Monday, August 05, 2013

Rushdie, Luka, and Mythology

I'm not going to lie, one of the struggles with my blogging project has been what to say on mediocre books. Reading a book a week means I don't have time to figure out that one book is crap, pick up another non-crap one and finish it, too. Plus let's face it. Part of my reasoning for the whole book a week was to force myself to read books that I've had for forever. Which means reading mediocre books if only to realize that they are mediocre. And I have a hard time giving away books I haven't finished, unless I ABSOLUTELY hate them.

The last two weeks haven't been those. I'm not surprised the week before last was good; it was Luka and the Fire of Life by Salman Rushdie, and his stuff is incredibly inventive and full of commentary. Luka is technically juvenile fiction, and in some ways it reads as such to a negative degree. The plot is based on a magical land, through which Luka must fight with his friends in tow, in order to steal the fire that will save his father. 

As Rushdie, through the characters, points out, the concept of stealing fire is one that echoes through several different cultures. Fire equals life, and if life comes from the gods, so does fire. Rushdie shows numerous characters known for stealing fire: the coyote and Prometheus are only two of several. My main issue, though, was not how he uses several classic myths from different cultures; it was that some seemed trite. The coyote seemed hackneyed, his speech patterns cliched.

Despite that, I kept reading. One of the more interesting things that Rushdie did was build in a video game narrative. Through this, he seems to argue against modern ideas that say video games are harmful for children's imaginations. Instead, video games blend seamlessly with myths, suggesting that in some ways, the very games that we play are helping form and giving us agency within our own myths. Gods and goddesses blended into the game, creating a narrative that spans the ages, as Greek myths fight with Norse which fight with American Indian, while the action is controlled by a modern child who, after accruing hundreds of lives, uses most of them to fight for the one that is the most important: that of his father.

The narrative highlights the chaos and pain of Luka'ss non-storied life. How can a child deal with the impending death of a parent but by retreating into stories and myths? How can any of us do so? We deal with loss by focusing on life, and by passing on new stories until real people become beloved myths. And sometimes, just sometimes, you win the game, be the hero, and get a happy ending.