Monday 2 February 2015

It’s All Good Until the Raven Arrives

by Cassandra Samuels

Using myths and legend in storytelling

In my book A Scandalous Wager my heroine, Lisbeth Carslake, Countess of Blackhurst, is accused of killing her husband. Although she is acquitted in a court of law, the high society of London (the ton) start calling her The Black Raven – bringer of bad luck and death. They cross themselves as they cross the street to avoid her and generally give her such a hard time she becomes a social pariah who seldom leaves her house. Thus this was the precedence for the wager which the hero, Oliver Whitely, Earl of Bellamy, takes on at the beginning of the story.

Before writing this story I had come across an article regarding folklore, myths and legends and was especially drawn to those of the raven. Firstly, there is a common misunderstanding that crows and ravens are the same. They do come from the same family of bird but are not the same. The raven is larger, shaggier and has a deeper, croaky call than that of its crow cousin. However, both feature heavily in mythology. 

Raven at the Tower of London taken on my visit there.

In Welsh myths the raven (Mabinogion) is the harbinger of death. The often bleak reputation surrounding this magnificent black bird is likely to be because it is a scavenger and often found picking the flesh of dead things.

Odin in Norse mythology had two ravens. One called Thought and the other Memory which he sent out daily to spy and report on the goings on in Midgard (Earth).

Odin with his Ravens - Thought and Memory

Some tribes in North America knew the raven as a stealer of souls, while others saw it as a symbol of transformation.

Anyone who has gone to the Tower of London will be familiar with the legend surrounding the ravens there. It is said that if ever the ravens left the tower the kingdom of England would fall. Charles II even went so far as to move his royal astrologer and his whole observatory from the tower rather than relocate the ravens. Even now they always keep a breeding pair of ravens at the Tower of London.

Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

Even in more modern literature the raven is a popular character.

  •     Shakespeare mentions the raven in both Macbeth and Othello.

  •     Charles Dickens’ Barnaby Rudge features “Grip” the raven.

  •      In Edgar Allan Poe’s poem The Raven, the bird is a supernatural messenger.

  •      In Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings Roac son of Crac is the leader of the ravens of the lonely mountain.

  •      And in Game of Thrones ravens are used as messengers as well as prophets (three eyed raven) and the character Bran is Gaelic for raven.

All this distrust and superstition surrounding the raven made it perfect as a moniker for my heroine. After all, who would trust a raven?

Do you like stories where myths and legends are used as part of the premise? 

Have you read another story or film I haven’t mentioned that features a raven?

Love to love the three men guarding my desk 

Tyrion, Job Snow & Rob Stark from Game of Thrones

Love to laugh at sayings on mugs.

Love to learn and research new things that can enhance my future stories.

My visit to Corfe Castle in England.

Cassandra's book is available now. 
Amazon Aus | Amazon | & all good e-bookstores


  1. Hi, Cassandra! I love stories where myth and legend are used, especially with easily recognised symbols like the ravens. It's an immediate see or read or even hear that a raven plays a part in the book and you know at least partially what you're in for.

    1. Very true Dee. Ravens are great because there are so many myths about them and some are good and some are bad, depending on which myth or legend you read.

  2. Hi Cassandra! Congratulations on 'A Scandalous Wager'. The raven symbolism in it works really well.
    Folklore, myths and legends feature prominently in books by many of my favourite authors. Juliet Marillier's 'Bridei Chronicles' and 'Sevenwaters' series are some of my keepers, alongside the wonderful 'Outlander' series by Diana Gabaldon. I'm constantly drawn to fantasy based on mysterious beliefs from long ago. Not sure why, just know I love it.

    1. Time travel lends its self so well to using myths and legends. Which is why it works so well in Outlander. Juliet has such a lyrical way about her writing that is just wonderful and has created a wonderful world for her readers, hasn't she?

  3. Hi Cassandra. I loved reading 'A Scandalous Wager', not only for the lovely romance revealed but also how well the raven mythology was interwoven into the story. I'm always interested in learning about ancient civilisations, their cultures and the myths and legends about the time, and it's fantastic that I can learn via romance novels. I especially like Gena Showalter's 'Lord of the Underworld' series. A clever twist on the 'Pandora's Box' tale from Greek mythology. I also like how some authors make up their own mythology, and in so cleverly that readers believe it. Nora Roberts does this with her Ireland-set fantasy trilogies, and she does it so well I never want the books to end!

    1. There is such a rich resource in myth and legend once you start looking into it. You can't help but be inspired by them, can you? Romance as a genre is so diverse there is something for everyone.

  4. Cassandra, I simply adore books that feature myths and legends as part of the fabric of the story. I think a lot of readers do, it is fabulous background. Or foreground! I notice you mentioned 'Barnaby Rudge' - Dickens actually owned a raven called Grip, and had it stuffed and mounted on its death. It is said the bird not only inspired Dickens, but also Poe.

    I didn't realize the story around the ravens at The Tower of London until I visited there just recently - got an amazing history lesson, very quickly. It was a cold, wet, windy day when I visited, and the ravens were cawing and the sounds really added to the atmosphere of my visit. Loved it.

    Two myths/legends (although I am inclined to consider them as fact, heh heh?!) are the Loch Ness monster, and the fabulous treasure of the Knights Templar. Both have inspired countless books, and many romances. Sigh.

    1. Oh yes. I am kind of glad that Nessy has kept herself such a mystery. I loved the tower of London too and you are right the Raven's do add to the atmosphere of the place. It was a bit rainy when we went too but it is chock full of historic tales.

  5. Great post, Cassandra. I love myths & legends & ravens. The Mabinogion holds one of my all time favourite stories - the tale of Lleu Llaw Gyffes and Blodeuwedd. :)

    1. Thanks Nicole. There is something special about Ravens. I confess to having always been intrigued by them. The Welsh have such great myths and legends.

  6. Myths and Legends are great, Cass.
    I really enjoy a story when the author goes a little further with research. ... and as a writer "isn't it fun to get lost in said research?" :)

  7. It's so much fun isn't it? It can give your story that little bit of something special. Do any of your stories have a myth or legend attached Marianne?

  8. Very interesting post Cassandra Samuels, I didn't know all that about the history of ravens. I have read books where crows are associated with death and in Poets Cottage by Josephine Pennicott, she uses another bird - I can't remember what they were - as a sign of bad omens. It give a bit of dark mystery to the story.


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