The Power of the Original, the Creativity of Change

In The Source and Its Creative Feelings, I wrote about the emotions and energy that can power inspiration and ideas. In this article, I’m talking about the material and the quality of it that can fuel that kind of inspiration.

So I was watching the classic 1963 film Jason and the Argonauts last night, and it occurred to me just how much it was tangentially in there in the culture of my childhood. It wasn’t so much the movie itself as it was the aesthetics and the attitude of it. In fact, the only film that really comes to my mind with that same spirit is Cecil B. DeMille’s The Ten Commandments.

Whenever I thought of the ancient past or mythology as a child, I used the imagery of these movies and others like them to inform myself of how both should have looked like. Then I fast-forward this concept of mine by a few years. I used to think that the fantasy genre were all stories like The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings, followed by Dragonlance and Forgotten Realms, and I tried to write exactly like them: especially the latter two series.

I thought that some of my more weirder story ideas–including an alternate storyline with The Ten Commandments–were silly and a waste of time, or at the very least beyond my means and personal faculties to create at the time.

This was before I realized that there was original source material.

Every story ever made is an echo of another story that exists before it, or coexists alongside of it in another form. But every story as a source: a prototype or “Ur-Text” (Ur being a term for the mythical first of something, such as the first ever human city-state) or place that is tapped into.

I believe that every creator taps into that source. However, I also think that the strength of a creator’s link to that source all depends on where and how they tap into it. Originally, I was going to say that a creation inspired by an original source–or the closest known or accessible thing–depends on one thing, but after thinking about it a bit more I realize there are two elements involved.

The first element is, like I said, finding the earliest myths or art-forms that you can read, understand, or learn to understand and take inspiration from them. They are the closest things to the source, or what the famous mythologist Joseph Campbell called “the mono-myth”: the supposed first story that all sentient human stories come from. I feel that once you learn to understand the spirit of the earliest story or source that you can find with regards to your work–and specifically use it to gain your own personal creative slant on it–then you have gained something powerful and you are more than on your way to augmenting or discovering your own creative voice.

But then there is the second element that I thought of very recently: which is that once you gain an idea of the original source material that created the story or story-type you are working on, you must make it timeless in a way that everyone can relate to, and therefore make it relevant. Take what you have learned or understood and apply it to your time and the issues and themes that are important to you as a creator, a person, or even both.

Think about it: before DeMille’s Ten Commandments, or Jason and the Argonauts, all there was to determine how the ancient world was, and how their myths functioned were books, broken sculptures and fragments of art. The creators of both films had to go through all of that material and decide what they were going to use or change. I won’t even go into Ten Commandments, because there have been many other films and stories created from that Biblical tale at different points in time, and even the ancient Greek myth of the Argonauts has changed throughout time and culture as well.

But what I am saying is that the creators of both looked at the original sources as much as they could and made something, and added character and motivations that audiences could relate to. Even J.R.R. Tolkien looked at ancient Nordic tales and history in the creation of his Middle-Earth: which in turn informed how a lot of the fantasy genre derived from it would be for a time.

Like I said, I do think that knowing the original source of something gives you a special insight into that thing and in making something that is either a homage to it, or a unique derivation. This is what I have adopted for a lot of my writing and creation process. It gives you more to work with and more to change should you choose to do. And that is the key here: knowing the closest source gives you more choices … especially with what you want to reveal what is important to you about them and other people.

When I was growing up, I took films like Jason and the Argonauts with its stop-motion clay animation less seriously than I did the developing CGI graphics coming around then. But now, looking back I realize just how much of that influenced the creation of CGI and what film-making could be: as well as storytelling. Maybe it’s because as a culture now almost everything that is “retro” or considered old is popular and new again. Of course, as some other popular cultural articles suggest this could be all be just part of a cycle that happens with every decade or era.

My era of the 80s and onward, as well as the things that inspired them in earlier years, has become a lot of my source material and now I am starting to realize that I can express it. This is a good thing. The possibility that some of the quirky weirdness in some of my stories may have been inspired by Joss Whedon’s irreverent flippant dialogue in Buffy and other shows is an added bonus: from my perspective anyway.

Really, I just like creatively messing around and reading and watching old, good things and good new things for universal and innovative storytelling ideas. I probably could have summarized this whole post into that one sentence, but there you go. 😉

One thought on “The Power of the Original, the Creativity of Change

  1. Interesting point of view in interpreting creativity! What you’ve said about “Every story ever made is an echo of another story that exists before it, or coexists alongside of it in another form…” is so true! You are not alone in this line of thought, have you ever heard of the book “Steal like an artist” by Austin Kleon? and also Kirby Ferguson, who states that the basic elements of creativity are “copy, transform and combine”? His documentary is called “Everything is a Remix” and it’s pretty much along the lines of what you’ve written here! Feel free to check it out on my blog post:

    Great post!

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