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So, a lot of conflict in my story comes from misunderstanding and false information, here's a small sample:

  • Myth: Dragons represent the sin of greed

    • Fact: Being partly modeled after lace monitors and magpies, dragons are curious creatures by nature and they are just as intrigued by a mundane prism as they are by a diamond, what matters is how colorful and/or shiny an object is.
  • Myth: Gilgamesh was a chad and totally flipped the bird in nature's face by cutting some sacred trees down and got away with it

    • Fact: You see, there was this guy from the previous episode, Humbaba. Well he didn't exactly appreciate Gilgamesh's disposition so after a heated argument, that involved Gilg being flung around by one leg like a ragdoll, Gilgamesh agreed to plant some saplings to replenish the cut-down trees.
  • Myth: Humbaba had seven layers of armor
    • Fact:
      1. Humbaba never existed as a separate person, it was just another fake identity of an unknown god.
      2. Humbaba bought into the lies of the Jedi and arms manufacturers, who advertised his powered armor as being made of six layers, though it was actually "just" Chobham armor, where individual layers relied on each other to provide protection, misleading those who didn't know the Way of Warmongering.

Now, the thing is, I have no point of reference when it comes to how, for what reasons and to which extent did humans exaggerate things. This is a problem, as my story heavily relies on "fake news". But I don't know how to manufacture realistic exaggerations. Is there any resource that analyzes or highlights patterns of that part of mythology?

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  • $\begingroup$ This is an interesting question but it feels so specific that you won't get a valuable answer on here. Plus, isn't "realistic exaggeration" an oxymoron? Your guess is as good as any in determining what constitutes a plausible myth. A good place to start might be basing your myths off of real-life myths from obscure cultures. $\endgroup$
    – Zxyrra
    Jan 20, 2020 at 22:24
  • $\begingroup$ @Zxyrra Precedent? Recurring "tropes"? $\endgroup$ Jan 20, 2020 at 22:26
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    $\begingroup$ "Dragons represent the sin of greed" is not a myth, it's the interpretation of a myth. (And positing that Gilgamesh was actually a real person whose exploits were embellished and exaggerated by poets is called euhemerism, from the name of the ancient Greek chap who made an enduring carreer from this sort of interpretation of myths.) $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Jan 20, 2020 at 23:30
  • $\begingroup$ "the Way of Warmongering." loved it! $\endgroup$
    – Gustavo
    Jan 21, 2020 at 11:22
  • $\begingroup$ Read Robert Graves' Greek Myths. He relates the myths as they were passed on to us to the historical, geographical, traditional, and other facts involved. It's an inspiring roller-coaster of mythologisation and euhemerism (thanks, AlexP). $\endgroup$
    – Joachim
    Jan 21, 2020 at 12:13

2 Answers 2

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There are some resources available online, but they are scarce and only tangentially relevant. You can check out hyperbole in mythological comparisons or hyperbole in literature to get examples, but I suspect you won't find a meta-analysis. That's for good reason.

Exaggeration happens for one of two reasons: to embellish or to teach.

Exaggeration as embellishment

It is a natural human tendency to make stories as interesting as possible. The more exaggerated a story is, the more exciting, and thus the more it spreads. In your example:

Humbaba had seven layers of armor

The fact that it's armor doesn't matter. For all intents and purposes, Humbaba could have had a magical sword that spouted fire on command. What's important is that any element that can be expanded upon and embellished will make a myth successful.

Exaggeration as a didactic tactic

Exaggeration can also distort reality in ways that provide clear morals. In your example:

Dragons represent the sin of greed

Something neutral becomes something evil in order to convey a moral lesson. Gray morality becomes black and white because it's more accessible to kids - and thus smarter-than-average lizards turn into ferocious beasts. There is some pattern in that dragons may represent the unknown, so they make easy antagonists. Still, what's more important is that the exaggeration serves to teach.

TL;DR The "what" you are exaggerating means less than the "why." You can exaggerate any part of any myth and it will be believable; myths aren't supposed to be realistic, and there is no such thing as a "realistic exaggeration" because that defeats the purpose. You won't find a framework or meta-analysis of what gets exaggerated because it doesn't matter what - it matters why.

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Please have a look to Not the Onion

It is filled with news that could not exist in any sane world. Yet they do. Apply the concept of Fog of War, that means, imperfect decisions made with the imperfect knowledge available at the time.

When the dust settles, you can point fingers and say that great leaders made stupid mistakes, yet at the time, it was choosing the lesser evil.

Example. Winston Churchill had to sacrifice a town in order to make sure D day would go smoothly. Because if they protected the town, the enemy would know their communications were compromised.

Try to explain that to a kid with a smartphone today. That they had THE ADVANTAGE of decoding a fancy typewriter. The kid would scowl and scoff. "Why didn't they use wassap that is encrypted?"

Bear in mind your myths predate current history by millennia. Even when they compare apples to apples, the value for a given item changes drastically over time.

A single piece of gold was more than the income of a farmer for a year. And the dragon stole it. So it really stole a LOT of your money. Find the dragon's hoard and your farmer is set for life. Because among the hoard you find a handful of silver and gold coins.

And that represents the earnings of a lifetime. But the hoard is tiny, a fistful of coins.

So both are true.

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