More Worldbuilding Musing

The How to Train Your Dragon movies and its TV series do what I’m talking about when I say “mugging myths”. In their case, the myth they mug are what we think we know about Vikings, as well as some historically accurate things about them.

The modern view of the Vikings are hairy barbarians wearing horned helmets plundering anything that’s not nailed down. Women wore metal breastplates and joined in the fun with the guys. I’m not sure where this view came from, but it’s been perpetuated a lot in Hollywood and the opera. It’s become a myth about the Vikings.

When creating, it helps to remember what the audience thinks it knows rather than what’s real. The creators of How to Train Your Dragon does this in spades, and uses some of it to hang the world on. After all, they’re not really doing history anyway since there’s dragons in this world. Why not have fun with it?

In the first movie, we’re introduced to Berk, a Viking settlement on a remote, rocky island. It seems to be off on its own, separated from any other Viking contact and dealing with the regular dragon attacks on its livestock and all-too-flammable wooden buildings. That it’s separated from a larger Viking community is odd, historically, but is nicely explained in the second movie when Stoick (Berk’s chief) reveals that there was an incident years ago where the chiefs had gathered to discuss the dragon problem, were attacked by dragons and he was the only survivor. This is a brilliant explanation that deepens the world.

Historically, the Vikings of Iceland would gather for a Thing, which was a gathering of the king, chieftains, warriors and priests to discuss disagreements, feuds, trade negotiations and whatever things (this meeting is where the word “thing” came from, FWIW), needed to be decided. It was traditionally held away on neutral ground, so no one held the home court advantage. So when Stoick talks about this meeting being attacked and everyone killed but himself, it rings true. For those clans who lost their chiefs to hear the story that dragons attacked, but only one man survived…well, that sounds really suspicious, doesn’t it? It’s not a surprise that Berk was ostracized from the rest of Viking society.

Now, it doesn’t matter if the viewer knows about the Thing. It’s tidbit of fact that wove into the fabric of their story, bringing an authority to it.

I think I just hit on something there: The real facts, the familiar woven into our fiction is what makes it real to the reader.

Perhaps the essence of mugging myths, or history, or…anything is to figure out the facts, the familiar things in it that ring true into your story and make certain you incorporate it.

I might have to think about this.

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