Updating Mythic Heroes and The Importance of their Artifacts

While writing an adaptation of a character who in mythology time used a sword, I’m wondering would it be ineffective to still make them use a sword but a thinner flatter type. Or is it just better to just stick to a knife?

I’m not going to harp on it, but, “mythology time,” is a weird way to phrase it. Usually you’d say, “a character who used a sword in myth,” or. “in their myths,” not, “in mythology time.” This is because there is no fixed, “mythic era,” in history.

Myths vary, but it’s often impossible to pin down a specific moment they come from. The British give us a pair, one example and one counterexample. The myth of Robin Hood is remarkably easy to pin down, because it includes historical figures. It occurs sometime in the 12th century. (Worth noting, the written records regarding Robin Hood first pop up in the 14th century, so it may have been floating around in a oral form for a couple centuries before anyone recorded it, or none of the previous written records survived.) In contrast, it’s basically impossible to pin down a specific timeframe for the King Arthur legends, because there’s no historical frame of reference. There’s a lot of academic study on the subject, but while you can say that Robin Hood is set in the 1190s, you can’t say the same for King Arthur.

Mythic characters are a little tricky to work with. By their nature, they have a well established backstory and identity. Messing with that is feasible, but requires some care. It also requires passing familiarity with the myths they appear in.

For example: If you wanted to write a modern incarnation of Hercules, it would ring a bit off to have a character with a warm and loving parents.

Artificially creating a mythic character (for a fantasy setting) is a lot more complicated. This requires you to create a character who left enough of a legacy on their world that they’re still a household name millennia later, conveying those stories to the audience, and then also introducing a modern version of that character in the setting, without the entire work being very heavy handed or cliché, is quite difficult, and time consuming.

And, I still haven’t talked about your main question, their weapons.

The artifacts of mythic characters often have legacies that, in some cases, outstrip their owners. In spite of being inanimate objects, they’re characters, with their own identities, that extend far beyond simply being, “a sword.” I’m reminded of multiple starships in different settings named Excalibur, and even, just the name, is evocative.

This is where the real danger is, you’re talking an artifact, where the name alone, is (supposed) to be enough to cue the reader in to the significance of the object. (Having said that, I recently had to explain the significance of Gjallarhorn to a friend, so, depending on the object in question your results may vary. There are a lot of mythic artifacts, and not all of them carry the same name recognition.)

If your mythic hero has a sword, chances are it has a name, and probably a legacy of its own. Mythic artifacts in a modern setting may be the original object, or the, “soul,” of the artifact in a new object (the rules for this are dictated by the author), but, “downgrading,” a mythic artifact is something you probably don’t want to do without a lot of careful consideration.


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