Back To CourseCommon Core ELA Grade 8 - Literature: Standards
9 chapters | 60 lessons
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Amy has MA degrees in History, English, and Theology. She has taught college English and religious education classes and currently works as a freelance writer.
Writers are some of the most creative people ever, but not everything they write is original. It's not that they deliberately copy anyone else's work, but they do very often draw ideas, themes, patterns, storylines, and even character types from many different sources. Everything they've ever read, heard, and seen is part of their mental landscape, spinning around in their imaginations, getting remixed, influencing creative process, and showing up in interesting ways in their final products.
Important elements in this mix are three sources that are part of the shared heritage of Western culture and civilization: myths, traditional stories, and religious works, especially the Bible. In this lesson, we're going to define each of these elements of our shared heritage and learn how modern fiction writers draw on them as influences and reinvent them in their own works.
Myths are ancient stories that feature the fantastic adventures of pagan gods and human heroes. People created myths to help them better understand the world and their place in it, to learn about human nature, and to explore human relationships. Nearly every culture has myths. We're most familiar with the myths of the Greeks and Romans that contain tales of gods and goddesses, like Zeus, Venus, Apollo, and Mars; stories of the hero Hercules and his great tasks; the accounts of the Trojan War and Ulysses' adventures as he tried to get home afterward; and the story of the founding of Rome by the brothers Romulus and Remus.
Other cultures also have interesting myths. Ancient Egyptians told stories about pyramids, mummies, and the great Sphinx. Native Americans enjoy tales about the natural world and the creatures in it. The people of Scandinavia share the tales of the gods Odin and Thor and the great world tree that holds the cosmos together.
Modern authors make good use of these myths, retelling their stories, adapting characters, and incorporating elements. In Rick Riordan's series Percy Jackson and the Olympians, for instance, the main character, Percy Jackson, discovers that he is the son of the Greek god Poseidon. He is suddenly plunged into the world of ancient mythology, which becomes all too real, and he must solve many exciting mysteries. J.K. Rowling, in the Harry Potter series, incorporates all kinds of elements drawn from myths. The Sphinx shows up, as do other mythological beasts, like dragons and the phoenix Fawkes. Harry is thrust into mythological-style quests and must learn how to be the kind of hero who also fights for good. J.R.R. Tolkien also uses mythology in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. He draws heavily from Scandinavian mythology, naming his dwarves after mythological characters and perhaps even basing his ring partly on the tale of the god Odin's magical ring.
Along with using myths, writers also turn to traditional stories for inspiration. These include fairy tales and fables. Fairy tales, which are common all over the world, tell of kings and princesses, tricksters, wizards and witches, fantastic creatures, and underdog heroes who rise to become great leaders. These stories help people see the world from new perspectives and understand human nature better. They are also quite entertaining. Most modern people are familiar with the fairy tales of Hans Christian Andersen and the Brothers Grimm.
Fables, on the other hand, are usually very short stories, often with animals as the main characters, that teach a moral lesson about right and wrong. Aesop's Fables were written in ancient Greece, probably in the 7th and 6th centuries BCE, but they are still very popular.
Modern writers often take old fairy tales and fables and turn them into something new. Disney's adaptations of Snow White, the Little Mermaid, Cinderella, and Sleeping Beauty are prime examples. The Twilight series by Stephanie Meyer uses fairy tale characters like vampires and werewolves but gives them a fresh spin as the human Bella falls in love with vampire Edward much to the dismay of werewolf Jacob. J.K. Rowling creates a whole new set of wizarding world fairy tales and fables in her book Tales of Beedle the Bard. One of these tales even helps Harry, Ron, and Hermoine understand and achieve their quest in The Deathly Hallows. Other books, including The Princess Bride, Ella Enchanted, and Beastly, also remix old fairy tales in new and creative ways.
Another very important source for the themes, ideas, story lines, and character types of modern fiction is the Bible, which is the main religious text of the Western world. The Bible records the interactions of God and his chosen people throughout history. The Old Testament, or first part of the Bible, tells the stories of creation and of the covenants, or bonds of family love, that God made with the Jewish people. The New Testament records the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ and the teachings of the early Christian Church.
The Bible is filled with familiar stories and themes that often show up in modern fiction. The tale of David and Goliath, for instance, tells how a small, seemingly weak and insignificant fellow defeated the greatest warrior of his day. In the Bible, the weaker and younger underdogs often come out on top. This theme appears in the Harry Potter books when Harry defeats Voldemort and in The Lord of the Rings when Hobbits Frodo and Sam are the ones to save the world by destroying the ring on Mount Doom.
Indeed, the battle between good and evil that the Bible reveals so clearly often shows up in fiction, too. The Harry Potter series, The Lord of the Rings, and The Chronicles of Narnia are all about the defeat of evil by good, apparently against all odds. Good always wins.
Finally, modern writers often pattern their characters after biblical figures. C.S. Lewis' lion Aslan, for instance, symbolically represents Jesus Christ when he sacrifices himself for Narnia. Gandalf in The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings is a type of angel. Dumbledore in the Harry Potter series can be viewed as a wise prophet and guide.
Writers of modern fiction often draw from three sources that are part of the shared heritage of Western culture and civilization: myths, traditional stories, and religious works, especially the Bible.
Myths are ancient stories that feature the fantastic adventures of pagan gods and human heroes. They help people better understand the world and their place in it, to learn about human nature, and to explore human relationships. Works of modern fiction that employ elements from myths include Rick Riordan's series Percy Jackson and the Olympians, J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter series, and J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.
Traditional stories include fairy tales and fables. Fairy tales are stories that tell of kings and princesses, tricksters, wizards and witches, fantastic creatures, and underdog heroes who rise to become great leaders. Fables are usually very short stories, often with animals as the main characters, that teach a moral lesson about right and wrong. Many modern stories, including the Harry Potter series, Disney tales, and the Twilight series, incorporate elements of fairy tales and fables.
Finally, the Bible plays a major role in modern fiction. The Bible is the main religious text of the Western world that records the interactions of God and his chosen people throughout history. Biblical figures and themes (like the underdog overcoming the giant and the battle between good and evil) show up in such modern works as the Harry Potter series, The Chronicles of Narnia, and The Lord of the Rings.
Indeed, modern fiction is packed with fascinating elements from ancient sources and that helps to make it great.
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Back To CourseCommon Core ELA Grade 8 - Literature: Standards
9 chapters | 60 lessons