Although Megan Whalen Turner’s books are based on the real world of the Meditteranean, they are unrepentantly fictional. The countries are not real, their histories are made up, and their gods come from Turner’s head.
The mythology she offers is brief: a creation myth and a few other stories. But the way she uses this mythology is just masterful. The myths serve a host of purposes. They are
- Essential to worldbuilding. They make the world feel like it has a long history, and give us an insight into the values of the characters.
- Integral to the plot. The gods and their characters, as revealed in the myths told, have a direct influence on the story. By which I mean, the gods show up and act the same way in “real life” as in their myths.
- Integral to the structure. Okay, I’m splitting hairs on this and number 2. But the point is that each novel has a central myth underpinning it, and that myth guides the story. This is nodded to occasionaly by the characters.
- Fantastic foreshadowing. It’s easy to skim over the myths before you realize their significance, and the reality of the characters can seem so far removed from the myths that there is no connection. Then, at points that Turner undoubtedly plotted carefully, you spot how this is all exactly like the story.
I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s even more there I’m not getting. But in the meantime, this is brilliant.