Lord of Light, Ilium, and Mythology in SF

My appreciation of Dan Simmons’ novel Ilium was greatly enhanced by my prior reading, in translation, of the actual Iliad. A passing familiarity with some of Willy Shakespeare’s work was helpful, too. The sort of literary name-dropping and cultural cross-referencing encountered in Ilium is called “intertextuality” in word-nerd circles. Whatever; it served to weave the world inhabited by Ilium’s characters into the world inhabited by Ilium’s well-read readers, and that’s a nifty trick.

(And isn’t it interesting how references to familiar works of fiction or mythic tradition constitute references to the reader’s “real world”? Dude, what is reality, anyway? )

More recently, I read Roger Zelazny’s Lord of Light. A captivating book, and especially fun to figure out without any advance knowledge of the setting – so don’t read that Wikipedia synopsis if you plan to read the book. Suffice to say that the Lord of Light story is deeply rooted in the Hindu tradition. It’s a good read even if you don’t know much about Hinduism, but I suspect that, as with Ilium and the Iliad, the read would be richer if you did. I’m sure there are layers of foreshadowing and suspense transparent to me which add texture to the tale for those more familiar with the personalities and themes of Hindu mythology.

(A common concern of Ilium, Lord of Light, and many other parables, science fictional or not: the hubris of those who would be gods.)

So what are some other examples of how your familiarity with one set of stories informs your understanding and appreciation of another? Bonus question: how does real-world mythology contribute to fictional worldbuilding?

Posted on Monday, September 3rd, 2012. Tags: , .

2 Responses to “Lord of Light, Ilium, and Mythology in SF”

Posted by Linda D on Tuesday, September 4th, 2012 at 6:52 PM.

Great drawing! Did you do it or did Roger?!

Posted by Jim on Tuesday, September 4th, 2012 at 7:41 PM.

Thanks! I drew it.