Mythology’s Place in Classic Fantasy and Sci-Fi
Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, Game of Thrones, Star Trek, and Harry Potter. Those are just a few of the names of the biggest franchises in the world right now. There are a great deal of differences between all of those properties, but the similarities are also clear. There are genre-based tropes that can be associated with each saga, and in turn those conventions can locate their lineage in ancient mythology.
The power of prophecy, the guidance of an elderly, wise and mysterious master, an unexplained force that binds the universe together, a band of warriors tasked with a particular quest, the chaos of a king’s court. Every single one of those narrative beats could be just as easily attributed to the legends of long-forgotten civilizations as they can be linked to any one of the series above.
More so than any other genre, the building blocks of science fiction and fantasy will always draw from mythology, both knowingly and perhaps in spite of itself. The fact is, almost every conceivable attempt to craft a chronicle will touch upon a facet of stories from a bygone era. That hasn’t been strictly ignored in every case. Classics like Jason and the Argonauts are perfect examples of an attempt to take our fascination with these topics to the big screen. Despite standouts here and there though, myths have never fully overtaken our pop culture in their original form. Until recently.
Traditionally, a few projects a year might be directly based on the lore of a former religion. In classic cinema that might have been brought through the sword and sandal genre. It’s definitely more common on the page, but when looking at the entertainment industry as a whole, myths never overtook spy thrillers, crime dramas, or ensemble comedies. Even within those fantasy and sci-fi flicks, there was never a specific focus on the actual characters and plots of the legends they took their structures from.
But in 2022, you’ll be hard pressed to go to the cinema, log on to a streaming service, head to a bookshop or pick up a comic without a Zeus, Isis or Loki popping up. Suddenly, the actual stories, not reimaginings with new characters, worlds and plot devices, are being presented to audiences again.
The fascination with the genre is pretty easy to explain. It brings the same world-building, character journeys and impressive elements of the stories we all love and are familiar with. Yet, there’s a historical precedent for them. On a deeper level, we know these are the myths that ultimately built society.