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Thread: An interesting question about boring legends.

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    tWebber
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    Question An interesting question about boring legends.

    Greetings.

    I post this seeking knowledge of the theory of the analysis of myth and legend, much as an aspiring Science Fiction writer might ask questions of physicists and other scientists in order to increase the vermiscitude of the work the are creating.

    In the story I am working on there is a mystery that draws on many disciplines to solve. These include anthropology, animal anatomy, ecology, and (the purpose of this thread) the study of what stories (myths, legends, historical accounts (many highly biased), etc.) say about the cultures that created them.

    I struggle greatly with the balance between brevity and giving all the necessary information. It seems I always leave out something critical, or ramble on at great length. Despite this I shall attempt to practice it here. Please be especially ready to ask questions in case this turns out to be the usual "learning experience" for me.

    Here is what I am specifically leaving out of this first presentation:

    1. The broader context of the work the fictional characters are studying the myth/legend/fable* I am going to describe in.
    2. A fuller description of the plot of the story.


    *Thus "doubly-fictitious"

    Context:

    This "legend" is of extreme importance to the culture it comes from, to the point where there were legal penalties for its modification. In case it matters, this is despite it specifically NOT having a strictly religious overtone*. The characters in the larger story will likely conclude (correctly) that this is because a major subject of the story is widely known to be the result of the actions of a historical figure who strongly opposed the religion of the society that created this myth/legend/fable.
    *The curses of "all the gods" upon any who alter it are prayed for by the author in the opening, but that isn't quite the same thing.

    As for its plot:
    Here are the more standard aspects of the story:
    In any case we have two rival warriors both of great ability in battle, if perhaps not so big in the brains department. They wish to win their ruler's permission for a certain contest between them. They have the contest. The loser murders the winner in his sleep. The ruler sends a bunch of guys to kill the loser, they succeed. The story closes with the ruler lamenting the loss of two such able warriors to their own folly. The End.

    And here is what I hope is the "Huh... that's odd" that I've heard more often proceeds a great discovery rather than "Eureka!":
    The descriptions of their attempts to win the favor of the ruler so they can hold the contest in the first place is by far the longest portion of the story, and even if it were not, it would still all be outstanding for how BORING it is compared to the rest of the story. The text goes out of its way to repeatedly point out that the tasks they are accomplishing are so far beneath the main character's abilities that they don't even serve as a useful representation of their might. It is like reading a 200 page graphic novel of nothing but Superman beating up street-level mooks, and lacking in any witty or philosophical dialogue on Superman's part.

    I am considering stating that the vocabulary and sentence structure are probably repetitive in the extreme and lacking in flavor. The only argument against this is that I also want it to be plausible that a linguistic analysis of the work strongly indicates that it had a single author.

    Questions:
    1.) What general pieces of information would an analyzer of stories for what they say about the culture they came from wish to seek out to augment the information I have given above to better draw conclusions (especially about question #2 below)?
    2.) What hypotheses, if any, would the existence of tedium and "bad writing" juxtaposed with interesting portions lead analysts to draw? I have an especial interest in what it might say about the social role of the legend, and/or the society that created it.
    Last edited by Draco Dei; 09-04-2019 at 04:11 PM.

  2. #2
    tWebber shunyadragon's Avatar
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    The original myths that evolved from Sumerian to Babylonian, to Canaanite and Ugarite to Genesis most likely did not originally have a religious intent.
    Glendower: I can call spirits from the vasty deep.
    Hotspur: Why, so can I, or so can any man;
    But will they come when you do call for them? Shakespeare’s Henry IV, Part 1, Act III:

    go with the flow the river knows . . .

    Frank

    I do not know, therefore everything is in pencil.

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    tWebber lee_merrill's Avatar
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    I think this might be better in the "Study Room" forum? But personally, I would opt for interesting writing over tedium, regardless, see for example C.S. Lewis' "Till We Have Faces", which is intended to be a long drawn-out complaint against the gods. But it's still interesting writing, with plot twists throughout, and no preponderance of descriptive dialog.

    Blessings,
    Lee
    "What I pray of you is, to keep your eye upon Him, for that is everything. Do you say, 'How am I to keep my eye on Him?' I reply, keep your eye off everything else, and you will soon see Him. All depends on the eye of faith being kept on Him. How simple it is!" (J.B. Stoney)

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  5. #4
    tWebber
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    Quote Originally Posted by shunyadragon View Post
    The original myths that evolved from Sumerian to Babylonian, to Canaanite and Ugarite to Genesis most likely did not originally have a religious intent.
    I have learned something (although I will agree to disagree with part of what you said). Always pleasant!
    How would you recommend I apply this to my writing though? I may be missing something, or maybe I did not make clear that the fact that it is a "non-religious legend" is not something I had meant to be particularly odd. The fact that it has such a very strong "don't alter this OR ELSE" vibe despite not being religious in nature IS.
    Quote Originally Posted by lee_merrill View Post
    I think this might be better in the "Study Room" forum?
    Hmmm... I'm looking for help from those who study very old stories scientifically. If I were looking for writing advice rather than background science, I'd find that idea more convincing at face value. Of course, maybe I'm missing something. Feel free to further enlighten me if so!

    I suspect that the miscommunication below is actually the source of this statement on your part.
    Quote Originally Posted by lee_merrill View Post
    But personally, I would opt for interesting writing over tedium, regardless, see for example C.S. Lewis' "Till We Have Faces", which is intended to be a long drawn-out complaint against the gods. But it's still interesting writing, with plot twists throughout, and no preponderance of descriptive dialog.

    Blessings,
    Lee
    And here we have an example of my not providing enough words... in this case emphasis rather than additional information. Or maybe this way is still best? It is always hard to know when asking experts to apply their expertise in what may be highly novel ways.

    Let me see if I can say this more clearly, despite having to give what I very much fear will be some very distracting information. I intentionally omitted this information at first for that very reason. Please, my good scholars of archeology, do NOT allow yourselves to be distracted from the fact that I want a high degree of realism. With that disclaimer out of the way: This is actually for table-top Roleplaying, not a novel/short story.

    My "audience" (players) are not going to be subjected to tedium. Nor am I a masochist that I have any intention of actually writing out the boring parts of legend in question (actually, I'm unlikely to write out any large portion of the actual text of the legend at all). The characters in the game-scenario are going to be subject to tedium in the process of examining the (fiction within fiction) legend, but it is sufficient that the real world people experiencing it know that the middle part of the inscriptions in stone etc that were discovered is very boring. This fact is intended to be a vital clue to the mystery that the heroes of the encompassing fiction (and thus the players of the game) are trying to solve. My intent in coming here is to try to make sure that this is as reasonable a clue as I can make it, rather than anything of an accidental red herring.

    [Draco Dei edits] It just occurred to me that you might have meant that I should make the author of the legend in question "a better writer"... If so, I can unequivocally tell you that it would be better to replace the legend with something different, or cut it entirely than alter the way it is written. I'd say more but I don't want to bias the forums ability to interpret what the actual game-scenario presents the players/heroes with with as little "behind the curtains" information as possible.

    I guess I will throw out an INCORRECT hypothesis that the heroes of the adventure might come to (and actually did one of the times I tried to run this scenario) : That portion of the text is boring so that people will not pay enough attention to it to realize it contains a secret code that reveals a vital piece of information.

    Now EVERYBODY, please tell me if an archeologist/historian would ever seriously consider the above hypothesis![/Draco Dei edits]

    Ugh... and now I wonder if I should explain more about a different facet of this...

    <Writes out a bunch of explanation regarding his winding path to a decision about the above problem.>

    <Deletes it as unlikely to be productive.>

    Basically, I've got my reasons for giving the information in stages if at all possible. If possible I'd going to try to wait until I am more confident people understand what I've already said, before I seriously consider when to moving the discussion into the next stage. I can probably give everything I have about the legend at that time, but perhaps translated from "Fantasy" into "Alternate History" if that would make it easier for the majority of the people in this sub-forum to wrap their brains around. There might not be any more stages after that, merely providing information that people request or that turns out to be relevant.
    Last edited by Draco Dei; 09-06-2019 at 11:12 PM.

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