Way Back Wednesday: Demigods

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Half-blood characters with super human characteristics have been a staple in mythology since the beginning of time. We used to call them demigods, but that’s not the only name they go by. Here’s a few other examples of my favorite semi-divine characters when I was growing up.

Super Heroes

Our modern equivalent of demigods. Think about it, they have an inmate sense of justice, their struggles impact the world at large, and they accomplish their goals with super human abilities. Even if they go by mutants or aliens or were bitten by radioactive spiders, some larger than life force set them into play. You could make the argument that superheroes are our modern pantheon. Especially with groups like the Avengers serving justice from their plane on high. There’s even classes (the actual avengers versus agents of shield), but I maintain they serve as demigods because most heroic origin stories show they are being moved about like pawns on a massive playing field by some higher power and they fight other beings or their monsters with even more divine powers. That the higher power is most often parents only goes to further serve my point.

Vampires

Vampires were kind of a huge thing when I was growing up and the demigod mythos made its way into a lot of stories. You’ve got Blade, half human, half vampire and divinely gifted with characteristics neither class had, you’ve got Buffy, a human gifted by a higher power to be stronger, faster, and overall more awesome, you’ve got the vampires themselves, which in a lot of versions of vampire stories were half human, half demon or some other larger than life force. And just about every book on vampires emphasized that they were in fact half human. It was the other that made them special, the humanness that made them relatable.

Fantastical Half-Breeds

I grew up on Dragonlance and Tanis Half-Elvin. In fantasy books there’s almost always a character that is half human, half something special. They don’t fully understand or fit in to either world, but they end up being highly influential pawns to both. Like vampires or super heroes, the human side of these characters and their struggle to fit in and find meaning resonate with us while the fantastical side of their genome fascinates us. It’s no wonder halflings are so popular in fiction.

The evolution of demigods in modern media is a really interesting one. It’s worth noting that Greek mythology didn’t often focus on the demigods struggle to fit in. That’s a modern inference that give the myths more meaning to us. I think it’s really interesting how we’ve adapted the myths to reflect that sense of isolation and alienation that almost everyone can identify with. Another fascinating thing to consider about our super-humans is what their super powers are. The traits we choose to make super human in our stories says a lot about the traits we value as a society. It used to be super strength and cunning was the standard. Now, many of our heroes are super wealthy, super intelligent (without the strength), super innovative (turning a perceived weakness into a strength), and super friendly (the role of friends and social support in our super stories is definitely a modern addition. Hercules and Achilles had friends, lovers, and families, but they didn’t play the same role in the stories that we focus on if we retell them.) What characteristics are you seeing in super beings of today and what do you think it says about our values as a society?

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