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Part V: Myths and Fables I

By Remy Benoit

Looking into the roles and influences of myth and fable in our lives.

Throughout our history, we have looked for explanations. According to our particular world view at any given time, many explanations have been devised.

These explanations fall into the categories quite often of fables and myths.These devices are not only for explanations of unknowns, but also are for teaching each generation. As they have passed down through the centuries, many have lost for us their original intent.

Emerald Tablet

True, true. Without doubt. Certain:
The below is as the above, and the above as the below, to perfect the wonders of the One.
And as all things came from the One, from the mediation of the One, so all things are born from this One by adaptation.
Its father is the Sun, its mother is the Moon; the Wind carries it in its belly; its nurse is the Earth.
It is the father of all the wonders of the whole world. Its power is perfect which it is transformed into Earth.
Separate the Earth from the Fire and the subtle from the gross, cautiously and judiciously.
It ascends from Earth to Heaven and then returns back to the Earth, so that it receives the power of the upper and the lower. Thus you will possess the brightness of the whole world, and all darkness will flee you.
This is the force of all forces, for it overcomes all that is subtle and penetrates solid things.
Thus was the world created.
From this wonderful adaptations are effected, and the means are given here.
And Hermes Trismegitus is my name, because I possess the three parts of the wisdom of the whole world.

This seems to be a good point at which to point out that one of the most important things about using an historical period as a setting for your writing is that you must, absolutely must, abandon and leave behind your own perspective of your own time.You have to steep yourself in the period of which you write.

You must write from their perspective, leave for football the Monday morning quarterbacking.

That said, let's qualify it.

If you are writing 'what if" novels then you are free to change things about to change history. For this type of writing, I suggest you read some of the What If anthologies, or the work of Harry Turledove.

If you are writing, saying, if we had opted for this course, this might have happened instead of what did you must be prepared to back it up with reasonable developments that don’t tax your credibility with the readers.

For many years in the classroom I said that World War I and World War II were the same war, with a long armistice in between. I also felt, and still do feel, that neither one had to happen. There are many people writing today saying that same thing.

Now there is a wide open field for what-ifs.

If there had been no World Wars I and II, what happens to Korea and Vietnam, or the whole Cold War?

For instance, John Keegan in his book, The First World War, opens with a simple declarative sentence: The First World War was a tragic and unnecessary conflict.

He then goes on to support his view.

If you are writing the what if kind of thing you could make Wilhelm of Germany get off his yacht and do something to stop the flow toward war. You could make Franz Joseph admit publicly that the loss of the Archduke was okay with him, say, ah, could be forgiven as the work of fanatics; the assassination hardly a cause for a world at war.

As someone said the other night, imagine the concept: a world at war... Imagine that if you did not live through it; a world united to fight a common enemy.

Now, imagine this. You are sent by your country to fight an enemy you do not know or understand; your hold world is turned upside down as you are flown, alone, on a commercial jet to fight a war in a place as different from what you know as is possible. And while you are there, while you are there faving incoming fire, and your buddies are dying in front of you in very painful, imagine what it feels like to know that the country that sent you is damning you for being there; condemning you for what you have to do to stay alive in conditions they can’t even begin to imagine.

Imagine that; and then imagine how much communication needs to be built to untangle all of that.

If you are writing historical fiction you must work with what they actually did, and what they actually felt, and believed as far as it is possible for us to know. You must get a sense of all they carried both physically and emotionally. Think about that; what is actually possible for us to know precisely. You are aware that if you and a couple others witness an accident, there will be three interpretations of what happened. When you are working with history, yours and collective, there is much to be dug through to get to some kind of clarity.

It is there, at the deeper levels of heart, soul, historical excavation, that you come into the myths, the fables, the archetypes.

If the term archetype is unfamiliar, may I suggest you take a look into the work of Carl Jung. Simply put, there are patterns, types of people, of things, to which we relate, consciously and unconsciously. Things that are literally there in us, bred into us, and learned by us.

Rupert Sheldrake takes this a step forward with his work on morphic resonance; things being developed, learned in one part of the globe, showing up in others at the same time.

We don't today view the world from the perspective of Olympian gods. But the Greeks did.

We think in terms of democracy, but not with the same interpretation of what the word means as what it did to the Greeks, or, indeed, the writer's of our Constitution, or of the people who fought the War Between the States. It is the interpretation of their myths, their fables that it is easy to flounder if you do not do the work, get literally into their minds.

Most of us grew up with fairy tales. There are few about who wouldn't instantly recognize the names Little Red Riding Hood, Sleeping Beauty, Rumpelstilskin, Hansel and Gretel. When they were written down originally the stories were by our standards, quite brutal. What we see, is a laundered lesson of what quite frequently a brutally told life lesson.

This country has its own fables: Johnny Appleseed, Paul Bunyan, etc. Read them; ask yourself what they are really saying, what philosophy, religious proclivities, societal needs, these fables, myths represent and meet.

Is there someway they can be utilized in your story? In what ways did they play a role in your life?

In my book, Peace, Now I chose to call the principle female character, Melanie, Mellie.

In the Greek myth of Demeter and Persephone, Persephone has to reside beneath the earth for part of year. While she is gone, her mother, Demeter, was known to Greeks as Melania. Thus, while my Mellie waits for her Jesse (beloved of God) to overcome, or at least live with the affects of Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome, she allows no one to call her the lightened form of her name; she insists upon being called Melanie. It is only her Jesse who may call her Mellie.

If myths and fables are untrod territory to you, I suggest Frazier's Golden Bough, Edith Hamilton's Mythology and the very extensive work of the late Joseph Campbell. Bill Moyers did a number of interviews with Campbell for television. These should be available in any library and are frequently run on public television.

One of the best places to look for the perpetuation of myths and fables is in the children's section of the library. Put on something comfortable, sit down on the floor at the lower shelves, and just start picking up books at random. You will be amazed at what you find. Try to suspend adult views and read with the awed eyes of a child, as the magic porridge pot overflows, as the witch flies on her broom, as the magic carpet flies.

Fairy tales unconsciously understand, and... offer examples of both temporary and permanent solutions to pressing difficulties.
— Bruno Bettleheim


There was once a fisherman who lived with his wife in a pigsty, close by the seaside. The fisherman used to go out all day long a-fishing; and one day, as he sat on the shore with his rod, looking at the sparkling waves and watching his line, all of a sudden his float was dragged away deep into the water: and in drawing it up he pulled out a great fish.

But the fish said, "Pray let me live! I am not a real fish; I am an enchanted prince: put me in the water again, and let me go!"

"Oh, ho!" said the man, "you need not make so many words about the matter; I will have nothing to do with a fish that can talk: so swim away, sir, as soon as you please!"

Then he put him back into the water, and the fish darted straight down to the bottom, and left along streak of blood behind him on the wave.

When the fisherman went home to his wife in the pigsty, he told her how he had caught a great fish, and how it had told him it was an enchanted prince, and how, on hearing it speak, he had let it go again.

"Did not you ask it for anything?" said the wife, "we live very wretchedly here, in this nasty dirty pigsty; do go back and tell the fish we want a snug little cottage."

The fisherman did not much like the business: however, he went to the seashore; and when he came back there the water looked all yellow and green. And he stood at the water's edge, and said:

"O man of the sea! Hearken to me! My wife Ilsabill
Will have her own will,
And hath sent me to beg a boon of thee!"

Then the fish came swimming to him, and said, "Well, what is her will? What does your wife want?"

"Ah!" said the fisherman, "she says that when I had caught you, I ought to have asked you for something before I let you go; she does not like living any longer in the pigsty, and wants a snug little cottage."

"Go home, then," said the fish; "she is in the cottage already!"

So the man went home, and saw his wife standing at the door of a nice trim little cottage.

"Come in, come in!" said she; "Is not this much better than the filthy pigsty we had?" And there was a parlour, and a bedchamber, and a kitchen; and behind the cottage there was a little garden, planted with all sorts of flowers and fruits; and there was a courtyard behind, full of ducks and chickens.

"Ah!" said the fisherman, "How happily we shall live now!"

"We will try to do so, at least," said his wife.

Everything went right for a week or two, and then Dame Ilsabill said, "Husband, there is not near room enough for us in this cottage; the courtyard and the garden are a great deal too small; I should like to have a large stone castle to live in: go to the fish again and tell him to give us a castle."

"Wife," said the fisherman, “I don't like to go to him again, for perhaps he will be angry; we ought to be easy with this pretty cottage to live in.”

"Nonsense!" said the wife. "He will do it very willingly, I know; go along and try!"

The fisherman went, but his heart was very heavy: and when he came to the sea, it looked blue and gloomy, though it was very calm; and he went close to the edge of the waves, and said:

"O man of the sea! Hearken to me! My wife Ilsabill
Will have her own will,
And hath sent me to beg a boon of thee!"

"Well, what does she want now?" said the fish.

"Ah!" said the man, dolefully, "My wife wants to live in a stone castle."

"Go home, then," said the fish; "she is standing at the gate of it already."

So away went the fisherman, and found his wife standing before the gate of a great castle.

"See," said she, "is not this grand?"

With that they went into the castle together, and found a great many servants there, and the rooms all richly furnished, and full of golden chairs and tables; and behind the castle was a garden, and around it was a park half a mile long, full of sheep, and goats, and hares, and deer; and in the courtyard were stables and cow-houses.

"Well," said the man, "now we will live cheerful and happy in this beautiful castle for the rest of our lives."

"Perhaps we may," said the wife; "but let us sleep upon it, before we make up our minds to that."

So they went to bed.

The next morning when Dame Ilsabill awoke it was broad daylight, and she jogged the fisherman with her elbow, and said, "Get up, husband, and bestir yourself, for we must be king of all the land."

"Wife, wife," said the man, "Why should we wish to be the king? I will not be king."

"Then I will," said she.

"But, wife," said the fisherman, "How can you be king—the fish cannot make you a king?"

"Husband," said she, "say no more about it, but go and try! I will be king."

So the man went away quite sorrowful to think that his wife should want to be king. This time the sea looked a dark grey color, and was over spread with curling waves and the ridges of foam as he cried out:

"O man of the sea! Hearken to me! My wife Ilsabill
Will have her own will,
And hath sent me to beg a boon of thee!"

"Well, what would she have now?" said the fish.

"Alas!" said the poor man, "My wife wants to be king."

"Go home," said the fish; "she is king already."

Then the fisherman went home; and as he came close to the palace he saw a troop of soldiers, and heard the sound of drums and trumpets. And when he went in he saw his wife sitting on a throne of gold and diamonds, with a golden crown upon her head; and on each side of her stood six fair maidens, each a head taller than the other.

"Well, wife," said the fisherman, "are you king?"

"Yes," said she, "I am king."

And when he had looked at her for a long time, he said, "Ah, wife! What a fine thing it is to be king! Now we shall never have anything more to wish for as long as we live."

"I don't know how that may be," said she; "never is a long time. I am king, it is true; but I begin to be tired of that, and I think I should like to be emperor."

"Alas, wife! why should you wish to be emperor?" said the fisherman.

"Husband," said she, "go to the fish! I say I will be emperor."

"Ah, wife!" replied the fisherman, "the fish cannot make an emperor, I am sure, and I should not like to ask him for such a thing."

"I am king," said Ilsabill, "and you are my slave; so go at once!"

So the fisherman was forced to go; and he muttered as he went along, "This will come to no good, it is too much to ask; the fish will be tired at last, and then we shall be sorry for what we have done."

He soon came to the seashore; and the water was quite black and muddy, and a mighty whirlwind blew over the waves and rolled them about, but he went as near as he could to the water's brink, and said:

"O man of the sea! Hearken to me! My wife Ilsabill
Will have her own will,
And hath sent me to beg a boon of thee!"

"What would she have now?" said the fish.

"Ah!" said the fisherman, "she wants to be emperor."

"Go home," said the fish; "she is emperor already."

So he went home again; and as he came near he saw his wife Ilsabill sitting on a very lofty throne made of solid gold, with a great crown on her head full two yards high; and on each side of her stood her guards and attendants in a row, each one smaller than the other, from the tallest giant down to a little dwarf no bigger than my finger. And before her stood princes, and dukes, and earls: and the fisherman went up to her and said, "Wife, are you emperor?"

"Yes," said she, "I am emperor."

"Ah!" said the man, as he gazed upon her, “what a fine thing it is to be emperor!"

"Husband," said she, "why should we stop at being emperor? I will be Pope next."

"O wife, wife!" saidhe, "how can you be Pope? There is but one Pope at a time in Christendom."

"Husband," said she, "I will be Pope this very day."

"But," replied the husband, "the fish cannot make you Pope."

"What nonsense!" said she; "if he can make an emperor, he can make a Pope: go and try him."

So the fisherman went.

But when he came to the shore the wind was raging and the sea was tossed up and down in boiling waves, and the ships were in trouble, and rolled fearfully upon the tops of the billows. In the middle of the heavens there was a little piece of bluesky, but towards the south all was red, as if a dreadful storm was rising. At this sight the fisherman was dreadfully frightened, and he trembled so that his knees knocked together: but still he went down near to the shore, and said:

"O man of the sea! Hearken to me! My wife Ilsabill
Will have her own will,
And hath sent me to beg a boon of thee!"

“What does she want now?” said the fish.

"Ah!" said the fisherman, "my wife wants to be Pope."

"Go home," said the fish; "she is Pope already."

Then the fisherman went home, and found Ilsabill sitting on a throne that was two miles high. And she had three great crowns on her head, and around her stood all the pomp and power of the Church. And on each side of her were two rows of burning lights, of all sizes, the greatest as large as the highest and biggest tower in the world, and the least no larger than a small rushlight.

"Wife," said the fisherman, as he looked at all this greatness, "are you Pope?"

"Yes," said she, "I am Pope."

"Well, wife," replied he, "it is a grand thing to be Pope; and now you must be easy, for you can be nothing greater."

"I will think about that," said the wife.

Then they went to bed: but Dame Ilsabill could not sleep all night for thinking what she should be next. At last, as she was dropping asleep, morning broke, and the sun rose.

"Ha!" thought she, as she woke up and looked at it through the window, "After all I cannot prevent the sun rising."

At this thought she was very angry, and wakened her husband, and said, "Husband, go to the fish and tell him I must be lord of the sun and moon."

The fisherman was half asleep, but the thought frightened him so much that he started and fell out of bed.

"Alas, wife!" said he, "cannot you be easy with being Pope?"

"No," said she, "I am very uneasy as long as the sun and moon rise without my leave. Go to the fish at once!"

Then the man went shivering with fear; and as he was going down to the shore a dreadful storm arose, so that the trees and the very rocks shook. And all the heavens became black with stormy clouds, and the lightnings played, and the thunders rolled; and you might have seen in the sea great black waves, swelling up like mountains with crowns of white foam upon their heads. And the fisherman crept towards the sea, and cried out, as well as he could:

"O man of the sea! Hearken to me! My wife Ilsabill
Will have her own will,
And hath sent me to beg a boon of thee!"

"What does she want now?" said the fish.

"Ah!" said he, "she wants to be lord of the sun and moon."

"Go home," said the fish, "to your pigsty again."

And there they live to this very day.

Brothers Grimm

Is there anything, or anyone, in your life that makes you feel like the fisherman? Write a dialogue or story about that feeling and how it affects your life.

When you find the childish wonder in tales, take that child wonder back to your writing journal and retrace those stories in your own life.

What have they added to it?

How did they help you describe the world as you grew into it?

What were the myths and fables of your life?

What are those of the times of your characters?

How do our personal and collective stories evolve to transmit the evolution of society?

What part of the evolution of society comes from you and your life experiences? Is there something that you would like to have explained to you about your role, your war, your life experiences? If you start having your character ask those questions, if your start asking those questions in your journals, and in discussions with other people, you will begin to find the answers.

What myths and fables that you or your character grew up with have you outgrown? What is there to replace them?


She sat, her back to the wall of the white washed pub with its exposed raftered beams, saw-dusted floor.

She sat, unmoving, the slender fingers of her right hand a tender caress on the cool stem of the glass of ice cold, crystal clear, spring water.

All of her sat with a stillness that would have seemed etched in time if anyone could have seen her; all of her still but the deep green flashing eyes shadowed with the faintest sparkle of what seemed to be golden crystal dust, just enough to catch the sparkle of the candlelight, to catch the shifts of light as the dancers glided by her.

The cream silk of her gown, silk so soft it seemed spun by fairies, rested on the crisscrossing straps of her shoes; the flair of it from her crossed legs draping into folds.

Her hair was piled high in red-gold curls, while the cleavage of her gown plunged as a sudden crevasse split between the swell of the peach glow breasts of the ice quiet goddess.

She sat still, absolutely still, until in one time stopping moment, one moment in time so long sought, those verdant searching eyes found him framed in the doorway. In that moment heat, visible, exploding heat, swelled from her, dimming the light of the candle, searing the cream of her gown to a deep sanguinary crimson that spread to flaming the walls, leaving them, and only them, in the depth of a deep, ancient forest at dawning.

She whispered his name.


He stood tall, his flaxen hair brushing the curl at the neck of this fisherman knit sweater. His chest heaved with a gasp at seeing her, a gasp that tossed her name into the sweet morning air of the forest.


He reached out his arms to her.

The Fairy Queen leaned forward and down to slowly untie the straps from her shoes, tossing them aside.

The Fairy Queen rose to her feet from the bench in the flowered bower that framed her, her figure strikingly outlined by the crimson gown, by the fragrant mist rising from the forest floor to explore her with its fingers.


Titania's hands lifted to her hair, one on each side of her head, and slowly pulled the pearled pins from the flaming golden froth of hair that spilled as a cascading waterfall down her back, over her shoulders and breasts to the soft moss of the forest floor.

Titania's hands lifted her flaming skirt as she flew to his outstretched arms.

He caught her, lifted her off the ground, her weight but a feather in his arms, and buried his face in her hair inhaling springs, summers, falls, winters crossing, turning, changing for almost a millennium.

Almost a millennium since he held her; a millennium of desire for her, need of her, surging through him to tremble her.

Her tears spilled gently, fiercely washing away all the nights of loneliness, centuries of pain of separation.

"How, how...?" he asked.

"Not how, my love, but why. Because, my heart, they have begun to believe again. Listen, listen, you can hear it. It is in the harps, in the flutes, in the voices. They have come to believe again in the power of the sacred ways, in the power of the crossroads, in the sacredness of groves, the softness of the forest floor.

"Soon, soon, my heart, they will begin to look for us again, look for the life betwixt the leaves, under the petals of the flowers.

"They are coming again to know their own hearts."

Oberon gazed at his Queen: soft, vulnerable, willful, indulgent, luscious and wanting. Wanting him. The wanting was in the touch of her fingers, the wetness of her lips, the beating of her heart under her swelling breast.

"Come, Titania, come. It is not far from here, our home, it is not far. Let us go home to our bower."

He removed his shoes, tossing them aside, feeling the joy of the moss under his feet. He sighed deeply, filling his breast, his head, and his heart with the home sweet scent of his forest.

"Come, Titania, let us go home."

She smiled, birdsong filling her ears, the scent of wood, of earth, of green and flowers drifting into her.

She took his hand and they walked in silence together along the path, following the sound of the song of the river that ran next to the bower until they felt the welcoming pull of their place.

Oberon lifted the leafy covering, not knowing what to expect, hoping all would be well, yet fearing what he might find.

But all, all was well, all as it had been left when the belief in them had faded and pulled them out of their home, out of their forest, and worlds away from each other; leaving them with naught to do but wait, endlessly wait, for this day, this new belief.

He gazed at their home, a single tear of joy wetting his lash.

His voice was deep, redolent of the forest over which he ruled.

"All is well, my Queen. All is as it was when we were taken from it."

He lifted her, carried her gently into their bower; carried her to the hearth and gently set her there.

"I will be back in a moment, my Titania, in just a moment."

Left alone in the room, Titania closed her eyes hearing the laughter of their court, the gold flutter of pixie wings in the air. She saw in her mind's eye all the colors, all the colors they so loved adorning themselves with; colors they glowed in.

Her body trembled with the need of her King, with the ache for all of them.

Oberon returned, laying the fire before her; striking the flint that danced the dormant twigs in the flash of short new life.

They sat quietly, hands joined, offering thanks to the spirit of the fire.

"It is time, my Queen. It is time."

She smiled up at him.

"Yes, my husband, it is time."

She turned to him softly.

What mythological words, bigger than life words, are used to focus a country’s attention and foreign policy? Think back through the twentieth century: Red Menace, Communist Hordes, Dominoes, Evil Empire.

How did terms like this influence your life?

Does terminology like this open the door to negotiations, or slam it shut?

Words have power, build images, build realities.We must be very careful how we use words to build our mythologies, fables, and policies.

Look to these for the roles of heroes and heroines; for the functions of fate and free will.

Ask yourself how your characters represent archetypes of behaviors and thought patterns.

Look to the philosophers of your chosen time. What parameters are they drawing to fit, to explain life into. How do these parameters reflect on the general population; on the writings, poetry, and social and economic engagements of the time?


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This item is part of historian, author, editor, and educator Remy Benoit's ongoing weblog for Veterans, writers, students, and others who believe in learning from and making history; including thousands of articles and posts and the free writing seminar, Using History for Healing and Writing.

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