Very honoured to have Bram Stoker Award-winning horror novelist Benjamin Kane Ethridge on my blog talking about the myth behind his new novel Bottled Abyss. Take it away Ben!
Five Mythology Movies that didn’t inspire BOTTLED ABYSS
By Benjamin Kane Ethridge
A little background before I start my spiel. My latest novel, BOTTLED ABYSS, is a reframing of the Ferryman and River Styx myth. Bound by a pledge to make things as difficult on me as possible, I sought to take the material to a different place, yet keep some essentials so the myth wasn’t buried in symbolism.
My reasoning for doing this was two-fold: 1) Horror always needs new monsters, and 2) Mythology is rarely used in popular entertainment the way I want to see it used.
I’ve read some amazing literary efforts that recast Greek and Roman mythology, but cinema always seems to fall short exploiting them to the fullest. Perhaps I haven’t seen the right movies, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t tried.
Myths represented in film never find any real evolution, which has always struck me as crazy because evolution, in this case the passing of a millennia since inception, feels pretty necessary.
Anyhow, being faithful to the blogging Gods, I’ve created a list of mythology movies that didn’t inspire me to write my book BOTTLED ABYSS.
Now, to be clear, while I did enjoy these movies for infinitely dissimilar reasons, reading actual mythology did more for my novel’s development. That elucidation is for another blog though. Yes, a stuffy, dusty-paged, mothball scented academic blog only enjoyed by a proof-reading Ben that orangutan-hops at his desk, so pleased with his astute references and clarifications.
1) Clash of the Titans
I haven’t seen the new one or its sequel, but it isn’t for not trying. My household efficiently destroys all visceral effects of CGI adventure movies with screaming babies and a wife who walks into the living room, sees a winged creature onscreen and says, “So, what’re we going to watch tonight?”
But I’m not disheartened. When I was a boy, I saw the original Clash of the Titans and its bold sense of romance, adventure, and myth sent me headlong into reading books on the subject.
That’s when I discovered that the movie, while still effective as an adventure film, only presents a set of myths told in the same fashion… forever. My thinking on this, right or wrong, was, well, that sucks. Say what you will about the recent Star Wars trilogy, but at least it tried to tell a new story, with lightsabers involved.
Essentially, I discovered that mythology would always be a series of remakes, rehashes, re-rees. Perseus is always going to chop off Medusa’s head and use it as a magic weapon, and her gorgonly power, to change things into stone, will never develop into something more.
Myths, while beloved, are inert.
Well sure, you can change myths into farce. I have no problem with that. Mannequin (1987) was a riff on the Pygmalion myth, but this alteration functions on the premise that situational changes will permit us to observe it with new eyes. In other words, let’s put a great big red clown nose on it and laugh! Huhuhuhuh.
Problem is, even if a farce is done with a Jefferson Starship soundtrack, afterward it’s all downhill and you get Mannequin 2: On the Move (1991). Much closer to a myth-reframing would be My Fair Lady (1964), but there you’ve taken out the magic elements and become symbolic, or more to the point: I paid to watch a marble statue come to life, not some prostitute to be born again as a gentlewoman!
3) Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief
So, keeping the previous 1980s Kim Cattrall vehicle in mind, let’s create something new but change very little about the myth elements. It will be different because we set the story in modern times with modern people as main characters. This reminds me of every time Cap’n Crunch changes the color of its corn rafts and suddenly we are supposed to believe it’s a completely new breakfast experience!
The Greek myths used in Percy Jackson are essentially the same, but now you have this modern paint applied to their surface. It’s fun and can be captivating even, but Medusa still has serpent hair and Neptune still carries a Trident. I’m not faulting the story for this dependence on recognized norms, by and by, but pointing out that it takes the original myths in little new direction. Mythology lovers enjoy it for the same reason Batman lovers enjoy reading What-If-Batman-Fought-Crime-During-the-Industrial-Revolution comic books. So, like I said, this is not a slight on stories like this, just an observation that no matter the color, Cap’n Crunch is Cap’n Crunch.
Unless you put lotus blossoms in it… then it’s effing AWESOME.
4) Jason and the Argonauts
Jason and the Argonauts (or as I used to call it in my most mature adolescence, Jason and the Aw go fug yerself). This film is a treasure and I love it to bits. The Golden Fleece myth is also a great example of what I’m trying to prove here. On display we have here an ensemble adventure story; it’s the Avengers, it’s X-Men, it’s a group of mythological heroes on one boat with the Hulk—I mean Hercules. This is why Clash of the Titans and Percy Jackson aren’t particularly new approaches: even in ancient times while storytellers recited and sung these stories, they already reiterated established myths. It’s thrilling, yes, but reliant on the piling up of positively charged emotional baggage of past myths to make someone as boring as Jason look interesting.
Those attacking skeletons are badass though.
5) Hercules in New York (1970)
Then, let’s also consider you can squeeze all the substance out of a myth and rely on any of its aspects in the most superficial way possible. Hercules = Strong. Arnold = Strong. Therefore, the syllogism gets us Mr. Universe running around New York in a toga smashing doofus criminals’ heads together.
In the end, stories from mythology ring true to us, no matter their usage. I suspect this is because they had so many trial runs; while those epic poems and songs folks loved the most were refined, the less successful tales inspired belching contests during their recitals, and were ultimately tossed. It’s tricky to redesign something that stands against the test of so much time. In my novel, I tried to leap over the drawn boundaries of one particular Greek myth. Whether it was effective, I’ll leave for others to decide, but damn, was it ever fun.
YOU CAN PICK UP A COPY OF BOTTLED ABYSS HERE