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Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Heroes and Villains

As writing partners, Teri Smith and I agreed on lots of things, including the deep dark secret of writing fantasy adventure--there’s a very thin separating the good guys from the bad. Where we didn’t always agree was where to draw the line.

Some things were no-brainers. For example, Alan Shore (Boston Legal): good. Jack Bauer (24): bad. But things got a little more complicated when we started writing Highway from Hell, the novel about Eurydice and Orpheus we were working on when she died.

We didn’t disagree on the villain of the piece. No question, it was Orpheus. Sure he was sex on a stick and had a voice that could make trees walk and rocks, well, rock. But he dumped his wife almost as soon as he married her to hang out with his posse. When she died after being bitten by a snake while running away from a gang of stalkers (a gang that included Orpheus’s step-brother Aristaeus, no less) Orpheus neglected to show for the funeral. Then, several weeks later, in a frenzy of grief which seems to have more to do with emo than actual emotion, he announced he was going to drag her back from her after life. Whether she wanted him to or not.

To a certain extent, it’s a good thing I had to do the heavy lifting on Highway from Hell right from the start--and not because Teri wouldn’t live to see it finished. Teri loathed Orpheus. From the myths, she knew he couldn’t keep it in his pants. He was determined to have his way at all costs--and threw major tantrums when things didn’t work out the way he wanted. He didn’t care about anyone’s needs but his own. In short, he combined the worst qualities of her first husband and every celebrity wannabe she’d ever had the misfortune to run into working for Crescent Blues.

I conceded Orpheus was all that and a bag of Doritos. But on the plus side, he never broke any laws, and he had a really messed up childhood.

When he was a little kid people thought he was the son of Apollo and the muse Calliope. In other words, they thought he was an immortal big cheese growing up and kowtowed accordingly--never a good child-rearing strategy. But the god life disappeared in an instant when Hercules killed Orpheus’s brother Linus. Suddenly Orpheus was just another bastard mortal kid of a very promiscuous muse. No one would give him the time of day…until he turned his magical voice into a force they couldn’t ignore.

That didn’t make him a good person. But I understood where how he could get bent by the circumstances. Plus, I confess a sneaking admiration for his semi-divine selfishness. I wish I could ignore other people’s needs every now and then. It would sure make it easier to be creative, and there’s a lot to be said for my husband’s belief that no one ever rose to the top without routinely indulging their inner two-year-old.

To my mind, it was Eurydice’s job to stand up for herself. At least, we’ve got no legendary evidence Orpheus physically abused her.

No, the abuser, the killer of classical mythology was the same person who murdered his music teacher for correcting his technique: Hercules. Hercules killed the teenaged Linus. It’s no good saying--as Teri did, loudly and often--Hercules didn’t know his own strength. Face it, Hercules made headlines by strangling snakes in his cradle. This was before his first birthday. By the time he hit puberty he was killing lions. He soon graduated to hydras, demon birds, amazons, friends, enemies, wives, children (repeatedly), sea monsters, giants, kings, commoners…

Which isn’t to say Teri and I disagreed about everything regarding Hercules. We agreed he was a man whose democratic principles were ahead of his time.

He’d kill anything.

That comment was guaranteed to set Teri on the warpath. Fueled by a righteous passion for all things Kevin Sorbo, she’d invariably throw something at me. “Hercules wasn’t like that. He didn’t mean to kill his wife and children. He didn’t know what he was doing. He was probably poisoned. They had mind-altering drugs back then too, you know.”

“Really?” I’d drawl. “I think O.J. Simpson said something similar on his car phone when he was driving around L.A. after his wife bought it.”

It’s a good thing I’ve always had decent reflexes. Teri wore size twelve shoes, and she wasn’t afraid to use them, especially on me. But things always settled down when she remembered I wouldn’t stand still long enough for her to hit me. Our writing compromise was equally pragmatic. She wouldn’t try to make Orpheus’s dialogue sound like something her ex would say as long as I didn’t snark on Hercules, the Legendary Journeys and Xena, Warrior Princess too much. After all, all those fans (and potential fantasy readers) think Hercules is a hero.

Romantics and rock stars think Orpheus is a hero too. But if you step back from the dust thrown up by their spin doctors and look beyond the glamour of their star turns, neither Orpheus nor Hercules come across terribly well. Not to put too fine a point on it, they acted like skunks.

They weren’t the only ones. Theseus--the same guy we can blame for convincing Hercules not to commit suicide after Linus’s death--tried to kidnap Helen of Troy and marry the goddess Persephone after she set up housekeeping with Hades. And he showed no qualms about leaving his co-conspirator behind when he lucked into a Get-Out-Of-Hell-Free pass. Bet they didn’t tell you about that when they were feeding you the standard, ahem, bull about Theseus and the Minotaur.

Jason, the leader of the Argonauts, was no prize either. He was totally cool with Medea killing her inconvenient relatives--and his--in the name of the Golden Fleece. But when the opportunity came to wed a sweet young heiress came along, suddenly he was scared of his killer wife.

I could cite a lot more examples too. The classical myths are full of bad things done by people the writers describe as good guys. Not to mention a host of bad guys whose major crime appears to be they lost a popularity contest somewhere along the line. Like Hades, for example.

Teri and I always agreed on Hades. For us, the line between good and bad in the Homeric Hymn to Demeter, the earliest version of the story of Persephone and Hades, is crystal clear.

Hades: good. Demeter: rotten to the Kore!

8 comments:

Biby Cletus said...

Cool blog, i just randomly surfed in, but it sure was worth my time, will be back

Deep Regards from the other side of the Moon

Biby Cletus

Carolan Ivey said...

Ah, JM... Whenever I see that you're blogging, I go grab an extra large cup of coffee and settle down to read it at least twice. You teach me something every time, and make it entertaining. :)

Gia Dawn said...

LOL, you totally crack me up! And you are right, we have a tendency to sugarcoat our myths and fairy tales these days. Of course, the ancient gods themselves were no prize. No wonder Hera was a harridan. If my husband cheated on me as often as Zeus, I'd have to find a way to kill him. And considering that several of his mortal lovers were raped...
But then again I have to agree with Teri, Kevin Sorbo would never do any of those nasty things at all.

Jean Marie Ward said...

*curtseys to Biby, Carolan and Gia*
Thank you all!
I've always been fascinated by the difference between what people say--what they will swear to, no less--and what's actually going on. To expand on the discussion of Hercules, he killed LOTS of children. Not just his own either. He routinely slaughtered all the offspring of anyone who got in his way. Yet the Greeks and Romans worshipped him as a kind of patron saint of children. Wha hah?
Quite sure Kevin Sorbo wouldn't do any of that stuff. Based on his appearances at DragonCon, he's a lot more like Dylan Hunt, the ferociously bright character he played on ANDROMEDA. 'Course, if they went by the legends, they wouldn't have cast KS to play Hercules at all. Hercules is described as short, swarthy and hairy.
It's all about the image.

TJ Michaels said...

JeanMarie, girl, I don't even know what to say after reading this. Talk about 'so so true!' We do tend to gussy up myth to make it more romantic when alot of it was downright jacked!

Totally enjoyed how you broke it down for us, woman!

TJ Michaels
Possibly Reformed Myth Lover
(then again, maybe we should make some myths of our own...mwaahaha!)

Christine said...

Yes, Hades. Especially the Hades that was on Hercules, that TV show. Or was it Xena. Either way...Yum. He was very, VERY good.

And I'm glad to find another Samahain author as into mythology and fantasy as I am. Sometimes I feel like I've walked into the wrong section of the bookstore!

My fantasy writin' sista!

N.J.Walters said...

You write the most fascinating blog posts. I love to read them. Please keep them coming. :-)

Jean Marie Ward said...

Thanks, TJ, Christine & NJ! Your comments mean a lot to me. Cheers and best wishes, Jean Marie