We’re three years into making Storytime now and we’ve built up an abundance of stories of all kinds – our very own library of wonders. In doing so, we’ve realised that it’s not just fairy tales that suffer from ‘safe bet’ syndrome*, it’s myths and legends too.
In the UK’s book publishing industry and education world, most of the emphasis is on learning about or reading Greek myths. Many of them make great stories, and they tie in with curriculum studies of Ancient Greece. We get it.
Norse myths probably come second in exposure, perhaps with thanks to Marvel’s Thor (which we’ve written about here), but public awareness of myths and legends of other great civilisations is horribly lagging behind.At school, there may be exposure to the odd Sita and Rama or Egyptian underworld myth, but in the wider world, Theseus and the Minotaur (or Perseus and Medusa) have become the Jack and the Beanstalk of myths, while Pandora is our Cinderella. In short, we keep telling the same stories from just one location over and over again. It’s a bit mad when you think about it.
Stuck in a rut with Greek myths?
I think, just like the world of fairy tales, we’ve got stuck in a rut with exploring, revamping and publishing the same old Greek myths. Do this often enough over the course of a century, and they become the myths that readers know and love best. The myths that readers expect – and even ask for.
It’s for that reason we’ve featured many of Greek mythology’s greatest hits in Storytime so far, but we’ve also been sneaking in some lesser known myths and legends too. Our reason for this is that we don’t want you – our readers – to miss out on truly great stories. Would you really want the same slice of chocolate cake for dessert every day if you could also try chocolate cake supreme?
I suppose the other reason, which we use to justify many of our choices in Storytime (see here), is because we can. And also because, if we don’t, we worry that this ‘safe bet’ approach will just run and run for decades or even centuries to come, and we’ll completely lose interest in myths and legends that aren’t Greek or Norse. We’ll raise generations of kids who’ve never heard of great fictional heroes and heroines from all over the world. We’ll unwittingly place barriers between ourselves and other cultures. We’ll contribute to an end of global thinking – and we definitely don’t want to be part of that.
A world of myths in your handIn our latest issue, Storytime 34, we feature a wonderful Sioux legend – White Buffalo Calf Woman. When her people are on the brink of starvation, she brings forth the peace pipe and shows them how to use it in rituals and celebrations to save themselves. This story resonates so strongly in Sioux culture that, even today, to see a white buffalo is considered a sacred event. White Buffalo Calf Woman isn’t just a saviour of the people, she’s powerful, terrifying, benevolent and knowledgeable – like the best Greek gods. And probably better than most Greek goddesses, who often end up subjugating themselves or living in sufferance. The stunning illustrations for this legend are by Giorgia Broseghini.
White Buffalo Calf Woman is our kind of legend, but for other lesser known myths and legends in Storytime, you might like to check out these stories (all available from our Back Issue Shop):
• The Hero Twins – a Mayan underworld myth in Storytime Issue 4, featuring football and the origin of the sun and the moon.• Finn MacCool – an Irish legend in Storytime Issue 7 with giants, humour and the origin of the Giant’s Causeway.
• The Great Gilgamesh – Storytime Issue 11’s Mesopotamian myth about a deadly beast and the two heroic friends who take it down.
• The Queen of Winter – a Scottish legend in Storytime Issue 15 about the origins of spring and how the rule of a cold-hearted queen is put to an end.
• The Golden Staff – a dramatic South American myth from Storytime Issue 20 about the founding of the Incan civilisation.
• Ra’s Secret Name – an Egyptian myth about how the goddess Isis tricked mighty Ra into revealing his true name and handing over his powers, in Storytime Issue 22.
• Ganesha and the Golden Mango – a funny and clever Indian myth, which tells how elephant-headed god Ganesha became so prominent, in Storytime Issue 25.
• Momotaro the Peach Boy – a Japanese myth in Storytime Issue 26 about a young boy, born from a peach, who slays an island of ogres.
AND coming up in Storytime Issue 36, we have the story of the goddess Pele, and how she came to rule over the volcanoes of Hawaii. We can’t wait!
Travel through time with us
In combination with our Around the World Tales, which feature a story from a different culture every month, we hope that we are expanding our young readers’ minds and taking them on amazing adventures through time and around the globe. But most of all, we hope we are giving them a taste for more than the usual Greek myths. There’s a wonderful world of myths and legends out there.
Don’t get us wrong, we’ll always have a place for Greek myths in Storytime, but it’s time for us – and everyone else – to make room for myths and legends from other cultures too.
What are your favourite myths and legends? Any we should be featuring? Let me know via Twitter, Facebook, Instagram or Pinterest. You can even drop us a line via Youtube! (Something Neil Gaiman’s Media might appreciate.)
Do us a favour, choose a different myth this week,