Thursday, June 27, 2013

Asian Mythology

I originally had written this post for the lovely Lili over at Lili's Reflections for her blogoversary. But I thought it would be good to crosspost this here also. One of my strongest memories of being young is reading all about Greek, Roman and Norse mythology, along with practically every fairytale book every printed. I have a special fondness for the Andrew Lang's Fairy Books of Many Colors. I remember rereading the blue, red, yellow and pink books over and over again. I never got tired of them. It wasn’t until I was older that I realized that these books I loved were not very diverse. In fact, it began to dawn on me just how underrepresented my culture was in children’s literature. This became an issue for me when I had my three girls. Trying to find multi-cultural books became my mission. It was easier in picture books, but as my girls got older, I began to notice that something was missing. Right around when my first daughter was born, I’d begun what has now become a lifelong love affair with Asian history. I read everything I could about Asia, specifically Korea, and I was fascinated by everything I’d learned. Asian myths and legends are just as fascinating as European ones, but not as well known. For example, there’s the Korean myth of the Kumiho – a nine-tailed fox demon who takes the form of a beautiful woman and lures men into marriage in the hopes that they can become human. But just as the kumiho sees her goal within her grasp, the man becomes aware of her demon nature and she is forced to kill him and eat his heart and liver. Or what about the Japanese kami? A kami is a water sprite monster that has a crater on the top of its head that is filled with water. Kami’s are famous for lurking in pools of water and trying to drown people. But they are known for being so polite that if you bow to them, they will immediately bow back, which spills out the water from their crater heads and renders them immobile. There are still signs in front of some ponds in Japan that say “Beware of the Kami!” Many myths and legends of Asia are completely unknown in the west. Even my children had no idea of what Asian mythology was like. And this is why I wrote Prophecy. I wrote it for my daughters who loved to sit by my side and hear about all those long ago stories. I wrote it so they could be exposed to a side of their heritage they don’t get to read a lot about. And I wanted them to be able to point to a strong Asian girl hero instead of the smart, quiet, nerdy, Asian side-kick. I wanted to destroy the Asian woman stereotype once and for all and give my daughters their own Katniss or Katsa to root for. Now I say this now, but I actually wrote Prophecy way before Graceling and Hunger Games ever came out. And it is interesting to me that the year my first agent went on editorial submission for Prophecy was the year that Graceling and Hunger Games were both published. I’ve always thought of it as a wonderful coincidence of women authors who were ready to write about strong female heroes. We even all gave them names starting with K for kickass! I admit that I worried about how people would react to the Asian mythology in my book. When I first tried to get published, I came across so many people who told me that “no one wants to read about ancient Korea” and “these names are too strange and too hard to pronounce, nobody wants to deal with it” and “it’s just too foreign.” I have to admit that it hurt a lot. Because it felt like they were telling me no one cared about my culture. But here’s the thing, like all things in life, these naysayers are not everyone. For every one person who might hate reading a book about another culture, there’s at least one who wants to read it. And that’s who I focused on, my true audience—kids. Because diversity is such an important issue for me, it was a natural decision to write a book for kids and give them exposure to another culture. And the reaction has been all that I could have hoped for and more. I’ve been overwhelmed at the amazing response I’ve gotten from kids. It made me realize that kids are eager for exposure to new and different things. They aren’t close-minded or hyper-critical. What they want is to be entertained, and if in the process they are exposed to diversity, so much the better! And the more diversity our kids are exposed to, the more we can hope that one day, diversity isn’t something we have to go hunting for. That diversity in literature will become the norm.


Charles Gramlich said...

I always enjoyed mythology and wish as a youngster I'd gotten to read a wider range of it from around the world.

Joni said...

"No one wants to read about Korean culture". AH!- NO no no no! That's not true at all. You've no idea how much I've scavenged for Korea-related reads to quickly consume. It's so sad how hard they are to find. You've no idea how excited I was when I recently stumbled onto you're book online, which led me to your website. Then I saw the map in the book and became practically giddy. ("Korea!!!" ^.^) I can. not. wait to read it!
Thank you for not listening to those people who said no one was interested- thank you so much for pressing on. What you did is an inspiration. 화이팅!!

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