Introduction

In fantasy, there are a lot of common mistakes. Some writers, like Paopao, have a habit of plagiarizing other, better, books and forgetting to file off the serial numbers so that everyone can’t see it. Others forget that just because they like the main characters doesn’t mean that the readers will.

These have been discussed on this site, and I don’t see a reason to go over them again at the moment.

There’s another, even more common problem that is cropping up, particularly with writers flirting with the idea of urban fantasy. I’m going to call it Lang’s Syndrome. This is the mix of lack of research and cultural osmosis that seems to cause writers to think that folklore stops at the border of England and in the movie theaters. However, before we can combat this disease, we must first understand both what Lang’s Syndrome is, the causes, the symptoms, and, of course, why it’s a problem. Then and only then can we discuss how to avoid it.

What is Lang’s Syndrome?

Lang’s Syndrome, named for the renowned folklorist Andrew Lang, is a little known but common affliction in fantasy writers. It takes the form of their either attempting to fit all mythologies into a single country’s mythology, usually Northern European, or it takes the form of the writer simple ignoring that the location that they’ve decided to write about actually has a rich mythology of its own.

As fantasy novels set in the modern world are becoming more and more popular, Lang’s Syndrome is also rising. Prior to this, it was only visible in the somewhat depressing tendency of writers to only include drawves, elves and dragons in their worlds along with maybe a few things from Greek mythology. It wasn’t really a problem, since that was what both the writer and the audience was familiar with, and it was the writer’s world. The problem started, not when people moved into the real world setting, but when they decided to move to the global setting.

For all that it is not well known, Lang’s Syndrome is a common problem. Writers such as Cassandra Clare are some of the best examples of the problem. Even writers that are otherwise brilliant, such as Naomi Novik and even JK Rowling herself have been affected to varying degrees.

What causes it?

The causes for Lang’s Syndrome vary from writer to writer.

Sometimes Lang’s Syndrome is brought on simply because the writer decides that their idea for a magical race is so good and so clever that they can use it in every country despite such things not existing or existing in a completely different form in said country. An example of this would be Cassandra Clare’s Shadowhunters hunting werewolves in China, a country that has no stories about werewolves at all, and completely ignoring their own creatures like the huli jing.

Sometimes it comes from assuming that the reader is an idiot. Andrew Lang himself seems to be guilty of this one. He seemed to think that his audience was only made up of nursery children, and these kids would be unable to take the idea of a magical race that was not part of their own native fairy tales. Hence dragons, ifrit, jinni, youkai, mannitou, and other distinct beings from various mythologies throughout the world were all called ‘fairies’ and scrubbed up so that they lost any of their distinctive traits in his works. Since many of the folktales that he used were never re-translated, this can be a real problem when you’re looking for stories or information that he translated.

Still other times, it’s a simple case of not wanting to do the research or only watching movies and creating from there. This is very common in stories about werewolves and vampires. The fact of the matter is that folklore is very varied. There are multiple forms of the same story, sometimes within the same culture. (If you don’t believe me, look up the origins of Little Red Riding Hood.) It might take a lot of work to research enough to come up with a spin that is both true to (some of) the stories, as well as a fresh spin on things. Watching the movies or using the favored view of the time is much easier, and even might mean some success, if only until someone does do something new, and everyone flocks to that.

Other times it is pure convenience for the writer. It is easier to have things work by rules that have already been established, or within the world that has been built than to have to work a new system into it, particularly when it adds little to the story. I believe that this is where Rowling manages to fall. She had a very set world that worked well in Britian and even worked in some more obscure things like hinkypunks, but her mention of the Chinese Fireball is a light case of Lang’s Syndrome.

What are the symptoms?

Here are come common clues to know that a writer has Lang’s Syndrome:

-Chinese and Japanese dragons that are scaly, reptilian, fire breathing, treasure hording, mountain dwelling and winged. As opposed to being wingless (usually) and serpentine in appearance, having manes, seeming to have some mammalian traits, being known to live either underwater or the sky, and being associated with the gods or sometimes actually being something akin to gods.

-Fairies which come from Ireland and are yet divided into the Seelie and Unseelie (or sometimes Summer and Winter) Courts despite their being divided into the Solitary and Trooping Fairies in that country and Seelie and Unseelie in Scotland.

-Werewolves that change at that full moon in areas were werewolves would either change at other, random times, every night, or when the person wanted to and are killed with a silver bullet.

-Native Americans from one tribe following the beliefs of another tribe.

-Youkai or other such creatures being referred to as demons.

-Monsters from western mythology being present in places like China when there are no records of them yet no mention of monsters from their own mythology.

-Vampires in China that are affected by garlic.

-Unicorns in Persia being seen as sweet and cute. Conversely, unicorns anywhere else being evil.

-A god/goddess from one religion being considered to be the same as a god/goddess from another (or the same) religion that does something completely different. (ex. Loki being seen as strictly ‘evil’ as opposed to a trickster who was well enough disposed towards people and badly disposed towards the gods.)

-Magic from one country suddenly being practiced the same way in another country that has never had any sign of this before

What are the effects?

The most troublesome effect of Lang’s Syndrome is that it give can the reader erroneous understandings of other people’s cultures, and the writing tends to have a subtext that the other culture is stupid. If nothing that the Russians believed about vampires was true in a novel about vampires set in Russia or where a Russian vampire is involved, why did they go through all the effort to make up rules that didn’t need to be followed? Why say that when you burn a vampire’s body, all kinds of animals try to escape from the corpse, and if one escapes the vampire survives, if, say, staking and burning the body was enough? The same goes when there are werewolves in China but no huli jing. Why talk about things that didn’t exist and ignore the things that did? Assuming that the the people in these cultures were relatively normal, they would probably notice a werewolf.

Another problem with Lang’s Syndrome is that the names that people use can cause problems. Taking out the folklore buffs who are going to be annoyed when a person decides that Thor and Coyote are the same god, words have meanings. If you call a cute little kitten a slug, the reader will always have a real slug in mind no matter how much you describe how cute the kitten is. The same basic idea goes for youkai vs. demons. To call a youkai a demon is the same as calling the Fair Folk demons. The moral ambiguity that both groups have is completely lost the moment the comparison is made. Also, it can alienate readers who, for whatever reason, aren’t interested in reading about good or at least goodish demons.

If taken too far, Lang’s Syndrome can even start to limit the author’s writing. Taking Cassandra Clare again, she only allowed herself to have demons, vampires, werewolves and Holly Black’s version of the Fair Folk in her stories. Once her writing left New York City, where the idea worked well enough, for the bigger world, she had boxed herself in. She did not allow herself to use the rich mythologies of other countries, and it was clear that it hurt her writing.

How is it prevented?

There are several things that a fantasy writer can do to avoid Lang’s Syndrome.

-Do your homework. If you want to write about the Scottish fairies, research them. If you want to write about Irish fairies, research them. If you want to write about how they’re both the same, research them so you can find a connection through the various stories, or find how similar they are and make up something logical with the material you’ve got. Not only do you get to sound smart and impress folklore nerds like myself, but you might stumble upon and idea or a trait that has been ignored by other writers that you can use.

-Don’t set the fantasy in this world. This is probably the easiest way to avoid the problem, and writers have used it since the fantasy genre was born. If the characters are in a world where all tribes do follow the same ideas, no one gets annoyed. This is how a lot of fantasy writers have gotten away with not knowing much about mythology other than Norse or Greek in the past, and it’s likely to continue for a long time. There is no shame in using this method, and if done well enough with a good enough plot and characters, it can even breath new life into the genre.

-Explain. Jim Butcher’s Faeries are divided up into Courts, but there are also things in the Never Never that are solitary that Butcher mentions. There is also a reason for why the Summer Court is better liked than the Winter Court and a reason why this isn’t necessary more than good publicity, so Butcher manages show that he knows his folklore and mythology and still do what he wants to do and interpret things the way he wants.

Limit yourself. If, for instance, you want to write about dragons, but don’t want to go into the eastern variety, don’t go to China. Focus on your dragons and your area of knowledge. This is what Dracula did. Stoker doesn’t have to pass a mention of jianshi or other kinds of vampires in his novel because the story honestly didn’t involve them and passing then through would be pointless.

Final Thoughts

Interpretations of folklore are great and some how brought new life to fantasy as a genre, but at the same time, we’ve all laughed at SMeyer for her vampires and werewolves. There is a line between an interpretation of a myth or a folktale and Lang’s Syndrome. One works with the material that is there, while the other does what it wants and denies the existence of anything that doesn’t fit into their ideas, often to the expense of someone else. A fantasy writer should have a good idea of the material that they want to work with, and something based in the real world, with all of its varied mythologies is going to take a little more work to get a working world.

Does that mean that you can’t write about vampires that are repelled by crosses in China? Not necessarily. Give a reason for why these methods also work. Articles of faith, regardless of what faith, repel the undead, maybe. There is plenty of room to move around. At the same time, you should, if you decide to write a modern fantasy that incorporates some kind of meeting of different cultures, know something about them and their myths and folktales. It will make your story stronger, more memorable, and even more interesting than Andrew Lang’s fairy books ever were.

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Comment

  1. Finn on 8 March 2013, 01:35 said:

    Nice article! Now this makes me want to write about the mythology of other cultures, instead of just making up my own worlds/mythologies, like I always do because I’m so lazy
    In fact, I’m so lazy that even when I wrote Urban Fantasy, I set it in another world so I wouldn’t have to try to explain why humans hadn’t noticed all these magic people in a new and interesting way, and so I could mess with history

  2. Ryan McCarthy on 8 March 2013, 04:12 said:

    Very interesting read. I actually have an idea for an urban fantasy story that involves demons. The problem is that demons are generally considered to be evil in folklore but in the story I want to write, the demons are not all evil and I really want to avoid Lang’s Syndrome as much as possible. Is there a way I could get around that?

  3. Pryotra on 8 March 2013, 09:15 said:

    In fact, I’m so lazy that even when I wrote Urban Fantasy, I set it in another world so I wouldn’t have to try to explain why humans hadn’t noticed all these magic people in a new and interesting way, and so I could mess with history

    That really works well, actually. Since that a good method to set things up so you could do what you wanted. I’m actually really interested in stories set in modernesque AUs because they can be really creative in their own way.

    I actually have an idea for an urban fantasy story that involves demons. The problem is that demons are generally considered to be evil in folklore but in the story I want to write, the demons are not all evil and I really want to avoid Lang’s Syndrome as much as possible. Is there a way I could get around that?

    Hm. Well, ‘demon’ is a pretty catch all word for evil spirits, and most things are translated as that to make things work better. You could use the Greek daemon, which were considered to be benevolent.

    Two ways I can think of to avoid Lang’s Syndrome would either be to have both demons and daemons exist, and daemons being annoyed at being categorized with demons or something so you can explain, or to set the story in a modern Greek inspired alternate universe where the conflicting mythologies wouldn’t necessarily exist.

  4. Brendan Rizzo on 8 March 2013, 11:04 said:

    You have just elucidated why it doesn’t really work to write an Urban Fantasy world in which all myths are true, so to speak. To use your example of werewolves versus huli jing, I think it would go against suspension of disbelief to have whatever affliction turns humans into werewolves not exist in China, and vice-versa for huli jing (and for that matter the Japanese version, kitsune) not to exist anywhere else. While I agree with you that fantasy writers should not assume all cultures’ mythologies are the same, it still strikes me as an inconsistency problem, particularly if different mythologies’ gods are portrayed as all existing as well, consequences be damned. This is one of two reasons that I don’t like urban fantasy much, the other being that the main conceit of the genre, The Masquerade, serves as the perfect excuse for the “heroes” to act in a hypocritical and generally horrifically apathetic matter towards “normal people”. There is also a touch of elitism in it, usually.

    Now, if somebody managed to give a good explanation for why certain mythical creatures only exist in certain parts of the world, that actually makes sense in-universe, that’s another matter.

    Chinese and Japanese dragons that are scaly, reptilian, fire breathing, treasure hording, mountain dwelling and winged. As opposed to being wingless (usually) and serpentine in appearance[…]

    It’s funny you mention that, because the only reason that the Chinese word 龙 (lóng) was translated as “dragon” to begin with is because of their serpentine characteristics. Most people don’t even know that European dragons were originally conceived as the largest of serpents, without legs or even necessarily wings.

  5. Pryotra on 8 March 2013, 11:29 said:

    I think it would go against suspension of disbelief to have whatever affliction turns humans into werewolves not exist in China,

    I think it depends. Often, the original werewolves were people who wanted to turn into wolves for the power that it gave them to cause trouble. Since there aren’t a lot of wolves in most of China, other than the Tibetan wolf, this wouldn’t have been done so much. The same thing with the idea of a curse, if wolves aren’t common, it wouldn’t have been the usual thing to curse someone with. As kitsune/huli jing are not as much cursed people as foxes (or something like them) that turn into people, it could be construed as habitat.

    particularly if different mythologies’ gods are portrayed as all existing as well, consequences be damned.

    I’ve seen it done well in the past, such as Butcher’s novels. And since a lot of older myths were perfectly ok with the existence of gods outside their pantheon (The Greeks tended to cross over with the Egyptains in more than just pretending that Amon and Zeus were the same) so it’s not too much of a stretch. Now, when monotheistic religions come into play, things get messy, but, like I said, it can be worked with if treated very carefully.

    So, basically, as you said, so long as someone has explained the reasoning behind everything, it can work. It’s just when it’s done sloppily or with lack of understanding when it doesn’t.

    Most people don’t even know that European dragons were originally conceived as the largest of serpents, without legs or even necessarily wings.

    Well, the Greek dragons did seem to have wings and such (hence Media using them to draw her chariot) and it sounds like Beowulf’s dragon had claws. But you also have Jormungand and the basilisk (which actually is supposed to have a rooster head) who were definitely huge snakes. One of my books makes five distinctions between European dragons: amphiptere (legless and winged), wyvern (two legs and wings), heraldic (four legs, spines and wings), lindworm (twolegs without wings), and guivre (huge snake with horns). However, some legends, did have them living underwater.

    Dragons are a complicated piece of legend.

  6. swenson on 8 March 2013, 11:48 said:

    Dragons are a complicated piece of legend.

    Mostly because we’ve tended to lump everything big with scales together in the category of “dragon”. (“we” meaning not just modern members of Western culture, but people in the past as well) And occasionally put dinosaurs there too.

    Anyway, I enjoyed this article. I think a major problem in fantasy these days is the lack of variety (everyone uses European-style, often specifically British Isles-style, mythical creatures, and only those), so paying more attention to what actually makes sense for the setting would definitely help with that.

    And I just had a really interesting idea—even in fantasy where different parts of the world have vaguely different mythical creatures, America still tends to get lumped together with Europe. But that doesn’t really make sense, does it? If you have a world where you’ve got djinn in the Middle East and kitsune in Japan and vampires in Eastern Europe, shouldn’t you have, say, skinwalkers in the Southwestern United States instead of werewolves?

  7. Pryotra on 8 March 2013, 11:59 said:

    And occasionally put dinosaurs there too.

    Yeah…I’ve seen that too…

    And I just had a really interesting idea—even in fantasy where different parts of the world have vaguely different mythical creatures, America still tends to get lumped together with Europe. But that doesn’t really make sense, does it? If you have a world where you’ve got djinn in the Middle East and kitsune in Japan and vampires in Eastern Europe, shouldn’t you have, say, skinwalkers in the Southwestern United States instead of werewolves?

    That’s a really good idea. There’s actually a really rich mythology in this country that tends to be ignored. I mean, we have the Wendigo. The spirit of cannibalism that will drive anyone who sees it insane, and we ignore it. We have some pretty awesome tricksters going from Native American myths too.

    The only justification that I’ve ever seen that works for why there are things in America that are really European is that stuff sometimes follows people around, and America has a lot of different culture’s immigrants, so we get a melting pot of everything, but the person had conveniently forgotten that that would mean you’d be dealing with African things as well as Asian and South American (which people seem to forget exists).

  8. Brendan Rizzo on 8 March 2013, 13:40 said:

    I think it depends. Often, the original werewolves were people who wanted to turn into wolves for the power that it gave them to cause trouble. Since there aren’t a lot of wolves in most of China, other than the Tibetan wolf, this wouldn’t have been done so much. The same thing with the idea of a curse, if wolves aren’t common, it wouldn’t have been the usual thing to curse someone with. As kitsune/huli jing are not as much cursed people as foxes (or something like them) that turn into people, it could be construed as habitat.

    I getcha. I thought you were saying something else. Your idea is certainly original, and I’d like to see it implemented.

    The only justification that I’ve ever seen that works for why there are things in America that are really European is that stuff sometimes follows people around, and America has a lot of different culture’s immigrants, so we get a melting pot of everything, but the person had conveniently forgotten that that would mean you’d be dealing with African things as well as Asian and South American (which people seem to forget exists).

    That would seem to make sense. It’s also amusing to contemplate; any European-style mythological creatures in America are actually immigrants. I don’t think many fantasy stories have included African stuff, other than a poorly understood version of voodoo/vodun/whatever you want to call it. But Native American stuff has appeared occasionally.

  9. Ryan McCarthy on 8 March 2013, 14:25 said:

    Wouldn’t any urban fantasy story technically be an alternate universe considering things like vampires and werewolves clearly don’t exist?

    Yes, I know I am stating the obvious.

    It just seems weird to be talking about alternate universes when theoretically, every fantasy story(urban fantasy or no) is technically an alternate universe.

  10. Pryotra on 8 March 2013, 14:34 said:

    Wouldn’t any urban fantasy story technically be an alternate universe considering things like vampires and werewolves clearly don’t exist?

    Yes and no. When writing an urban fantasy, there’s the unspoken fact that we’ve all agreed to pretend that vampires and werewolves and such are real, but most of the time, that’s the only thing that we’ve agreed to, unless we’re told otherwise. Modern fantasy tries to pretend that it’s in this world by having the same things happen, the same countries, the same people in power, and the same celebrities and tv shows etc. So, urban fantasy basically says, “this story is based is this world but only with this little difference” and everything that’s a part of this world is still there.

    Stuff that is a modern alternate universe is either something like Naruto where there are ninja running around who can breath fire and like to watch tv or a more traditional exploration of ‘what if English won the American Revolution’. The fantasy itself isn’t usually mean that the book is set in an alternate universe in the proper sense.

  11. Pryotra on 8 March 2013, 14:36 said:

    And naturally I manage to give myself a typo because I should be paying more attention to this and not doing three things at once.

  12. sakuuya on 8 March 2013, 22:16 said:

    When writing an urban fantasy, there’s the unspoken fact that we’ve all agreed to pretend that vampires and werewolves and such are real, but most of the time, that’s the only thing that we’ve agreed to, unless we’re told otherwise. Modern fantasy tries to pretend that it’s in this world by having the same things happen, the same countries, the same people in power, and the same celebrities and tv shows etc. So, urban fantasy basically says, “this story is based is this world but only with this little difference” and everything that’s a part of this world is still there.

    For me, this piece of worldbuilding is the downfall of a lot of urban fantasy. I’ll buy it if the mythical creatures are totally isolationist and/or there aren’t enough of them to have a far-reaching effect on the world, but in “mythical creatures secretly control the world!”-style Masquerades or stories where you can’t go five feet without tripping over a kobold or whatever, strict adherence to the modern world just wreaks havoc with my suspension of disbelief. I have a hard time believing that the big bad vampire (or, again, whatever) is going to do something world-changing when mythical creatures, despite supposedly running everything, have had demonstrably no effect on anything in all of recorded history. Maaaaybe a suitably clever “this is how monsters were actually behind historical event X!” can win me over, but most of the time I just can’t help thinking, “If you guys are supposedly in charge, but everything has happened exactly as if you didn’t exist, then you’re probably just sitting on your immortal butts eating bonbons.”

  13. Ryan McCarthy on 8 March 2013, 23:32 said:

    @sakuuya

    The whole “mythical creatures secretly control the whole world” thing is an interesting concept and can work with really clever and thorough writing. The problem is that most of the time, the concept is used by writers who use the idea without thinking it through with how it works in context of the narrative they are writing and the world they are creating.

    This is why most of the good urban fantasy tends to limit the mythical creatures influence on the world to secretly co-existing with humans and nothing more.

  14. Tim on 9 March 2013, 02:32 said:

    You could use the Greek daemon, which were considered to be benevolent.

    I don’t know, personally that strikes me as similar to “majick” in terms of scoring author-is-a-wanker points.

  15. Juracan on 9 March 2013, 06:54 said:

    You mention Naomi Novik as falling prey to this problem, but I’ve only read two of her books, and it was a while ago; do you have any examples? Just curious, as I’m considering picking up her books again.

    Hence dragons, ifrit, jinni, youkai, mannitou, and other distinct beings from various mythologies throughout the world were all called ‘fairies’ and scrubbed up so that they lost any of their distinctive traits in his works.

    To be fair, djinn and many other creatures fit roughly the same mold in respective mythologies as fairies— supernatural creatures that inhabit the world alongside humans.

    Still other times, it’s a simple case of not wanting to do the research or only watching movies and creating from there.

    Oh dear God, this one pisses me off so much. It especially got to me when Rick Riordan, who’s mostly been good about mythology, includes werewolves that can only be killed by silver. I think at that point I nearly smacked something.

    But on-topic, I wholeheartedly agree that writers should sit down and do research on more world mythology if they want to do urban fantasy. That being said, though, I do get kind of jarred about this kind of thing when it’s set in another universe. I remember playing Oblivion, in which the mythology is mostly Western European, and then getting kind of jarred by the presence of minotaurs and vampires.

    The thing, though, is keeping things consistent. The presence of some mythological creatures may actually do hell to the system one already set up— J.K. Rowling, for instance, made dragons a group of different breeds with unifying biological traits, and making Chinese dragons more like their mythological counterparts would contradict what she already set up with dragons.

    Still feels like a bit of a missed opportunity, though…

  16. Mingnon on 9 March 2013, 08:07 said:

    Another brand of mythology that people seem to believe doesn’t exist is Russian. One would think that there would be a potential goldmine with media based around Russian and South American (And perhaps Polynesian?) folklore and mythos. Each being in its own piece of media of course.

  17. swenson on 9 March 2013, 08:31 said:

    I don’t know, personally that strikes me as similar to “majick” in terms of scoring author-is-a-wanker points.

    I largely agree with this… except that I’ve actually read a few books where daemon was used well, while I’ve never read a good book that used magick/majick/maydjeek/whatever. So daemon is slightly more palatable to me.

    To be fair, djinn and many other creatures fit roughly the same mold in respective mythologies as fairies— supernatural creatures that inhabit the world alongside humans.

    Mmm, I’d disagree with this one. Djinn and “Fair Folk” have a lot of significant differences—djinn seem much more solitary, they’re often bound by certain rules, they seem more powerful, and they seem a lot angrier (while fairies can be either good/malevolent or just ambiguous). Also, fairies don’t typically have the wish-granting association that djinn often do. Then again, my knowledge of djinn comes almost entirely from One Thousand and One Nights, so I may not know what I’m talking about here.

    Re: Oblivion: haha, I didn’t even think of those. I think I give Elder Scrolls a pass because enough of the mythology is kind of its own (the daedra, in all their various forms, Argonians and Khajiit, even the elves/Mer have some significant differences from traditional representations), so the imports like minotaurs aren’t necessarily jarring to me.

  18. Pryotra on 9 March 2013, 11:19 said:

    You mention Naomi Novik as falling prey to this problem, but I’ve only read two of her books, and it was a while ago; do you have any examples? Just curious, as I’m considering picking up her books again.

    The real issue that I’ve every had with the books was that Temerraire was a Chinese breed that was able to pass for a European dragon. They really look quite different. Some people don’t have the same problem, but that always was a bit of a weak spot as far as I was concerned. The rest of the aspects of the books are quite good, and I do recommend it, since it’s one of the few dragon rider type books where the dragon isn’t a glorified horse.

    To be fair, djinn and many other creatures fit roughly the same mold in respective mythologies as fairies— supernatural creatures that inhabit the world alongside humans.

    I’d have to agree with swenson. Those traits could be said for nearly anything in folklore, but it doesn’t mean that they’re all fairies. Jinni have their own traits, being fairly solitary and working by different rules. They seem to be a more visible system of punishment that the fairies, which we never really hear about in folklore.

    J.K. Rowling, for instance, made dragons a group of different breeds with unifying biological traits, and making Chinese dragons more like their mythological counterparts would contradict what she already set up with dragons.

    I kind of felt that she shouldn’t have brought in the Chinese dragons at all, since what she said pretty much ignored every story about them. It wasn’t as if she didn’t have enough countries in Europe that had dragons that were just like what she described.

    I largely agree with this… except that I’ve actually read a few books where daemon was used well, while I’ve never read a good book that used magick/majick/maydjeek/whatever. So daemon is slightly more palatable to me.

    Same here. When magic is spelled funny it’s a sort of red flag to me that wanking is about to ensue. ‘daemon’ is sort of a yellow flag. Either the writer really knows what s/he’s talking about or they’re wanking.

    I tend to be like that when I read ‘fae’ or ‘faery’ in a book too. I know that the writer is trying to disassociate themselves from the little Victorian flower fairies, but it still makes me nervous. I’ve seen it done well, but I’ve also seen it done really stupidly.

  19. Apep on 9 March 2013, 12:25 said:

    The real issue that I’ve every had with the books was that Temerraire was a Chinese breed that was able to pass for a European dragon.

    I don’t think it was so much that they thought he was a European dragon as that they didn’t know what breed Temerraire was. The sailors obviously didn’t and wouldn’t know much about dragons, and the dragon corp probably wouldn’t concern itself with knowing every possible kind of dragon.

    I remember playing Oblivion, in which the mythology is mostly Western European, and then getting kind of jarred by the presence of minotaurs and vampires.

    To be fair, at least minotaurs and vampires are at least European in origin. I’m more bothered by the fact that, in a largely Medieval European setting there’s a group that dresses in Samurai armor. The same goes for Monks in a lot of other RPGs.

    Another brand of mythology that people seem to believe doesn’t exist is Russian.

    The Witcher books/games do include at least some stuff from/based on Eastern European mythology/folklore (rusalkas, kikimora, vodyanoy), along with a lot of other standard fantasy stuff. The author being Polish, which is probably why.

    I tend to be like that when I read ‘fae’ or ‘faery’ in a book too. I know that the writer is trying to disassociate themselves from the little Victorian flower fairies, but it still makes me nervous. I’ve seen it done well, but I’ve also seen it done really stupidly.

    I’m guilty of this, for that exact reason.

  20. Tim on 9 March 2013, 15:31 said:

    Either the writer really knows what s/he’s talking about or they’re wanking.

    Or they’ve read so much Warhammer 40,000 that they’ve just absorbed the spelling, that happens a fair bit too. You also have the related problem that if you spell it “daemon” people will either roll their eyes and think you’re a 40K fan or roll their eyes and think you’re into Phil Pullman’s Atheism For Complete Assholes His Dark Materials books.

    Though watching the movie with my brother was a good laugh at least, in particular when it came to the issue of why everyone happens to have a daemon which is appropriate to their job. Particular his suggestion that rather than two guards both happening to have guard dog daemons one of them should have had a flamingo.

  21. goldedge on 10 March 2013, 03:04 said:

    @Pryotra.

    Cassandra Clare’s Shadowhunters hunting werewolves in China, a country that has no stories about werewolves at all, and completely ignoring their own creatures like the huli jing.

    A solution to that is the huli jing to be were-foxes. The Kitsune could be similar to the fair folk. Kumiho are demon to sum them up: “If a succubus could turn into a nine-tailed fox that’s basicly what a kumiho is.”

  22. Apep on 10 March 2013, 10:05 said:

    There’s a lot more wrong with Clare’s world building than what’s mentioned here. Case in point: demons don’t come from Hell, but from other dimensions. Yet they’re still treated as Always Chaotic Evil, despite the fact that this removes any moral/ethical aspect from their existence.

    And there’s also angels, which implies the existence of a Heaven, and thus a Hell. Along with an afterlife. Yet none of this is brought up.

  23. Pryotra on 10 March 2013, 10:24 said:

    Though watching the movie with my brother was a good laugh at least, in particular when it came to the issue of why everyone happens to have a daemon which is appropriate to their job. Particular his suggestion that rather than two guards both happening to have guard dog daemons one of them should have had a flamingo.

    Yeah, the movie was pretty stupid that way. I guess people got chosen for the daemon that they had, which was why the Russian-esque army was so easy to defeat. They were really bad fighters who were chosen because they had wolves.

    A solution to that is the huli jing to be were-foxes. Huli jing/kitsune/kumiho are pretty close to being the same thing. China, Japan and Korea liked to swap stories.

    Eh, huli jing weren’t ever really human. Really, bringing the werewolves/were-anything doesn’t work too well with Chinese myths.

    There’s a lot more wrong with Clare’s world building than what’s mentioned here. Case in point: demons don’t come from Hell, but from other dimensions. Yet they’re still treated as Always Chaotic Evil, despite the fact that this removes any moral/ethical aspect from their existence.

    And there’s also angels, which implies the existence of a Heaven, and thus a Hell. Along with an afterlife. Yet none of this is brought up.

    Not only that, but any idea of God/an afterlife is actively scoffed at by the characters, despite said angels/demons. Even when an angel pretty much says “there’s a God, ya’ll” and resurrects someone from the dead the issue of an afterlife isn’t ever asked about and is still kind of scoffed at.

  24. gervasium on 10 March 2013, 12:46 said:

    “And there’s also angels, which implies the existence of a Heaven, and thus a Hell. Along with an afterlife.”

    The existence of angels imply an heaven only because the same sources that talk about heaven also talk about angels. It’s like saying a worldwide flood proves God because they’re both in the Bible. It’s perfectly conceivable that very powerful beings exist that we would call angels and yet there not being an afterlife. I’m not commenting specifically on Clare’s books because I haven’t read them, but the two things don’t seem as related to me.

    Likewise, I can’t agree with the idea that for mythological creatures of one country to be real then all other mythologies must be real. The whole idea that Werewolves can only be like those of European folklore if they live in Europe seems far more limiting to me.

    Or, imagine I am writing a fantasy novel about scandinavian characters in which Odin and his pantheon are real. If my characters travel to Greece do I need to include Zeus as well? Because that would make it internally inconsistent and force people’s suspension of disbelief even more.

  25. Pryotra on 10 March 2013, 13:10 said:

    The existence of angels imply an heaven only because the same sources that talk about heaven also talk about angels. It’s like saying a worldwide flood proves God because they’re both in the Bible. It’s perfectly conceivable that very powerful beings exist that we would call angels and yet there not being an afterlife. I’m not commenting specifically on Clare’s books because I haven’t read them, but the two things don’t seem as related to me.

    The only sources that discuss angels say that they are messengers for God. Therefore the two are connected. Angels come from Jewish/Christian/Muslim sources and are all thus connected to God. This has nothing to do with the worldwide flood because there are stories of a flood that exist in nearly every culture and thus are connected the religions of those cultures. Finally, Clare’s angels, as I said, directly mention God, and the characters go ‘Lawl it’s cooler to be agnostic/atheist despite all the evidence that we’re getting to the contrary.’ If a writer wanted to bring in angels that aren’t connected to God in their stories, they’d have to explain this and not just ignore the fact that there are no myths where they aren’t in favor of more romance. I remember given a pretty sizable rant on this in one of my reviews.

    Likewise, I can’t agree with the idea that for mythological creatures of one country to be real then all other mythologies must be real.

    I didn’t say that. I said that if if you want to write about mythological creatures from one culture, don’t stick them in another one that doesn’t have those myths.

    The whole idea that Werewolves can only be like those of European folklore if they live in Europe seems far more limiting to me.

    First, I think you should limit yourself unless you’re seriously going for the Fantasy Kitchen Sink and All Myths Are True. Clare’s problem (among others) is that she overreaches herself and then doesn’t bother to even justify it. Next, if werewolves in Europe aren’t like European werewolves, then what are they like since there are few to no other areas that talk about werewolves?

    Because that would make it internally inconsistent and force people’s suspension of disbelief even more.

    Not really. As I said before, most pantheons have no problem including one another and Zeus and Co. and Odin and co. really had a lot in common. If anything, they’d be drinking buddies or something.

  26. Pryotra on 10 March 2013, 13:32 said:

    Oh, and to clarify something and risk a double post, I’m not referring to people with wings when I say ‘angels’. Because those sometimes do turn up, and the traditional view of angels aren’t people with wings. Cherubim have to faces, Seraphim have “six wings and many eyes”, and the others are just supposed to be terrifying.

  27. Tim on 10 March 2013, 14:52 said:

    The only sources that discuss angels say that they are messengers for God. Therefore the two are connected.

    I think what they’re talking about is a scenario where there are real things which humans call angels, but the religion built around them comes from humans rather than from God. Sort of like, say, the Vikings not understanding what thunder and lightning were and so imagining the great sounds and flashes in the clouds to be a really awesome sky blacksmith working at his anvil. Thunder and lightning still existed, but the Norse pantheon wasn’t the correct explanation for what it actually was.

    This does often devolve into wankerism where you just slap a common name on whatever your story needs and then say it’s the real thing all those foolish myths are based on, mind.

  28. Apep on 10 March 2013, 17:00 said:

    I think what they’re talking about is a scenario where there are real things which humans call angels, but the religion built around them comes from humans rather than from God.

    It wouldn’t be so annoying if it were humans who mistook these things for angels/built a religion around them. The Vorlons on Babylon 5 did that with a lot of the various species in the series.

    It’s another when the being in question identifies itself as an angel and doesn’t bother trying to clear up any misconception.

    Moving back to Clare, I’m more bothered by the fact that she changed what demons are, but still kept angels for some inexplicable reason, rather than having them just be another kind of extra-dimensional being. Her universe is a weird hodge-podge of various ideas without any sense of cohesion, and she never bothers to explain any of it.

    On a lighter note,

    Vikings not understanding what thunder and lightning were and so imagining the great sounds and flashes in the clouds to be a really awesome sky blacksmith working at his anvil.

    That’s not what Thor did at all. You fail at Norse mythology. Good day, sir!

  29. Ryan McCarthy on 10 March 2013, 17:31 said:

    I have not read Mortal Instruments books, but from what I’m hearing, it seems like Clare tried to do a fantasy kitchen sink type of thing but without any regard to how cohesion and how it fits in context of the world is tried to make.

    If she’s going to change what demons are, then why did she bother bringing angels into the mix since demons aren’t from hell in Clare’s books? That is just a complete oxymoron. She should at least explain how the world in her books work and not just throw these ideas around without any regard to how cohesive the world building is.

  30. Tim on 10 March 2013, 18:54 said:

    That’s not what Thor did at all. You fail at Norse mythology. Good day, sir!

    I was thinking of Hephaestus. Show me for posting while half asleep, I guess. No need to be a dick about it.

  31. Apep on 10 March 2013, 19:08 said:

    Sorry. Didn’t mean to come across like that. Guess I should have included a smiley face or something.

  32. Brendan Rizzo on 10 March 2013, 22:37 said:

    It’s another when the being in question identifies itself as an angel and doesn’t bother trying to clear up any misconception.

    You know, that would actually be an interesting idea if the so-called “angels” (who aren’t really angels) were actually evil and manipulating people… but then you’d get a lot of people angry with you, particularly if they read in an anti-religion message that isn’t actually there.

  33. Ryan McCarthy on 11 March 2013, 02:01 said:

    @Brendan Rizzo

    That is unfortunately understandable as there are people who believe angels to be real and are nothing short of pure good. That said, I do think that concept could work in capable hands.

    You would get people angry with you without a doubt but sometimes, an artist needs to risk angering people for the sake of their work and artistic integrity.

  34. Pryotra on 11 March 2013, 09:20 said:

    One way to avoid offending people would be, since this is a fantasy world, have something else that hints of a validation of angels or something.

    You could even so something with the fact that Lucifer was supposed to be pretty and use something like Adornetto’s obvious angels as opposed to someone who seems to be an ordinary joe who occasionally helps out and go for the message that real good doesn’t advertize itself.

    My point is that there could be ways to work with this idea that wouldn’t offend anyone but those that refuse to read subtext or think that all fantasy is somehow satanist. Like this one group that thinks that the Harry Potter books were saying that God is evil, because green is Satan’s favorite color, so therefore Voldemort is God.

    Yeah. I’m not making that up.

  35. swenson on 11 March 2013, 09:51 said:

    Or simply imply that even though these guys call themselves angels (to manipulate people), there still might be real angels out there somewhere, even if they’re never actually mentioned. The idea of angelic beings being evil isn’t exactly a new concept, anyway—fallen angels are still angels, they just are following Satan. So perhaps these pseudoangels are actually fallen angels/demons (depending on whether or not those two are the same thing)… or are just doing the same thing as fallen angels/Satan are said to have done, and “appear to be an angel of light”.

    This idea is quite interesting, honestly, and if you had very powerful supernatural beings out there, it actually makes a lot of sense. Most religions say other religions are all false, anyway; it’s not outside the realm of possibility, then, that these powerful supernatural beings (that are neither angels nor demons) started a couple of the false religions, is it?

  36. Apep on 11 March 2013, 10:10 said:

    Like this one group that thinks that the Harry Potter books were saying that God is evil, because green is Satan’s favorite color, so therefore Voldemort is God.

    Wait, what? That’s some major Insane Troll Logic there.

  37. goldedge on 12 March 2013, 22:36 said:

    Cassandra Clare’s Shadowhunters hunting werewolves in China, a country that has no stories about werewolves at all, and completely ignoring their own creatures like the huli jing.

    I also will take a wild guess that poor research plays a part as in the case with Cassandra Clare’s seires, which adds to her Lang’s syndrome.