course, it can be argued that the original Alice in Wonderland was mythpunk in creepy training pants...
- It can also be argued that neither one of them are, since they don't use "elements of postmodern fantastic techniques". Although you could consider the 1800's-parts of the story from the perspective of the main character, it still follows traditional fantasy.
- Although the film predates the term, the 1980 film The Company of Wolves displays this genre in all its best and most excessive elements.
- MirrorMask. Totally... although it displays a bit more levity than many stories in this style.
- Americans thought that Pan's Labyrinth (El Labertino del Fauno) was a nice little fairy tale. The "R" rating should have clued them in... And what Guillermo del Toro made of the fable was a heavily layered story about disobedience and grace that counters many conventional fairy tale narratives.
- Most of the elements involved in this genre can be found in the writings of Angela Carter, most obviously The Bloody Chamber, Nights at the Circus, and The Infernal Desire Machines of Doctor Hoffman.
- Andrea Jones's novel Hook & Jill features a poetically perverse Coming of Age tale. In it, Wendy Darling starts growing up and wanting someone a bit more... serious... than an increasingly callous Peter Pan...
- Gerald Brom's novel The Child Thief is a nightmarish take on Peter Pan. It begins with a kid running from drug dealers and just gets progressively weirder from there. And for extra spice, it adds zombies, too!
- Valente's The Orphan's Tales features most of the tropes above, wrapped in a Recursive Narrative drawn heavily from Arabian, Danish and Russian fairy tales. Plus pirates!
- As a promotional tour for her novel Palimpsest, Catherynne M. Valente toured several cities by train (mirroring the locomotive and city themes throughout the book). During that tour, Valente, her fans and various collaborators staged readings, shows and musical performances, often in costume.
- Fans and performers were often painted with "tattoos" that recalled the mystical map-tattoos that appear on people who have been to Palimpsest. Several of them have gone on to make those tattoos permanent.
- The Ajanabah setting from the Orphan's Tales series has been spun off into artwork, jewelry, fire-spinning shows, costumes, and several albums.
- Francesca Lia Block's novels and short stories practically vibrate with this style, most especially those in her Primavera series and the collection The Rose and the Beast.
- The Jabberwocky series of anthologies published by Prime Books
Live Action TV
- Doctor Who has some examples. Most of them predate the term mythpunk.
- The Curse of Peladon and The Monster of Peladon both take place on a Federation planet with Roman and Medieval elements, and a castle with a king or queen. One of the characters in the second story is a satyr for no particular reason.
- The Androids of Tara is a futuristic retelling of The Prisoner of Zenda with electric flashing swords! Also includes castles, kings and robots!
- The Myth Makers takes place in Troy.
- The Underwater Menace has The Doctor and his companions taken prisoner by the survivors of Atlantis.
- The Mind Robber takes place in The Land of Fiction.
- The Deadly Assassin, The Invasion of Time, and particularly The Five Doctors portray the Time Lords in a slightly Romanesque culture.
- Battlefield is a sequel to the King Arthur legend.
- The Fires of Pompeii
- The Pandorica Opens and The Big Bang Spoiler—click to reveal
- The Decemberists' 2009 release The Hazards of Love - a concept album based around the tale of a woman, her shape-changer lover, and his Forest Queen mother - is the epitome of this genre in action.
- Indie musician S.J. Tucker has released, as of 2010, three albums based on Valente's work, toured with her to support Palimpsest, and sometimes performs in costume as characters from Valente's work. The first two albums in this series - For the Girl in the Garden and Solace and Sorrow are based upon the first two Orphan's Tales novels; the third, Quartered, is based on Palimpsest.
- With the 2009 album :ankoko butoh:, the band Faith and the Muse moved from its original Gothic Rock sound to a more mythpunk aesthetic, including elaborate visuals, dancers, Asian cultural elements, and baroque theatrics.
- Yuki Kajiura tends to evoke this sensibility in her intensely spiritual lyrics filled with abnormal psychology and references to hands, eyes, kisses, forests, circuses, and moons.
- The writer of the webcomic Digger, Ursula Vernon, obviously knows a lot of comparative mythology, much of it apparently gained from doing research for a degree in anthropology, as shown by the story's mix of a variety of mostly Asian sources, but including influences from around the world, including in one memorable case a modification of a myth told by the children of Cuban refugees in Miami, as well as some Vernon made up on her own.
- Mythpunk is a blog featuring mythologized stories of historical characters along with dinosaurs, zombies, and the like.