Guest Post: The Ferryman and the River Styx
by Terri Bruce
I want to start off by thanking Annette for having me on her blog today. I’m really excited to be here!
Today, I’m here to talk about the Greek legend of the Ferryman (Charon) and the river Styx. For as long as I can remember this has been one of my favorite myths. Okay, sure, pay a guy a coin and get rowed across the river Styx. What happens if you forget your coin? Who is the ferryman—how did he get that job (sometimes he’s depicted as part of the Greek pantheon and sometimes he’s a wicked man or former king who got stuck with the job and will only be freed if someone takes over for him)? What does he look like (sometimes he’d depicted as an old man, other times he’s a skeleton, and yet others he’s hidden in a hooded cloak)?
I knew from the beginning that I would include the Greek mythology of Charon in my Afterlife Series. I also knew that Irene would use up her last coin in the land of the living so that when she got to ferryman, she wouldn’t be able to pay for her passage (Silly Irene—should have listened to Jonah and hung onto your coins!).
While researching the legend of Charon, I uncovered a few interesting facts: the first is that he actually takes passengers across the river Acheron, not the river Styx, and that those who can’t pay are doomed to wander the banks of the river for either one hundred years (presumable after the hundred years, Charon then lets them get on the boat for free and takes them across) or for all eternity (depending on which version of the story you read). Particularly, interesting, though, is that the stories conflict on whether the dead who can’t pay must wander the banks of the river Cocytus or the river Acheron. It seems weird that it would be the Cocytus, because that would mean Charon has to row them across the Acheron to then drop them on the banks of the Cocytus. If he’s going to all that trouble, why not drop them off where they’re trying to go?
The entire premise of my Afterlife series is me trying to resolve the conflicts between afterlife myths so that they all work together in a logical, cohesive whole, so I gathered up all these different variations of the story and set about trying to incorporate them all together in a way that made sense. In the end, the way I resolved the conflicting stories of which river the dead waiting by was to assume that the dead encounter the same river twice, without realizing it’s the same river. Once I had resolved this discrepancy, the setting/layout of Thereafter actually wrote itself, building around this idea of one really long river that snaked through a forest.
The other question that naturally arose was: why a coin? And what does Charon do with all the coins he collects? After all, what, exactly, did one need money for in the afterlife? Well, in the original stories, the coin is actually much more of a symbolic token: it signals “the shade’s acceptance of death and willingness to move on.” This fact led to a lot of interesting plot ideas for Thereafter; in the end, I discarded many of these ideas and stuck with the literal idea of a coin, while at the same time working in some of the more psychological/metaphysical aspects of the original myth (the symbolizing of being ready to move on).
In Thereafter, I also wanted to explore/focus on the fact that the custom of burying the dead with a coin stopped hundreds of years ago. If the dead literally need a coin to cross into the afterlife, and no one is getting buried with a coin, what happens? What is the result of the system breaking down? Such a system would not be designed by nature; it would have to have been designed by a god/supreme being. At what point would he/she/it notice that the system was no longer working and either fix or revise it?
It seemed unfair to me from the beginning that the dead should have only one shot of getting everything right—that is, you’re either buried with everything you need on your journey or you’re not; that seemed like a system with a fatal flaw. So from the beginning, I’ve built an assumption into my world that the dead can get everything they need to complete their journey at each stage of the journey. That is, each stage of the journey is self-contained, with all the elements of success available at hand, if the dead just a) exert themselves a bit, and b) understand the rules of the world they reside in. After all, what benefit would it be to God/the universe to have all of the dead stuck on the banks of the river for hundred or even thousands of years? Well, I had an answer for that, too.
So, do I believe that we each need a coin to pay a ferryman in the afterlife? Well, I have to admit to some unease over the fact that this myth/custom survived for THOUSANDS of years. That’s a pretty pervasive/long-standing custom to suddenly be abandoned in the 1800s, so I think, for safety’s sake, I’m going to request that my family bury me with a coin with the time comes. Better safe than sorry :)
Genre: Contemporary fantasy/paranormal
Publisher: Mictlan Press
Date of Publication: May 1, 2014
Number of pages: 318
Word Count: 99,000
Cover Artist: Artwork by Shelby Robinson;
cover layout by Jennifer Stolzer
When recently-deceased Irene Dunphy decided to “follow the light,” she thought she’d end up in Heaven or Hell and her journey would be over.
Boy, was she wrong.
She soon finds that “the other side” isn’t a final destination but a kind of purgatory where billions of spirits are stuck, with no way to move forward or back. Even worse, deranged phantoms known as “Hungry Ghosts” stalk the dead, intent on destroying them. The only way out is for Irene to forget her life on earth—including the boy who risked everything to help her cross over—which she’s not about to do.
As Irene desperately searches for an alternative, help unexpectedly comes in the unlikeliest of forms: a twelfth-century Spanish knight and a nineteenth-century American cowboy. Even more surprising, one offers a chance for redemption; the other, love. Unfortunately, she won’t be able to have either if she can’t find a way to escape the hellish limbo where they’re all trapped.
I am THRILLED beyond all measure to finally be able to bring you Thereafter, and I want to thank all the fans who have waited (more or less patiently) an extra year for this book to finally come out. Thereafter would not have been possible without your support—thank you all! I hope you love this beautiful new cover as much as I do, and I hope you find Thereafter to be worth the wait.
Her hand touched a rock, one of the flat beach stones she’d seen on graves. She picked it up, laying it flat in her palm. She didn’t remember picking this up. In fact, she had been careful not to take any. It had seemed disrespectful and too much like stealing to remove them, and while she’d seen a few here—both loose and piled in cairns—she hadn’t picked any of them up. There had been no point. What would she do with a rock?
No wonder her bag was so heavy.
She tossed the rock over her shoulder and heard it hit the ground with a satisfying thud some distance away. It felt good to be rid of something, to make a decision and be sure it was the right one.
She surveyed the pile again and then grabbed a small handful of paper animals. She picked one up between a finger and thumb. It was a horse. Irene had been in Chinatown during Chinese Ghost Festival, a holiday in which the living left offerings for the dead. These offerings included paper replicas of things people thought the dead would need in the afterlife—money, clothes, television sets, and even animals. Irene had admired the precise and delicate folds of the Origami figures and had picked some up to admire them more closely. Without thinking, she had dropped them into her bag and apparently been carrying them ever since.
Well, even Jonah couldn’t argue with her on this—there was no way she was going to need a paper horse on her journey through the afterlife. Plus, these didn’t hold any sentimental value. She cast the horse onto a nearby fire and watched as the paper curled and blackened in the low-burning flames.
The fire leapt and seemed to glow blue for a moment. Irene tensed—what was happening?
Thick black smoke began to rise slowly from the flames, spiraling upward in a thickening column. The smoke grew denser and then elongated sideways. Irene leapt to her feet and backed away, her heart pounding. Something was forming in the fire.
The smoke was taking shape now; there was purpose and design in its movements. She could see a long, horizontal back, four legs, a neck, and finally a head and a tail. The smoke swirled with a final flourish and then shuddered into the solidity of a smoke-colored horse. The animal blinked passively. Then it violently shook its head, blew out a breath, and delicately picked its way forward out of the fire. It immediately put its head down and began to lip the ground, looking for food.
Irene stared stupidly at it. “Are you shitting me?”
Terri Bruce has been making up adventure stories for as long as she can remember. Like Anne Shirley, she prefers to make people cry rather than laugh, but is happy if she can do either. She produces fantasy and adventure stories from a haunted house in New England where she lives with her husband and three cats.
Goodreads Profile: http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/6450132.Terri_Bruce
Facebook Fan Page: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Terri-Bruce-Fan-Page/325830544139030
Amazon Author Page: www.amazon.com/author/terribruce
Launch Party Blog Tour Giveaway – May 1st – May 31st
2 $50 Amazon gift cards
5 signed paperback copies of Thereafter (U.S./Canada Only)