How Artists are Influenced by World Events and Other Writers

Writing stories about humanity’s experience or famous literature is not a copy-and-paste job, it’s a careful cultivation of what has shaped humanity today and I believe it is a great project to pursue.

In fact, the greatest works today have been heavily influenced from worldly experiences and great literature of the past. 

How Past Ideas of an “Apocalypse” Continue to Shape Pop-Culture Today

Take for example the idea of an “apocalypse”. While the origin of “apocalypse” comes from the Latin word, apocalypsis, which is mentioned in the Bible as a revelation or disclosure, as in “the Second Coming of Christ and the ultimate destruction of the world” (OED). It is most closely tied to the Black Plague in 1347 to 1351, where an estimate of 200 million people died in Eurasia. Many people believed this time to be a time of holy “revelation” (the ending of the world), shifting the plates of religion, social ranks, labour, and persecutions. 

The concept of an “apocalypse” has been spun in so many directions it’s hard to keep track these days. You have the zombie apocalypse with shows like The Walking Dead (AMC), comedic movies like Zombieland, and numerous video games. You have the natural apocalypse – aka global warming – with movies like 2012Snowpiercer and WALL-E. And you have the viral infection apocalypse – which tends to have a modern zombie feel – but also derives from the scare of real infectious diseases that caused worldwide turmoil and death, such as the Spanish Flu (1918), the Swine Flu (2009), and the Black Plague I mentioned before. 

How Mythological Creatures from the Romantic Period and the Middle Ages Continue to Influence Us Today

The idea of fantastical creatures and magical beings date back to the Middle Ages where mythological creature stories developed from a mix of medieval folklore, biblical references, and myths from the East. The idea of a “vampire” was known for hundreds of years among Eastern Europe and in Caribbean folklore, most promptly by the Caribbean folklore character, the soucouyant, a reclusive old woman who sheds her skin at night to suck people’s blood as they sleep. Once again, medieval Europe feared the idea of this “vampire” in times of dire diseases – like the Black Plague – because of the passing of bodily fluids and its trail of death. 

The “Vampire” – from Lord Byron, a Romantic poet, to Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight series

Our modern version of a “vampire”, with the handsome, shimmering, half-naked male comes from travelling poets like Lord Byron who travelled around the world and weaved various folklores together into his poetry. He is known for making the Romantic hero character: the Byronic hero. Think of romanticizing the brooding man with the stormy expression so that he’s instead a subtle – if not overlooked – hero with emotional constipation. The Romantic Period’s version of a bad boy magnet. In Byron’s gothic poem, The Giaour; the concept of a foreigner, of vengeance for love, of dying at the blade, of being reborn (undead), of seeking repentance from the church, of seeing your lover in a shimmering light (she’s undead? He’s delusional? Byron is not very clear in his fragmented poem) constructed the foundation of our modern “vampire”. Ahem. Shinning brooding hero. Remind you of Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight series? Edward Cullen, anybody?  

Below is a painting by Eugène Delacroix made in 1835 named Combat of the Giaour and the Pasha, which was inspired by Lord Byron’s poem, The Giaour (1814). Delacroix depicts the poem’s oriental elements with the riders’ attire and the transfusion of human and animal with the way the horses’ bodies are as twisted around their opponent as the riders.

Combat of the Giaour and the Pasha, painted by Eugène Delacroix in 1835. Image from City of Paris Fine Art Museum website,

It is interesting to see how people in the 19th century perceived a poem that largely influenced the image of a vampire today. I mean, can you imagine our sparkly bare-chested vampire originating from Lord Byron’s travels, from Byron’s support of the French Revolution, from a country’s strive for independence?

The Influence of Chaucer, a Medieval Poet, in J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter Series

Another book series hit I need to mention is J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series. Among other inspirations I’m sure, J. K. Rowling was also influenced by the medieval literature she studied during her time at the University of Exeter, where she graduated with a degree in French and the Classics. Remember the explanation of the three deathly hallows (told to Harry through the “Tale of Three Brothers”) in the seventh book of the series, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows? For all the medieval literature students out there, it should remind you of the “Pardoner’s Tale” in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. (You can read The Canterbury Tales on Project Gutenberg for free online)

In the “Pardoner’s Tale” the Pardoner tells a story of three young men who stumble upon a corpse, which their servant tells them was his dear friend. Drunk and enraged the three young men go searching for Death, the murderer of the servant’s friend. They meet an old man who had searched for Death in his weary years, and he tells them Death lays underneath an oak tree. The three men find gold in Death’s place and make a plan to steal it at night. In need of supplies the youngest travels to the nearest town where he buys poison instead to give to his other two friends. At the same time, the two men guarding the gold plot to kill the youngest so that they may split the gold in two instead of three. The youngest is slain when he returns and the remaining two in great cheer drink the bottles the youngest brought back (the poison) and promptly die beside him. Three youngsters unavoidably meeting death through their own greed? Yes, J. K. Rowling read her Chaucer homework.  

Watch “The Tale of Three Brothers” from Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows and look out for the similar themes of greed and death. Video from Movieclips,

World Experience and Iconic Writers – a Healthy Influence to Learn From

What I’m trying to say in this condensed history lesson of sorts is that human experience and stories are constantly drawing from each other. Experience and storytelling breathe as one because it is humans who mould the story and it is humans who consume its residual emotions and morals. You are free to write from memory or otherwise of course, but never be afraid to dive into the depth of human disasters or magical adventures told before. History and renowned works should be examined and told. The only thing is that you have to make it your own. 

Let me know of any story twists you’ve come up with below! Fairy-tale twists, Twilight fanfics, or robot-zombie apocalypse, I want to read them all! 

One response to “How Artists are Influenced by World Events and Other Writers”

  1. […] to past literature, please click on the tab “Historic to Modern” in the Menu or see my post here, where I talk about the connection between the Medieval poet Chaucer and J. K. Rowling’s Harry […]

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