It’s no secret that I enjoy fiction based on classical mythology, or that I put a little too much energy into pondering how crossovers work. And when something includes elements from the mythology of various cultures, it can often become confusing in the same way. For instance, if you’re using the Norse gods, are you also assuming the Norse creation myth is true? That is, after all, an important part of that universe. But how could the world be created from the body of the frost giant Ymir AND have emerged from the primordial waters? Is the Sun driven across the sky by Ra, Apollo, or Sol?
Were humans first made from clay, trees, or corn? Is the world of the dead ruled by Hades, Osiris, or Hel? Do Zeus and Thor both control thunder and lightning?
Picture by GodAntichrist
There may be ways to make these different stories work together, but there are definitely going to be some contradictions in the details. Then again, most of the old mythological sources we have contradict each other anyway, so maybe this isn’t such a big deal. And different cultures were constantly stealing myths from each other and inserting their own gods in them. It is interesting to me, though, especially when the old gods exist in the modern world, where we know for a fact that the Earth orbits the Sun, and the chances of a land of dead people physically existing underground are rather slim. Rick Riordan usually hand-waves this away by saying that two things can be true at the same time, as in the Sun being both a star at the center of the solar system AND a flaming chariot driven across the sky. It’s kind of a cop-out, but probably necessary for the stories he writes. Many cultures had rather intricate family trees for their gods, tracing their ancestry back to personifications of chaos and the like. When Greco-Roman culture insisted that Odin was actually Hermes/Mercury and Thor was Zeus/Jupiter, how did they reconcile this with Zeus being Hermes’ father but the relationship being reversed for the Norse deities? I also tend to take note of when modern fiction links gods of different cultures through family relations, like how Christopher Moore’s Coyote Blue identifies Coyote and Anubis as brothers.
This becomes even more complicated when you’re mixing gods from largely defunct religions with those from active belief systems. There was apparently some backlash when, back in 1980, the Marvel Comics version of Thor beat the snot out of Shiva.
Marvel had to later retcon this to say that this Shiva was actually Indra in disguise, apparently acceptable because Indra isn’t one of the three most powerful Hindu gods. Of course, there are still people who worship Thor, but their lobby isn’t anywhere near as strong. Hell, I remember hearing there were complaints from Hindus when Heidi Klum dressed up as Kali.
Of course, this was a drop in the bucket compared with what would have happened if she’d dressed as Muhammad. While there are modern works that take a negative or at least somewhat flippant attitude toward Judeo-Christian mythology, they tend to receive more flak than those that use pagan gods. Hey, the very first Percy Jackson book has Chiron make a distinction between God and the Greek gods: “God–capital G, God. That’s a different matter altogether. We shan’t deal with the metaphysical.” The Greek gods might not be omnipotent and omniscient like the Judeo-Christian God is said to be, but I’d say they’re still quite metaphysical. From what I can recall, Jonathan Stroud’s The Ring of Solomon, which includes the building of the Temple in Jerusalem, simply has someone comment that the Hebrews worship a different god than the surrounding cultures without going into specifics. There definitely seems to be a general trend in modern writing that it’s okay to present gods who aren’t commonly worshipped these days as silly or nasty, but it’s harder to get away with the same thing for figures from religions that are still quite active and influential. So could Thor beat up Jesus? Well, Jesus wasn’t so big on fighting back, but I wouldn’t imagine the thunder god would be able to inflict any lasting damage. And of course the Norse gods aren’t fully immortal, as Thor is supposed to die at Ragnarok.