Fantasy Friday: The Sphinx Myth

Before I delve into today’s post, allow me to state that I use fantasy in Fantasy Friday rather loosely. While I would like to keep to this theme, fantasy can be many things to different people. It could, for instance, include the realm of mythology, as in today’s post. Fantasy can also refer to Jeremy’s post from last Friday.

————-               ————

Mythology has long held intrigue for me. I’ve yet to investigate the many twists and turns that encompasses this labyrinthine set of stories and characters. I have, however, spent hours inside my own head, re-enacting the often strange tales associated with Greek and Roman gods. I can’t help but wonder on the birth of these myths. Who was the person who first spread the seeds for the story of the Sphinx, for instance?

It is said that Oedipus defeated the Sphinx by correctly answering her riddle. This heroic act came in the middle of a less than glamorous life in which he unknowingly slew his father and wed his mother. [I would say that this kind of thing happens only in mythology, but there’s always that one guy, you know?] Anyway, where was I? (Got lost in a Jerry Springer-like daydream. Sorry.)

linked image

The Sphinx

Read Thomas Bulfinch’s story of Oedipus and the Sphinx here.

What I bring away from Oedipus’ life and interaction with the Sphinx are these questions and musings:

–Moral: One mustn’t attempt to cheat an oracle’s prophecy. The king was destined to come to a bad end at the hand of his son (or so the myth alludes), and no action could otherwise thwart prophecy.

–Oedipus eradicates the Sphinx with a clever answer to her riddle and, while he is crowned king after the fact, the joy is short-lived. (He may have bested one woman, but another will be his downfall.)

–When Oedipus discovers he has wed his mother, he tears out his own eyes and wanders away. (I would think it would be other organs besides eyes that one would rip out…) That said, my mind makes an automatic connection with Blind Justice, and I begin to wonder if the two ideas share a common thread in the fabric of lore.

I’m mulling over the possibilities of incorporating elements of this myth into a story. Doesn’t it seem as though the basic structure of the Sphinx myth is similar to that of a fantasy novel?

–> Character is orphaned.

–> Character is rescued and reared by strangers.

–> Character undertakes heroic task and prevails.

–> Character is rewarded.

–> Character’s reward becomes downfall.

So, then would it actually be accurate to say that mythology serves as the seed from which fantasy grows? It certainly wouldn’t be inaccurate.

I suppose the main point here is that it’s often difficult to clearly decipher where one genre/group/what have you ends and another begins. Everything is derivative. Write what you want to write, how you want to write it, and don’t stop for those invisible barricades thrown up by ideas like the canon and popular literature. Go ahead. Write the story about the character with the Oedipus complex who owns a unicorn stable in troll country. Throw a Sphinx in the mix and see what happens.

“Fantasy is an exercise bicycle for the mind. It might not take you anywhere, but it tones up the muscles that can. Of course, I could be wrong.”

–Terry Pratchett

What do you think? Are you a mythology buff who can shed some light on this subject? Do you have a favorite myth, book, or website? Please share!