Mythology in THE DAY WE ATE GRANDAD
This is a book about demigods who are bloody useless, and growing up steeped in Greco-Roman mythology shows. I’ve leaned more into Roman mythology for this series in general, and you can see the Etruscan influences on Ricky’s entrail reading practices, and the Romano-British references.
Myrddin himself is associated with Romano-British figures like Arthur (in some versions), and in some stories you’ll find Arthur intertwined with the Mithraic cult and all sorts, while some Myrddin/Merlin stories give him relatives in Constantinople. Myrddin’s origins as the son of the devil, referenced by Ricky in Chapter 1, come from the Medieval tradition including the Middle English Romances, and Ricky repeatedly refers to him as ‘the mad prophet’, quoting Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Vita Merlinii.
Primarily though, the Triad themselves occupy different levels of mythological space in the narrative. I workshopped this a lot with Robert Mitchelmore, who came up with the book’s title, and Myrddin in his current form is a lot of his version of Myrddin, who does not appear in the Arthurian vignettes (written as Artaxerxes), but belongs to that world.
While I really don’t care about academic debates around the trifunctional hypothesis of Georges Dumezil, it IS a really cool basis for layering character arcs and playing with dynamics and interactions. Dumezil argued that Proto-Indo-European society had three main groups:
- Sovereignty (both judicial and rooted in the world, and the supernatural, priestly form of power)
- Productivity (agrarian, craft-based)
Productivity is ruled by the other two, and rebellion is often severely punished – see Greeks vs Amazons, Rome-Sabine wars, etc. You’d maybe expect this to be depicted by a goddess of fertility, but this is also a broader ‘social’ function, and Wes is 100% this. Katy fulfils the war function, and Ricky is the unlikely priest-king, straddling the worldly and supernatural elements of this function.
This aligns with the Archaic Triad, of which little is known and whose existence is deduced and hypothetical, I believe, rather than definitive: Jupiter, Mars and Quirinus. I don’t care if this is a real thing or not, it just works.
In this hypothesis, Quirinus is the god of the people, and I like the conflation of social/agrarian fertility in the figure of Wes, who is bordering on hypersexual (?) but currently is dealing with erectile dysfunction due to his lifestyle and stress levels, extroverted, polyamorous, and constantly pushes for social connection. ‘Janus Quirinus’ also appears and, again, I don’t care why that was in reality, but I love playing with that image of a two-faced god and conflating that with modern conceptions of the term ‘two-faced’, adding in some trickster elements, and developing Wes around these axes.
Mars is most famous today as being the god of war, and I love that this is represented by a 17yo girl. Mars was also the protector of Rome, and was a guardian and avenger as well as a military god, but also guarded crops and borders in some of his incarnations. That should be a big hint about Katy’s arc, and the dynamics between the Triad and their relationship with the family, and their relative importance, as the dust settles.
Jupiter/Jove is the ironic one, as he’s represented by … Ricky. Jupiter is a lawyer, and Roman religion was more interested in the correct way to do rituals than imposing a moral order, and Ricky is completely amoral (until he starts to develop his principles following his increased socialisation). Wes calls him ‘Princess’ and ‘Her Majesty/His Majesty’ a lot, as well as ‘King/Queen Richard IV’, and I enjoy making those references. I think there are some elements of Shakespeare’s Richard II and III going on, but Wes is just as likely to embody those as Ricky is.
Ultimately, I like the idea of these layers and constructs because I can play so much with the dynamics of the characters and the way they interact as they unknowingly take on these roles. It also gives me something to play around with and subvert, and then layer on the elements of character-building and flesh out the real people around those ideas.
There is also quite a lot of fun to be had in the chaos of demigods (see also: a lot of mythologies), and what happens when they come into their powers and attempt to be part of society. The results… vary. There are Celtic hero cycles that follow similar lines, and I’ve borrowed from Greek, Roman and British vibes for the most part.
See also, the Armenian national epic, The Daredevils of Sassoun, and pre-Islamic Turkic myths (hard to find open access stuff in English but some starters here and here, and the Turkish epic, The Book of Dede Korkut, is translated into English, along with volumes of Turkish folklore).