If there’s one thing I’d wish I’d done more of, it’s pay attention in English class, specifically grade 10 English class. That’s when we studied Greek, Roman, and Norse mythology ad nauseum. Maybe it was my religious upbringing (more so in the schools than at home) or my literal-thinking mind, but I didn’t see any use in learning why Zeus gave birth to Athena through his forehead. Even when God created the Earth via the 7-day story, he at least honoured the basics of human physiology.
After studying each mythology, we’d then apply what we’d learned to any book we read, which made those books even less interesting. You’d think I would’ve rejoiced at how easy those exams could be in this kind of structure, but no, I was more bummed out by the fact that my favourite hobby was becoming increasingly boring. Couldn’t I just read for fun?
Oh, To Be 15 Again and Actually Listen to Adults
My 15-year-old mind, though, missed a golden opportunity: we were studying the timelessness of stories. I don’t know if my English teacher pointed that out to us or not, and even if he did, I may have ignored him. But what he was doing was passing on to us stories from millennia ago and showing us how they still permeate today’s stories.
What I’m learning now, though, through research for my novel, is that those mythologies, plus the little we know of the pre-Christian Celtic stories, heavily correlate to the ancient Indian stories. I also wouldn’t be surprised if there were similarities to the pantheistic Native stories, too. (Maybe someone with more knowledge here can add something below.)
Cinderella’s 1,000-Year-Old Shoe
Being a student of German, I was also fascinated by the fairy tales the Brothers Grimm collected and published. Through some courses in my undergrad and grad studies, I learned that Cinderella was likely over 1,000 years old and may have originated in China (the importance of a woman’s shoe). My memory’s a bit rusty here, so the story may even be older.
But think about this for a moment: If the stories of the Greeks, Romans, Celts, and Germanic tribes were all related to ancient Indian stories, and even something as simple as Cinderella has travelled across the world from ancient China to Walt Disney (and likely other countries, too), then these are cultural connections that easily half the world has. Whereas we may focus on the individual nature of Western culture versus the collectivist nature of Eastern culture, both share a simple story.
Passing Down the Blues
Last week, I interviewed a blues musician, Steve Strongman. He’s performing at our local roadhouse theatre, which is also a client of mine. One of his songs is called “Old School.” The song opens with these lyrics:
I used to sneak in the back door
just to see how it’s done.
I knew that if I want to find the truth,
I had to go straight to the roots.
In several online interviews and in ours, he talked about the importance of going back to your roots to find inspiration. In this case, it was the roots of the blues. One question I had for him was this: I’ve noticed in lots of blues footage that old timers, including the likes of Buddy Guy and B.B. King, often shared the stage with a much younger musician. It looked very much like a sort of mentorship to me and seemed particular to the blues. Was I right?
“That is definitely a common theme and a thread within blues,” he said. “I don’t know if it’s because blues is a niche market or largely niche-market based, but I do feel like there’s a sense among the elders of blues that they want to make sure that this music is getting passed on so that it doesn’t just fizzle out and die.”
Strongman said that the music business doesn’t see the blues as having commercial appeal. “So the only way that we can continue to pass that knowledge on is through passing it on to the younger generation. I’ve certainly been the benefit of that, meeting a lot of people that are saying, ‘You know, you’re the younger generation that are coming up, playing this, and we need to keep this very incredibly important style of music alive.’”
Listening to his new album, I’m glad he listened to his elders.
Going Back to Your Roots
The phrase often refers to a cultural history that has helped make you who you are. You may have had it shoved down your throat, or you may be on the other side of the spectrum, wishing you knew more, but everyone who had that knowledge has now passed on.
This is a spiritual feeling for me: all of these ancient stories somehow affected who we all became. I find a connection in that.
And a strength.
We walk around, pretending to be special and separate from others, yet we have this deep connection that goes back millennia. I just find that awesome, in the truest sense of that word.
And I just wish I’d paid a little more attention to my grade 10 English teacher.