Evolution of Legends

Stories change. Myths and legends, the tales we think of as fixtures, are not the same as when first told around the fire or the palace or the cottage. Need an example? Let's take something as basic as Snow White.

We know the story - the Evil Queen, jealous of her step-daughter, tries to kill her but through the kiss of a prince, she is saved. Snow is a good at heart and it is that good that triumphs over evil, as it always does. The End. Now, what if you heard that in the Grimm Brothers' version, Snow and her Prince invite the Queen to their wedding and force her to put on iron shoes red-hot from the fire. The Queen must dance until she dies. That sounds out of character for our sweet Snow, wouldn't you say?


Robin Hood gives us another example of a story that has changed over the years, to reflect the values of the people during that time. For a full chronology of Robin, check out this informative article, but in a nutshell, Robin Hood comes on the scene in the 1300s and he is a rogue - out for himself. He steals, he kills, he isn't the jolly bandit of the woods that we see in later incarnations. He also isn't a nobleman, just a plain commoner taking from others.


Fast forward to the 1600s and Elizabethan society wasn't keen on a commoner getting away with such activities. Elizabeth was all about clamping down civil unrest. Now Robin is recast as the Earl of Locksley and his motives are far more beneficent, and less about taking care of Number One.


Each generation finds what they want to amplify in the Robin Hood story and downplay what they don't. Imagine the authors of these stories back in the 1300-1600s deciding to make Maid Marion a feminist, an equal partner to Robin, a bold and daring woman who speaks truth to power. Modern version of Robin's tale do just that because that is what modern audiences want to see in their heroines - plucky, strong, bucking the system that oppresses them.

Let's pivot for a minute to Arthurian legend - a topic near and dear to me since I have a new novel coming out set in the time period. Elements of the Arthurian legend have evolved over time as well. Morgan le Fay, often seen as evil, grasping, power-hungry in modern versions, didn't start out that way in the stories at all. In The Dark Lady of Tintagel, I wanted to rehabilitate Morgan a bit but also shake her free of some of the trappings of the legend. In my version, she isn't the half-sister of Arthur; she's the daughter of Merlin. She has no interest in ruling or avenging anyone in my story. She has her own story arc to follow - from being an instrument of her father's plan to a woman making her own choices (and living with the consequences).


There might be those who would say "Well, that isn't in the legend - you've gone too far from the story." To that I say, stories evolve and change and the only way they keep being vital (and not some museum piece) is if we embrace that evolution and change. If the foundational myths can change over time, certainly modern interpretations can also. Do I think my Morgan le Fay is true to the original Morgan? Yes, I do. She makes choices that might seem wrong to many of us, but she's making those choices for her reasons and she'll own those consequences.


Judge for yourself when The Dark Lady of Tintagel hits shelves on September 15, 2020. I'd love to hear your thoughts on Morgan, Igraine, Uther and Merlin. I love when stories, art, theater and music take tried and true stories and give us a fresh take on them. These new works can be true to the spirit of the original but still find a new way to tell old tales.



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