Stories last a long time. Myths and legends are a great example of this – legends have, I guess, more of a purpose than a myth. A myth is like a whisper on the wind, an old wives’ tale. Cautionary, perhaps. But legends are usually based in truth. Beowulf is a legend. Robin Hood is a legend. Jormungand is a myth. They’re great, they’re almost universally known (within certain cultures). I don’t know all the myths and legends of South America, but I’m pretty up on my European ones, some of my Asian ones and I’ve crossed paths with quite a few North American tales too.
But think about this: these stories have literally lasted for hundreds, if not thousands of years. Beowulf is a particularly interesting example, because it’s one of the first written records of a ‘fictional’ story (based on some true facts). And damn, that thing is old. How have the stories changed? Have they changed? Of course they have. They’ll have had current political, economical and environmental (plus other) concerns inflicted up on them. Names might have changed. Genders might have changed. Location could be different. Although the thing about Robin Hood is that he’s usually always a guy (I’ve never seen him as a woman in anything), he’s always stealing from the rich, and he’s always in Sherwood Forest (although I’m sure there are ‘non-English’ versions of R. Hood). Because he’s based on a real person, it’s quite hard not to have those key elements in there.
It’s interesting that these tales are still loved today, though. What is it about them that makes them so easy to adapt? Joanne Harris recently re-adapted Norse myths into her Runemarks series (which ashamedly I’m a little loathe to read even though I picked them up… I am very wary of anything which includes Loki after the excessive Tom Hiddleston fangirling of 2012). Robin Hood gets a film reboot every 5-10 years. I suppose when there’s another great up-coming actor who feels the need to put on a pair of tights and rob some rich people, it makes sense. We’ve had camp Robin Hood, silly Robin Hood, serious Robin Hood, gory Robin Hood… it’s probably been adapted to every genre you can imagine, but the story is the same. (Interestingly the same thing happens with other classics – Pride & Prejudice & Zombies, anyone? I’m definitely covering this in one of my next updates).
What also interests me is the fact that some of these are adapted time after time after time – and others fall behind. Become relegated to old books left on dusty shelves in the corner of a dark room. What makes the difference between one popular myth and another unpopular legend? Is it personal taste? Is it the same thing as modern age cult classics (Blade Runner famously didn’t really do well at the box office, but it’s certainly picked up as a cult favourite through the 90’s and early 2000’s)?
I’d love to hear if anyone has any thoughts on the matter – or just if you want to tell me what your favourite myth or legend is! Let me know in the comments.