Guest Author Nancy Holzner

I have a special treat for you today! Nancy Holzner, author of the Deadtown urban fantasy series, has very kindly agreed to a guest post and is talking about how old myths are used in new stories. Nancy has just released the fourth book in the series, Darklands (huge congratulations, Nancy! :))…you can find out more about the series and read excerpts here.

Old Myths, New Stories

One of the things I love about Linda’s Grigori Legacy series is the way she builds upon and reworks the complex and fascinating mythology of angels. In fact, many of my favorite contemporary fantasy novels use mythology as a starting point. And my own Deadtown series borrows characters, stories, and themes from Welsh mythology. Why do ancient stories continue to resonate with modern readers?

I think myths have three main functions: to explain natural phenomena, to probe moral questions, and to reveal the hidden workings of the world. All of these come into play in mythology’s lasting appeal.

I love the way mythology takes natural phenomena and turns them into stories. Long ago, when an ancient Greek child wondered where spiders came from, the answer began, “Once there was a woman named Arachne, who was a wondrously skilled weaver . . .” And a myth was born. A Navajo child who asked the same question heard a story about how Spider Grandmother is older than the world and how the stars in the sky are dewdrops in a web she spun. Think of all the other questions about the world that mythology answers through characters and stories: Where did the Earth come from? What causes thunder and lightning? What’s a rainbow made of? How did people discover fire? What is an echo? In an age long before scientific instruments and the scientific method, people made sense of the natural world through stories.

Many of these stories also had a moral element. As much as the story of Arachne explains where spiders came from, it also warns about excessive pride. Arachne never would have gotten into trouble if she hadn’t had the hubris to challenge Athena to a weaving contest. The myth of Narcissus, hopelessly in love with his own reflection, not only gives us the origin of a certain kind of flower, it also warns about falling in love with ourselves to the exclusion of those around us.

Some of the most interesting myths examine moral questions explicitly. In answer to the question, “Why are there bad things in the world?” we get stories of Pandora’s box and the serpent lurking in Eden. Icarus cautions us about excessive ambition; stories of gods or angels in disguise teach us to be kind to strangers, while fairy tales (such as Hansel and Gretel or Little Red Riding Hood) warn us not to be too trusting. Instead of lecturing us about how we should behave, myths show us, with suspense and vivid details.

Myths also show us the hidden workings behind the world we see around us. Who hasn’t looked into the sky and wondered whether there’s more to the world than humans know or can understand? Myths draw back the curtain, revealing secret worlds behind this one. What if the souls of some people really do linger as ghostly presences after their bodies have died? What if there are spirits (friendly, hostile, indifferent), fairies, undead creatures, human-animal hybrids walking unnoticed among us? Does that chill that shoots up your spine when you walk past a graveyard mean something, or is it just a silly fear? Are signs and omens real attempts to guide us, or does their meaning come from overactive imaginations at work? What is around us that our busy, modern lives don’t let us see?

Myths tap into deep concerns about the world and our place in it, addressing anxieties and answering questions through stories. Much of the appeal of contemporary fantasy comes from taking those same questions seriously. Fantasy based on myth starts by asking, “What if this story were true? What if it really happened?” The answer becomes a fun ride that deals with concerns both modern and ancient, specific and universal.

What are some of your favorite myths? Is there a mythology you’d like to see more of in urban fantasy? I’d love to hear your thoughts!


About Nancy:

Nancy Holzner grew up in western Massachusetts with her nose stuck in a book. This meant that she tended to walk into things, wore glasses before she was out of elementary school, and forced her parents to institute a “no reading at the dinner table” rule. It was probably inevitable that she majored in English in college and then, because there were still a lot of books she wanted to read, continued her studies long enough to earn a masters degree and a PhD.

She began her career as a medievalist, then jumped off the tenure track to try some other things. Besides teaching English and philosophy, she’s worked as a technical writer, freelance editor and instructional designer, college admissions counselor, and corporate trainer. Most of her nonfiction books are published under the name Nancy Conner.

Nancy lives in upstate New York with her husband Steve, where they both work from home without getting on each other’s nerves. She enjoys visiting local wineries and listening obsessively to opera. There are still a lot of books she wants to read.




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15 responses to “Guest Author Nancy Holzner”

  1. Linda Avatar

    Thanks so much for stopping by today, Nancy, and congrats again on the new release! I love your take on the three functions of myths and how they tie into that timeless storyteller’s question: what if? All those lovely possibilities… 🙂

    1. Nancy Holzner Avatar

      Hi Linda,

      Thanks! And thanks so much for inviting me. I’ve always been interested in mythology, so it’s fun to look at how stories that are as old as humans’ attempts to understand the world are reworked in different times.

      1. SharonS Avatar

        and we are still trying to answer some of the same questions even now…

        1. Nancy Holzner Avatar

          It’s true. And I think that stories let us explore them in ways that pure logic or science can’t. (I’m thinking moral questions especially.)

  2. sienny Avatar

    congrats for darklands nancy!

    i love myths. all kind of myths.

    1. Nancy Holzner Avatar

      Thanks, sienny! I love all kinds of myths, too. I think they’re one of the first and deepest storytelling impulses. I love that people responded to questions of “Why?” with stories.

  3. SharonS Avatar

    I love stories that bring old myths and legends into our world. Guess that is why I love UF so much. Everyone grows up learning about myths and we smirk at the ignorance of past civilizations, so when an author brings them into the modern world it adds a horror aspect to the story…kind of a “I told you so” from the ancient civilizations if that makes sense .

    I don’t have a favorite source of myths, the more the merrier!

    1. Linda Avatar

      Ooh…I like the “told you so” idea, Sharon. That totally makes sense and you’re right, it gives a creepy/horror to things. O.O

    2. Nancy Holzner Avatar

      I like that, too! Especially because, as you say, people in our culture have dismissed many mythologies as ignorant. To have those come to life wipes that smug smile right off modern society’s face.

  4. Elaine Avatar

    After reading this post, I dawned on me that I have read quite a few novels that are bringing mythology into the present. And I guess that means I like it! The branch of mythology I haven’t really seen yet is Native American beliefs. But I have enjoyed angel mythology (in two different series), Greek mythology and Icelandic mythology recently.

    1. Linda Avatar

      I know what you mean, Elaine…I hadn’t made the connection either. And yes, I would like to see more Native mythology used, too. Hmm… 🙂

    2. Nancy Holzner Avatar

      Ooh, Elaine, if you see this, could you please share what you read recently that’s based on Icelandic mythology?

      One excellent series that does deal with Native American mythology is Faith Hunter’s Jane Yellowrock series.

  5. Pamela K. Kinney Avatar

    So many cool myths and legends. Regional ones are the coolest. You learn more about your state, when you learn what myrths and legends and folklore are told.

    1. Linda Avatar

      I hadn’t considered the regional aspect, Pamela — good point! 🙂

  6. Nancy Holzner Avatar

    Hi Pamela,

    That’s a great point. Local and regional legends made real in a novel can add a strong sense of place. And those stories often relate back to older mythologies, as well.

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