The other day I was talking to Denisa about my Vodnik revision, and she mentioned in passing that I’d gotten the description of one of the folklore characters a bit off. No biggie, I thought. I’ll just ask a few more questions, tweak it some, and all will be well with the world. It’s a fairly significant character (the Slovak personification of Death), and it’s important to get it right. So I asked questions. I did some internet searches.
And I discovered a fairly big problem.
The personification of Death that most Slovaks are familiar with (at least, younger Slovaks) is based on a character from a movie that came out in 1985. This just happens to be the personification I based my character on.
Allow me to put this in perspective. Say someone wrote a book in Slovakia about Indiana Jones battling the evil forces of Cobra, the Decepticons, and Voldemort. As awesome as this would be, it would still be very much fan fiction–and open to quite a few lawsuits.
That’s kind of sort of what I’d done. Except I’d thought that Indiana Jones was a mythical/legendary character, sort of like Santa Claus, the Grim Reaper, or Robin Hood.
Can we say panic?
Thankfully, everything worked out okay. I had a few good things going for me. First, Death is a concept and a character over in Slovakia. It’s not like I’d based my character on a complete fabrication of someone else. I mean, every culture has some sort of representation of Death. Second, the Slovak representation of Death *is* indeed a woman with a scythe (sometimes).
Once I confirmed those two things, all that it took was a bit of name changing, changing her description, and switching up her personality to give me ownership of the character. (Again, to put it in perspective, Indiana Jones’ existence doesn’t mean other people can’t write stories about adventurers or people who use whips. They just can’t write stories about whip wielding adventurers named Indiana Jones. Make sense?)
I know some of you are thinking that I’m an idiot. And while you’re right (I’m an idiot about a lot of things), in this case, I don’t think I was too idiotic. When I started Vodnik, I had Denisa tell me all about mythical characters and creatures in Slovakia. I made notes, brainstormed ideas, and came up with a final plot. It’s not her fault that she listed a character and didn’t realize how recently that character has entered the cultural consciousness. Almost all Americans know who Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer is–and he just appeared in 1939, but he’s now an integral part of the Santa Claus story. Fiction influences culture, and culture influences fiction.
In any case, problem solved. I should have done some more research about the Slovak personification of Death back when I was writing the first draft. Shame on me for not having thoroughly vetted the story. Thankfully, Vodniks aren’t the creation of some 70s Slovak guy, or I’d really be sunk. 🙂
Back to the line edit.