I was channel-surfing the other day because next week I’m going to pull the plug on my cable TV, and I was kinda saying goodbye to the channels I won’t be able to watch anymore. And I came across the movie Xanadu.
Xanadu was a 1980 musical starring Olivia Newton-John (at the height of her popularity), Gene Kelly and Michael Beck. It’s one of those movies that tried to cash in on the disco/dance craze of the 70s. It was also the remake of a 1947 movie titled Down to Earth, which starred Rita Hayworth.
Xanadu is pretty awful, I hate to say, and barely broke even at the box office.
But, the reason I bring it up is that in the movie Olivia Newton-John is actually a Muse. Yes, one of the original nine Muses of Greek mythology. She is Terpsichore, the Muse of Dance, who has been sent to earth to help a struggling artist named Sonny, played by Michael Beck, realize his dreams.
That got me thinking about the nine Muses in relation to writing genre fiction, which is what I write. The concept of the nine Muses came into being long before people were even writing such things as novels, much less genre novels. As I looked over the listing of the Nine Muses and what domain of the creative arts they ruled over, I wasn’t sure which would apply to genre fiction in particular.
Calliope’s domain is epic poetry; Clio’s, history; Erato’s, lyric poetry; Euterpe’s, music; Melpomene’s, tragedy; Polyhymnia’s, choral poetry; Terpsichore’s, dance; Thalia’s, comedy, and finally, Urania’s domain is astronomy.
The Muses were often called upon at the beginning of an epic poem. And they were the subject of many paintings and sculptures over the centuries. One of my favorite artistic portrayals of a Muse is Gustav Moreau’s Hesiod and the Muse, which is pictured at the right.
As for a Muse for genre fiction, the closet I can come to is Calliope, whose domain is epic poetry, and would include such works as The Illiad, The Odyssey, The Aeneid and others. Those epic works come pretty close, I think, to what we would think of as genre fiction. Larger than life characters, life-changing events, exotic settings, some sex and plenty of violence. Not to say all genre fiction has sex or violence, but it’s pretty much a staple of what we tend to think of as genre fiction.
Calliope was Homer’s Muse and the mother of Orpheus. She was the eldest of the nine Muses and her emblem was a writing tablet. Which is very appropriate for a Muse of genre fiction writers.
Another reason I got to thinking about Muses is that, having submitted two manuscripts last week, I’m now ready to begin new projects, and I was thinking about creating and enacting some kind of ritual to begin a project with. Calling upon a Muse to ignite me with creative fire, perhaps doing a tarot reading before starting, etc.
I haven’t yet decided upon a ritual but I thought it would be cool to come up with one.
But, anyway, I have designated Calliope my own personal Muse.
So I’ll end this post on Muses with a quote from the Prologue of Shakespeare’s play Henry V:
Chorus: O for a Muse of fire, that would ascend
The brightest heaven of invention,
A kingdom for a stage, princes to act
And monarchs to behold the swelling scene!