For the A to Z Blogging Challenge 2019, Punch the Rabbit delves deep behind the scenes with a series of Author's Notes related to the Stone Soldiers, Spectral Ops, and Shadow Detachment series.
Centauros, Father of the Centaurs
The idea was simple enough: instead of having Death ride a pale horse, have death be a pale horse. That was the genesis of Stone Soldiers #9, Pale Horseman, a story about a centaur serial killer set loose in the modern era.
Of course, before writing about anything, and in particular mythology, it’s always a good idea to do research and not just go by memory—which is often tainted by the fictional works of others. Thus, I set out on the internet, to research centaurs—their origins, their history, their folklore. I was very surprised at what I found.
Now, I remembered that the myth of centaurs was purported by scholars to be the result of the first sightings of men riding horses—the concept was so foreign, people invented stories of half-man, half-horse creatures.
However, it turns out that there is another explanation for centaurs—Greek Mythology that doesn’t just explain the race of the centaur, but that actually details the creation of the first man-horse.
As the story goes, Ixion, King of the Lapiths (a legendary tribe noted for their horsemanship), murdered his father-in-law after a deal gone wrong, and was driven mad with guilt. Taking pity on Ixion, Zeus brought him to Olympus. There, Ixion took a liking to Hera, Zeus’ wife. Angered, Zeus then made a cloud into the form of Hera (named Nephele), and tricked Ixion into mating with it. Their offspring was Centauros, a deformed man who eventually turned to horses for companionship after being shunned by humanity, and sired the race of the centaur.
Now, this bit of Greek mythology is just as gross and disturbing as any other tale, but it got me thinking about the idea of a cursed Centaur. What if the centaur of Pale Horseman wasn’t the bloodthirsty, millennia-old serial killer of my story, but rather was a victim of a curse?
What the heck, it was worth a try, so I turned back to more Greek mythology for inspiration, and did some reading about Charon, the traditional walking, talking skeleton associated with our image of Death.
In mythology, Charon is the ferryman of the dead, an animated skeleton that takes the worthy across the river Styx. Alas, the spooky skeleton I always thought of when I heard this bit of lore isn’t the traditional form of Charon. Instead, the ferryman appears on some art as a humanish-looking brute. In other works, he is described as a gaunt old man or a winged. In other words, Charon’s appearance has changed considerably from one era o another, ending up as the water-crossing version of the Grim Reaper we are all so familiar with today. And that gave me an idea…
Why not make Charon a shapechanger? Or better yet, embrace the demon portrayals, and make him able to inhabit different hosts, reshaping their flesh to suit his needs? That actually worked quite well and gave me an explanation for how my centaur-villain could have survived for so long.
So, from the initial concept of Centaur Serial Killer, a little research online turned my nugget of an idea into something much more complicated. And that is what always happens when you start to look deeper into folklore and mythology.
Pale Horseman (Stone Soldiers #9)
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