A Muse of Fire

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!

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7 Responses to A Muse of Fire

  1. Digital Dame says:

    Oy, Xanadu. I saw it once, way back when, and I actually still remember bits and pieces of it. Oh the horror! šŸ˜‰

    All this talk of muses set me off on a search for muse-like beings in other mythologies. I did see Calliope called the Muse of Eloquence on one site. It’s interesting how we tend to lump all forms of writing together, but the Greeks were very specific: Tragedy, Comedy, Lyric poetry, epic poetry, etc.

  2. jennareynolds says:

    I have to say I do like the song “Magic” from the movie, which is sung by Olivia. But the movie itself *shudder*

    I had never thought about researching muses or muse-like beings from other mythologies. Something I’ll have to look into because now I’m curious. šŸ™‚

    Speaking of, I had a coupon for a free book from a book club and got this incredible book called The Encyclopedia of Spirits: The Ultimate Guide to the Magic of Fairies, Genies, Demons, Ghosts, Gods & Goddesses.

    It’s a fantastic books but there are some errors in it which I hope will be corrected in the second edition. But all in all it’s a great resource.

  3. Digital Dame says:

    That encyclopedia sounds great! I have a paperback that’s along the same lines, “A Field Guide to the Little People” by Nancy Arrowsmith and George Moorse. I picked it up used at Powell’s. It’s fascinating, filled with elves, sprites, and more that I’ve never heard of from all over the world. Unfortunately the few illustrations are all pen-and-ink, B&W drawings. It would have been nice to have them in color.

  4. Oh, I love “Down to Earth” with Hayworth. I’ve heard about the horrors of “Xanadu” and never cared to find out for myself.

    Calliope does sound very fitting for genre. Good call.

    I haven’t done an in-depth ritual for my Muses, but I have been including them in my general spiritual practice and definitely feel their influence. šŸ™‚

  5. Amy says:

    I’ve never seen Xanadu, but I want to because it’s one of those cheesey 80’s things.

    One day.

    My muse has been working overtime, but I have to finish editing and then finish off my series before I can let her run amok again.

  6. jennareynolds says:

    Well, if you’re looking for a cheesy late 70s-early 80s movie, Xanadu has cheesy music, clothes and dancing in spades! šŸ™‚ Except for the song “Magic.” I like “Magic. šŸ™‚

    Another one to check out, if you haven’t, is the Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band movie circa 1978. That one starred the Bee Gees and Peter Frampton.

    I would recommend watching that and Xanadu together but only if I were trying to torture someone. šŸ˜‰

    I’m in revising mode now for two projects. Need a Muse for revisions, I’m thinking.

  7. jennareynolds says:

    I’ll have to put that “Down to Earth” movie on recall from the library. It sounds like a lot of fun.

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