In my story, I've decided to create some legends, myths, and prophecies for one of the species I used. I don't think there is any problem with this even if I haven't created this species.

But one of these legends is a rewrite of the legend of Fenrir, from Nordic mythology. The link between my custom version and the original version is obvious in the story told by both versions, and it need to be obvious. It's even explained by the tellers.

Could this point be problematic for readers?

6 Answers 6


Do you think actual myths in the real world each sprang out of nothing? Everyone copied everyone else.

Go read The Hero With a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campell, or at least The Power of Myth since Campbell is pretty dense. You will very quickly see that most myths nicked from previous mythologies, added new names, tweaked the setting, and maybe mixed in other myths from another country altogether. (Gilgamesh had a flood before Noah did. Osiris rose from the dead before Jesus did. The entire Greek pantheon was renamed into the Roman pantheon. et al.)

Put Fenrir in your own clothing. There's plenty of historical precedent.

  • 1
    This is the best answer. Beginning writers don't understand how everything has been written already. There is no such thing as an "original" plot. Not only that, retelling myths is very popular, and has been done by many successful writers Sep 27, 2013 at 9:00
  • @ShantnuTiwari I know almost everything has been written, and I firstly thougt there is no problem about it. But I started to have doubts when one of my readers tell me he was disturbed about it.
    – Shkeil
    Oct 1, 2013 at 7:39
  • 1
    @Shkeil That means he was the wrong reader. You have to target your book who enjoy those type of books. There will always be people who hate your book. You can't keep rewriting it for every critic Oct 1, 2013 at 15:01

Several thoughts:

In general, adapting a myth or a classic story is something that is done all the time. Many, many stories are described as "an updated version of Romeo and Juliet" or "the myth of Odysseus set on a starship" etc etc.

I'm a little curious when you say that the link between your version and the original is "obvious". Do you mean "obvious to anyone who knows the original myth and who will thus immediately see the parallels"? Or do you mean that it's spelled out in your story that this is an allusion to Fenrir? (I think that's what you mean by "it's even explained by tellers".) Like, personally, despite being of Norwegian ancestry, my knowledge of Nordic mythology is pretty slim. The name Fenrir means nothing to me.

But anyway, to my mind, here are the potential pitfalls:

If your story retells someone else's story and doesn't add anything particularly interesting, readers may view it as pointless. Why not just read the original myth?

But if your story changes the original too much, readers may find it annoying. Personally, I really hate it when someone retells a story but turns the hero of the original into a villain or a buffoon. Many recent Hollywood remakes fall into this category. The Mission Impossible movies come to mind: in the original, Mr. Phelps and company were dedicated patriots and freedom fighters, risking their lives to help oppressed people. And they were totally matter-of-fact and humble about it, never boasting of their service to humanity or anything, just doing their jobs. Then the movie made them a bunch of egotistical jerks who sold out their country and their friends because somebody hurt their feelings. Okay, I know they're just fictional characters so there's no point defending their honor or anything, but I just found it annoying. If you don't like somebody else's hero, then don't use him. But don't turn him into a villain.

On the plus side, many readers will enjoy the interplay of a classic story with a modern twist of some kind.


Writers have been telling variant versions of myths as long as they've been around. I'd have no problem with reading a book in which someone made use of the Fenrir story. I might find it problematic if the story was included as part of the belief system on an alien planet with no explanation (as that would strain credulity), but that doesn't appear to be what you're doing.


Why should it be a problem to your readers?

You have created a new species (or even if you do not have one). There is an existing legend. All that you are doing is tweaking it a little (or more) and giving it a shape which is tad bit different from what (perhaps) your readers may have read or heard before. That should not be a problem with the reader. Additionally, you mention that it needs to be obvious that your version is derived from the Nordic mythology. That makes it easier. Your readers should get the reference and ideally they should not mind it too much, unless of course your version is so drastically different than the original that its impossible to see both of them at the same time.

One possibility is that your readers may think that you got the original tale wrong but that I think is a risk you can take for the rest of your story should clear that doubt from the readers' mind. Also, if it is a new species, I am sure your readers will give you some room and not create a problem about it.

The short answer: go ahead and write it up. Should not be a problem!

  • I ask this question because it was a problem for one of my readers, even after I explained to him my reasons. Thanks for your answer
    – Shkeil
    Oct 1, 2013 at 7:45

Here's a bit of professional advice for you. If you are creating something for commercial purposes such as for a game, a film or something already established in the public consciousness; you must try and sty as true as your can to the original character. This is the bedrock of lore in franchise. In this case it's a classical mythological character and isn't owned by a media entity. Specifics where the area is grey are in games such as WoW or Skyrim where classic mythology is 'borrowed' for use in that specific product. You need to make clear distinctions in either name or biography.

Congratulations though - you're on the first rung of transmedia!


One solid advice how to make it fly and make sure readers who don't know the myth aren't confused, and readers who know the myth aren't annoyed: Hang one good, sturdy lampshade on it.

Have it explained, be it through a narrator/sidenote, or by a character within the story: The original myth retold clearly and in sufficient detail (possibly separated into many parts along the chapters if a single information dump would be too much), some fundamental parallels with your story and some of the essential differences. Leave more parallels as a taste for the readers to find, and have the most startling differences to surface in a glaringly obvious way, giving them a firm contrast against the original.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.