Myths and Heroes and Lawless Women

Vashti, one of the characters in the book

Heather Harris Bergevin is the author of Lawless Women, the latest book from BCC Press. We asked her to share some thoughts about where her book of poems comes from, and where she hopes it will take us.

I love mythology. My favorite stories as a child were always fairy tales, like the Oz Books or the Hobbit, and Greek or Egyptian legends. The more I read, the more mythology seemed to be just bit of history told in a way that people might actually want to learn it. Non-boring history plus telling stories over campfires, equals absolute magic. Heroics are tricky and fraught with misinterpretation. Often, a hero might get mistaken for a villain, or vice versa. The dragon, after all, is not telling the same stories to its children as the knight.

The trick is, we don’t expect our heroes to be perfect, because they’re far more identifiable if they are almost as flawed as we are. Trickster gods, such as Loki and Ananzi, are sneaky and hurtful and mischievous…and we adore them, laugh over their exploits, and dress up as them for conventions. We love our villains almost as much as our superheroes.

We love them, because we are them.

Everyday we get to choose who we will be, and what we will emulate in our own mythos. Do we choose to be a hero? Maybe this afternoon, will we be a villain? Boundaries and morality matter. My suspicion is that everyone assumes themselves to be the hero of their individual story, unless carefully convinced otherwise. After all, Jack, the hero, climbed a beanstalk and rescued a magic harp, before killing a horrifying gigantic ogre. However, the giant’s wife had a very different perspective of Jack: driven by hunger, a thief broke into her home, was invited to eat, and sent away. He not only refused to leave, but ransacked their retirement money, stole their only source of music (I get annoyed when my mp3 player isn’t charged, much less stolen), and then purposefully lured her husband, who had just been minding his sky-business, down a giant beanstalk to his death.

Perspective matters.

Sometimes I look at the myths I’ve alway loved, and I try to see them from other angles. When did the princess become a possession? When did the prince assume he had to travel and kill things in order to have value in the world? Stepmothers don’t have to be wicked. Kings are not always good. While I believe in a good, just God, those in myths are anything but. Monsters do not always appear to be monsters. Helpful elves will steal your firstborn child. We cannot slay our own dragons if we go about brazenly stabbing anything scaley, whether or not it needs to be slain. We cannot understand a hero unless we know what they are fighting against. We cannot change the world unless we stare at it a good long time, and notice the bits that don’t make sense.

Most of my poems are from stories, some few from my own life, but many more from stories of gods, or those who thought they were gods, heroes, villains, those who know they are evil and those only proclaimed so. We are made merely of stories and elements, and we choose our own boundaries, morals, and actions. We cannot, however, choose those who tell our stories, and how they are twisted with time, as my heroines agree. Our courage comes in living our best lives, bravely, regardless of the stories which remain.

May your choice be to always be heroic, regardless of who thinks you to be a hero.

Comments

  1. I think there is a great, deep, untapped well of stories among women in places where male voices and perspectives dominate, that is barely hinted at and mostly goes unnoticed and unexposed. I’m glad you took the time to create this and bring it to publication. I’m looking forward to receiving my copy!

  2. It’s such a good collection of poems. Honored to be a part of this. Heather, I like how you tie mythology to personal heroism.

  3. “It is an old story
    But one that can still be told
    About a man who loved
    And lost a friend to death
    And learned he lacked the power
    To bring him back to life.
    It is the story of Gilgamesh
    And his friend Enkidu”

    This little couplet at the beginning of the Epic holds lots of we love and struggle to understand: love, death, immortality. These themes are beautifully found in myth, they are archetypes that flow through cultures and their stories.
    Yesterday my 8 year old daughter was watching “creature from the black lagoon”. The archetype of dark mysterious forest hit me. What a great images for facing out fears and mysteries in our life. It’s all over, Luke on the Dagaba planet, Heart of darkness (Conrad), Jesus in the wildernesses, Apocalypse now.

  4. Rebecca J says:

    This sounds awesome. I can’t wait to read your poems.