Reinventing the Gods
Brian T. Marshall was born in Southern California and graduated from UC Santa Cruz. He currently juggles writing novels with performing in multiple bands. His latest – “Choosing the Dark” – was released last spring.
Today I have Brian here to tell you all about Greek Gods, and how he has incorporated that material into his book, Fleet. Take it away, Brian!
A couple years back I started a novel which wound up being Fleet.
I set out on this journey with two main goals in mind. First-off, I wanted the book to serve as an homage to the Marvel comics I’d grown up with. It had to fun, imaginative, filled with adventure, but never condescend to the reader. Secondly, and even more importantly, it would be a big, fat Thank-You to someone who’d been a huge influence in my life, namely the god known as Hermes.
All right, all right, that may sound bizarre, but bear with me for a moment. To begin with, I was a Virgo, which meant that the planet Mercury (the Latin name for Hermes) had been ascendant at my birth. As a result, I had always displayed a lot of the same traits that defined both god and sign. I’d been a lifelong runner. Was a bit of a brainiac. Had a fussy, obsessive streak which hid a sharp sense of humor. And if you had to choose a role model, who better than some guy with wings on his feet?
So I had my protagonist all lined up. But how do you tell a brand-new story about someone who’s been around since forever? You shake things up. Start somewhere unexpected. A homeless guy who’s been arrested, buck-naked and speaking in tongues. When police translators draw a blank, they call in their resident expert, a cranky, misanthropic professor of linguistics who consults with their mystery man. What’s that he’s speaking? Greek, of course. Only it happens to be an archaic form, unused for three-thousand years.
Dr. Patrick adopts the stranger. Decides to teach him English. After navigating a string of red herrings, we finally learn the truth. The Greek gods visited Earth long ago. Tried to shape Man in their image. Were so disgusted by the results that they left their brood behind. But now, thanks to an ancient foe, they’ve been returned against their will, stripped of their memories, even their powers. Recast as humans with imagined pasts that mock their former selves.
Athena, we learn, is a roller derby queen, living in Southern California. Ares, the god of war, heads a private security firm based in Johannesburg. As for Artemis, the Greek’s bowed huntress, she’s currently living on a wildlife preserve in Crete, while Hephaestus, their smithy, owns a junkyard in the barren hills of North Dakota. For the Greeks, each god was an archetype, embodying an essential truth, so the trick became one of transplanting that essence into the world we now know.
And so we find Hermes plagued by doubt. He’s just a messenger, after all. Ill-prepared for the task that awaits him, setting his siblings free. And yet when he does so, liberating Athena, he immediately grows jealous, relegated to her shadow once more. Ares is a bloated oaf. Artemis a scared and sickly girl who suddenly becomes wild, wanton, under the rays of the moon. And crippled Hephaestus is addicted to drugs, thanks to his tortured dreams, dreams in which he fashions swords for his family, all of them gods.
The more I played around with my cast, the more impressed I became. Because the Greeks had somehow done it, created the Dysfunctional Family, and thereby set the bar, formed the template, for every troubled family since. But it went even further than that. If we accept their premise, that Man was created by God, then we have to ask ourselves, what kind of creator would settle for something as flawed, as imperfect, as mankind? Obviously there could be only one answer. The gods themselves were flawed. And it was this realization, this reckoning, that ultimately drove the book. God and Man had been reunited because it was only through accepting their own faults, and forgiving each other’s, that either race could heal and grow.
A long way from a comic book? Maybe. But the power of myth lies in its breadth, its universality. It can be as simple as a nursery rhyme, a story before bedtime. Or as complex, as imbued with meaning, as the work of Jung or Campbell. For anyone who thinks that a god with wings on his feet seems childish or simplistic, remember this. Complexity and simplicity are allies, not foes. In the one exist the many. And the very same people who codified Reason, who first explained the world we see, gave us their gods as well.