1. Crimson Dragon
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    Crimson Dragon Member

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    How to avoid your fantasy setting being labled a "bastardization" when using non-western mythologies

    Discussion in 'Setting Development' started by Crimson Dragon, Sep 16, 2013.

    As the title asks. One of my most well-developed settings draws quite a bit from Japanese mythology. Onmyodo, races like Kitsune and Oni and all manner of things from the myths and tales of Japan are preset in the setting. The issue? It's not earth. It is not fantasy Japan. It is a fantasy world seperate from earth that draws inspiration from Japanese mythology rather then western lore. However, while it takes a lot from Japanese mythology, it is inspired most be anime, and this is where a lot of the issues start. It is a science fantasy, dystopic setting that draws not only from Japanese mythology, but anime.

    It draws so much from anime that, I fear, since it is a novel written by a westerner and not a manga or novel written by a Japanese author, that it will be seen as a bastardization of Japanese mythology and culture when it is not meant to actually be a realistic portrayal of those things. While the story uses Japanese mythological creatures and Japanese terms, it plays with them in big ways and takes them in directions that while rooted in Japanese mythology have a much grander, more fantastical twist. Also, while the Kami are present as spirit races like Kitsune, Kodama ect... the Japanese pantheon of high Kami/deities like Sussano', the sun deity, Tsukyomi, the moon deity etc.. are very much absent from the story, to the point such names are never even mentioned. Even further, due to not being fantasy Japan and having a heavy anime influence, the characters of the story do not look all that Japanese. They do not look like Europeans either, mind you, but they are all more or less designed to look like something out of an anime or manga and are not described as having any blatantly "Asian" physical traits.(Sans for the outfits on some of them)

    Thus, while a Japanese author, or even a western comic book artist who draws in a manga-type style could most likely get away with such a setting without accusations, I fear that my position as a western writer of 100% textual stories would lead people to see this setting as a western bastardization of Japanese mythology and culture when that's not my intent. It is a FANTASY story inspired more by the worlds and conventions of Japanese anime then actual real Japanese culture; I am not looking to create a story in an accurate version of mythological Japan. I am looking to create a story in a fantasy world of my own design that is inspired by both anime and Japanese mythology. However, I fear that due to the story not being an actual manga and my status as a westerner that the anime influence of it will be used as a pretext to label it a bastardization of Japanese culture and mythology when that is not my intent in the slightest.

    So I turn to all of you. While the Japanese mythology aspect of the setting is very prevelent, a lot of it can be changed to be more western in nature by changing names and altering the races. Japanese-style Dragons can become western style ones. Kitsune can become an "original" magical anthropomrophic fox race who just have one tail and never grow more. Onmyoji can become mages or wizards with an elemental magic system. "Oni" can become more typical western demons and "Kodama" can become nature spirits or even dryads. Changes like that would not really hurt the actual narrative of the story. The core plot can exist with the mythological elements being western in nature rather then Japanese. However, what is lost by "westernizing" this world is the uniqueness of the setting. The feel, the fresh take and also the heavy shout out to anime all would be lost if this world was westernized, and I love how I imagine this fantasy world in my mind because of that mythological and anime influence from Japan. Take that away and this world just feels a lot like the setting of the Shadowrun RPG system. However, my fear of the story being considered a "bastardization" is so great that I have seriously contemplated purging the Japanese-mythological elements from the world. However, I really don't want to do that as this setting loses it's magic to me without those elements, so I am not sure what to do.

    What do all of you here think I should do? Should I throw my fear of the setting being labeled a "bastardization" and write the world that I want? Or are my fears realistic and should I "westernize" this setting or just abandon it all together and work on other projects that don't carry this issue?
     
    Last edited: Sep 16, 2013
  2. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    Write what you want. Don't worry about those kinds of criticisms (anythings from bastardization to cultural appropriation). It's nonsense. You'll find someone to complain no matter what you do (and usually it's the same people, it seems). The only sane way to proceed is to write want you want and stay true to your vision.
     
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  3. Crimson Dragon
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    Crimson Dragon Member

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    Mistake. Please delete.
     
  4. Keitsumah
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    Keitsumah The Dream-Walker Contributor

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    my story uses a lot of creatures from Japanese myth, though they are usually not recognizable and most i consider just to be made up.
    Example: a four-tailed fox spirit, a water-snake with feathery fins, and many other spirit creatures that have odd markings or more than one particular limb, such as wings. Overall, it doesn't matter what creatures you come up with. They are all over the place anyways, and no one can in particular claim any real ownership over them i imagine. (well, except my Imirri, but then i could care less. Instead i would like to see how they are portrayed no matter how good or bad)

    Point is: just write the story. if it's good, it can be published. let those issues come around later for editing.
     
  5. Uberwatch
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    Uberwatch Active Member

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    Don't let political correctness hinder your writing. A lot of my writing involves religion and I try to make sure I'm not being offensive.
     
  6. Porcupine
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    Porcupine Contributing Member

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    I shouldn't worry about it too much. Why shouldn't you be able to do what you're doing?

    Of course, I personally am of the opinion that all fantasy writing is a bastardization of mythology and culture. ;) I know I'm not in line with the mainstream there, but honestly, if you start studying the sources of inspiration for many of the more famous fantasy worlds, they are far more intricate than what the fantasy authors make of them. Even better, they actually had a real impact in real history (well, I guess today you can easily claim the same for Tolkien's stuff - Middle-Earth-inspired-elvendom probably has more followers than ancient Norse mythology ever had...). Perhaps the easiest way to sum up my position is this: I find real historical mythologies and cultures much more fascinating than ones that were invented in relatively modern times based on historical examples (historical vs. artificial), but I regard that as purely a matter of taste and don't mind anyone inventing yet another mythology if that pleases them. :)
     
  7. Wreknar Temper
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    Wreknar Temper New Member

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    There's no measure you can take to prevent your work being seen as a bastardization of anything. You're drawing inspiration from cultural mythos, which will guarantee parallels being drawn from your readers. That being said, there's no reason to worry, personal tastes in reading vary wildly between readers. What could be seen as a bastardization from one will be seen as a refreshing switch up by another, it's all about perspective.

    What people will pick up on more is the passion in your writing. Your lore, your setting, your characters, the care and love for your world will be reflected in your words, which will in turn draw their interest as well. If the reader becomes as invested in what they're reading as you are, it is very unlikely complaints will follow.
     
  8. KaTrian
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    KaTrian A foolish little beast. Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Why wouldn't it be seen as an homage instead? A tip of a hat into that direction? Especially if you manage to pull it off in a way that it doesn't come off blatantly eurocentric, offensive, or patronizing.
    I would imagine the Japanese would be thrilled to read something inspired by their culture (or pop culture). I know I loved Avatar: The Last Airbender cartoon and never considered it a bastardization; rather it made the most out of the best of both, Western and Eastern animation and story-telling traditions. I actually haven't come across many animes I liked, and I've given quite a few series a chance, so perhaps what you're doing also makes their culture more accessible to a Westerner (without 'Westernizing' it, if that makes sense. I mean, if you aren't Japanese, it's likely you sift the story through your own yankee or euro lens to some degree anyway) like myself whose definition of an awesome comic (or cartoon) includes Astérix, Corto Maltese, V for Vendetta, Carl Barks's and Don Rosa's Donald Ducks and a bunch of random, newer French comics.

    I guess I kinda see why you're worried, though. More than once I've come across opinions of manga and anime bastardizing the West and Caucasians and "our" mythology, so suppose it could work vice versa too. But if I were you, I wouldn't give a crap, just do my thing.
     
  9. Pink-Angel-1992
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    Pink-Angel-1992 Active Member

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    I read somewhere that you should write what you want too, because that way at least one person will like it (yourself) and if one person likes it, others will too. I don't think that's exactly what I read, but it's the basic thing; I think it was from Worlds of Wonder by David Gerrold. It's a book on how to write Science Fiction and Fantasy, but some bits can be good advice for any genre. If you're not writing what you really want too, you're not going to like it and others aren't going to either.

    If the story idea is what you really want to write, don't change elements so that it's more Western just because you're worried about it being a 'bastardization' of Japanese mythology. Don't scrap it either; it may just stay in you're mind itching to be writen anyways. This is your story, so write it the way you want too. Like someone as already said, you'll always find people who'll complain no matter what! Don't concern yourself about them - you cannot please everyone.

    Here's a thought I just had; who are you worried about labelling it a 'bastardization'? I don't recall you saying in your post and I didn't see you sayong when I skimmed throw a second time. Is it the Japanese people themselves? They may find it flattering that your fantasy was inspired by their mythology.
     
  10. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I don't understand your worry. It's the same as one of us saying, "Well, someone out there will dislike my book, so I should simply never write anything." It's like, where's the logic in that?? And just look at historical novels, esp historical romances - since when do they adhere to true history and historical practices? It's why my historian friend was so excited about Wolf Hall, because for once it was actually historically accurate, and it got many bad reviews on Amazon because the readers of such fiction usually expected bodice rippers and got none and thus were left unsatisfied :D

    What I'm saying is, there will always be haters, there will always be people who'll say your book is a bastardisation of this that or the other. Always. You wanna let them stop you? What about the hundreds and thousands and, who knows, millions of people out there who would absolutely LOVE it? Think about them.

    Do yourself and your readers a favour. Write it. For me, it sounds well interesting and I for one would read it if the story interested me, as I love Japanese culture and anime. It also sounds like you actually know your Japanese mythology too, which makes it even better.

    You sound like you have a heck of an interesting and very unique setting. Please for the love of all good writing, don't change it so that you can blend with the crowd and make it look as generic as the next fantasy book. You have something good here - keep it!!! I'd kill to have the knowledge to come up with your setting!
     
  11. Kaidonni
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    Kaidonni Member

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    My advice? Just do your research, which it sounds like you've been doing. Since you're using someone else's culture in your story, you are playing in their backyard - it's a very good idea to dispel any preconceptions you have about their mythologies and their beliefs, to shoot down the stereotypes that we've all been exposed to in the Western world. I've found great inspiration in Japanese and Chinese mythology myself, and wouldn't be without the knowledge I've gained. The more you know, the more you can make your setting your own. It's all about understanding your sources, not regurgitating them.
     
  12. LetaDarnell
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    LetaDarnell Member

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    These guys have the right idea.

    You're allowed to play with things as much as you want, but if there's a sense of 'I respect this religion/mythos/culture', that makes it far more enjoyable or the audience. It makes humor look more friendly, symbolism more apropos, and references less random.

    This also prevents people from thinking you have this attitude: 'I named my character Jesus because lots of people like Jesus. He's like I also added corn chips, because lots of people like corn chips'

    I'm a big fan of Marvel Comics, Good Omens, and Fulmetal Alchemist:Brotherhood. The religion in them is really obvious, but there is also deviation that is obvious, but not forced upon the audience. None say 'this is the right religion', nor do they say 'I'm mocking this religion, and never gave a darn about learning about it because it sucks'.
     
  13. AlannaHart
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    AlannaHart Contributing Member

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    Am I the only one who thinks it's a terrible idea? I mean, yeah, write what you want, but I'd be extremely put off as a reader. If it's not set on Earth and has no connection, it shouldn't feature any earthly myths, in my opinion. What's wrong with drawing inspiration from a culture's myths without stealing from it? You could just as easily design your own myths with clear allusions, which would make a hell of a lot more sense.
    If I read a book about a fantasy world with no connection to Earth and suddenly Odin and Thor turned up, I'd put it straight down. If I read a similar book where an Allfather turned up with his buff, heroic son, I might think 'hmm, Norse inspired, interesting.'
    Tolkien drew inspiration from different religions and yet his world is considered rich and unique.
    Just me?
     
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  14. LetaDarnell
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    Alanna, isn't that called the trope 'Crystal Dragon Jesus'? It's pretty notorious.

    Also, Thor and Odin live in Asgard, which was a completely different world. In fact, there were nine different worlds in Norse/Teutonic myth. A separate world where they showed up would be accurate.
     
  15. AlannaHart
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    AlannaHart Contributing Member

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    I know, Leta, but it was connected to earth, being a NORSE myth.
     
  16. LetaDarnell
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    LetaDarnell Member

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    Alanna: I'm not getting what you're talking about. Can you please expand?

    Tolkien's was highly derivative of Norse and Catholicism. He in fact yelled at berated fans who didn't get the Catholic connected, and eventually wrote the Silmarillion creation myth just to set things right.

    FMA has won awards both as a manga and anime (FMA:Brotherhood version) where the Kabalah was used in a world that wasn't earth.
     
  17. AlannaHart
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    AlannaHart Contributing Member

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    Norse people created their myths. Japanese people created theirs. An entirely different planet with no connection to earth wouldn't come up with the same myths as Japanese people did.
     
  18. LetaDarnell
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    LetaDarnell Member

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    There's a bit of difference between myths and mythical creatures. Dwarves are of Scandinavian (possibly Teutonic) origin, but they're all over D&D and Fantasy books, games, movies, etc. Same with Elves (though they often take on traits of Fey from more western parts of Europe).

    Why then is expansion beyond those so bad? From skinwalkers to impundulu to wights to pontianak, they should also be fair game.

    I can honestly understand deities in a world unconnected to our own, but creatures shouldn't be off limits.
     
  19. Devlin Blake
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    As long as you're not saying it's an accurate portrayal of Japanese myths, there's no problem. We're all borrowing from someone. Even modern super heros borrowed from stories like The Scarlett Pimpernel and the legend of the Golem.
     
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