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This week’s first Women in SF&F Month guest is science fiction and fantasy author Vida Cruz-Borja! She is the author of the excellent IGNYTE Award–winning essay “We Are the Mountain: A Look at the Inactive Fantasy Protagonist,” which appears in the new essay collection Letters to a Writer of Color. Her short fiction includes “Odd and Ugly” and “Have Your #Hugot Harvested at This Diwata-Owned Café,” and she has two collections: Beyond the Line of Trees and, most recently, Song of the Mango and Other New Myths. Her latest is described as “stories woven from elements of classical myths and folklore from the Philippines and other parts of the world, as well as from visions of the modern and of the future”—and I’m thrilled she’s here today with “‘New myths’ and the people who tell them.”

Cover of Song of the Mango and Other New Myths by Vida Cruz-Borja

‘New myths’ and the people who tell them
By Vida Cruz-Borja

On a panel about science fiction and mythology I was once on, an audience member asked what I felt was the jackpot question: “Why aren’t any other myths as well-known as Greek and Norse myths?”

Mythology says a lot of interesting things about a particular culture at a particular time and place. A body of them is like a culture’s Dead Sea scrolls or Hammurabi stele. Not only do you get to learn about fascinating material cultures—architecture, pottery, food preparation, and so much more—but you get to learn about a culture’s values and how they play out across experiences like war, sex, and death. All great takeaways for science fiction and fantasy writers.

But the same things that make mythology exciting—war, sex, death—can be the same things that make the mythology vanish. An expanding religion may destroy records or alter them to carry foreign values and turn natives away from traditional ones. A colonizer may marry and impregnate a native storyteller, who will have no time for tasks other than childcare. A younger generation’s desire to live and work in cities spells the death of old traditions—such as the recitations of myths—as there are fewer and fewer people to pass them on to. There are many other reasons a culture’s mythology may vanish; these are just a few.

Consider that as history is written by the victors, so, too, do the victors propagate the planet’s most popular myths. It’s an uncomfortable truth, but much of the Western world has a history of invasion, colonization, and empire—and for the longest time, Ancient Greece was upheld as their ideal. Today, Norse myths are gaining traction thanks to Marvel movies—which are produced by Hollywood, which dominates much of the entertainment of the English-speaking world. A lot of Norse mythology has also been sanitized for the Christianized Anglophone West.

Why does the media machine of the West keep retelling Greek and Norse myths? Because the values of those cultures have been co-opted and transformed for a modern audience. Much of the media reinforces those values through subliminal and more palatable messaging. Re-teaching and reinforcing values—especially through retellings of myths—is one of the glues that holds the behavior of “civilized” society together.

Even though many other myths have been lost to time, there are many that still remain, accessible through the right keywords in a search engine and books. The culture that eschews them in favor of the same old myths, however, will not change; as a reader, it’s up to you to find them and get to know them.


But should you, as a writer who is likely an outsider to the myth’s culture of origin, retell them?

The answers I’ve given before were largely for White would-be writers seeking permission that isn’t mine to give. My own stake in the answer to this question is about articulating who I am and what is mine and what I can freely do with what is mine.

Philippine myths are not well-known beyond the Philippine archipelago—heck, many are often not well-known even to Filipinos (having almost 200 ethnic groups and as many languages will do that to you). Case in point: I’m a middle-class English-speaking Tagalog Filipina based in Christianized, Westernized Manila. My very good education in an all-girls’ Catholic school barely included any of our constellation of mythologies.

Manila lost who she was before various other influences overtook her; by extension, her people also lost who they were. We seem uneasy about accepting that we are the heady mix of all the colonizers and trading partners that left their marks on us. And so we—I, in the hope of finding something that hasn’t been whitewashed—turn to our indigenous siblings for hints of who we used to be before we had an identity crisis.

But I am uneasy about this, too. Some of these groups don’t even see themselves as “Filipino” in that Westernized nationalist sense of the word. We live on the same soil, but we are worlds apart; even when we have similarities, how can I take what is theirs and use it in my own art just like a thieving colonizer?

This tweet was alluding to using indigenous Philippine designs in visual art, but I think it applies to writing, too. The answer is equal parts astute research, respect, and intentionally taking inspiration from and paying homage to what has come before.


The “new myths” in the title of my debut short story collection, Song of the Mango and Other New Myths, refers to the fifteen stories that contain echoes or are outright remixes of existing myths, fairy tales, folklore, and tropes pervading certain genres. Many of them are of a Filipino milieu because they were written for a Filipino audience. You’ll find here kapre performing deeds of daring and doom, diwata uplifting the poorest of the poor, tikbalang acting in theater plays, and much more besides—as larger than life and as complex as the heroes and monsters of any Greek or Norse myth.

But not all my stories are set in the Philippines, whether in the primary or secondary world. That’s on purpose. I reserve the right, just as White writers unabashedly and unquestioningly do, to sometimes write about characters and places that are not mirrors of who I am and where I come from.

I, too, have things to say about cliché fantasy tropes, European-esque fairy tales, the care and destruction of the environment—and sometimes I need to step out of Filipino “cosmetics” to say it. Still, my Filipino-ness will probably peek out at you between the lines, whether you know what you’re perceiving or not and whether I realized what I was writing or not.

I’ve mixed a lot of things together—some of them truly outrageous—with modern values to form new myths for a contemporary era. I enjoyed the alchemical process of creating them and I hope that this book will reach readers who will be susceptible to its own peculiar, “new” magic.

Photo of Vida Cruz-Borja Vida Cruz-Borja is a Filipina fantasy and science fiction writer, editor, artist, and conrunner. Her short fiction and essays have been published in F&SF, Fantasy, Strange Horizons, PodCastle, Expanded Horizons, and various anthologies. She won the 2022 IGNYTE Award for Best Creative Nonfiction for “We are the Mountain: A Look at the Inactive Protagonist,” which was reprinted in Letters to a Writer of Color (2023). She is the author of two illustrated fantasy short story collections: Beyond the Line of Trees (2019) and Song of the Mango and Other New Myths (2022). Her work in her different fields has been nominated, longlisted, and recommended for the Hugo Award, the British Science Fiction Award, and the James Tiptree Jr. (now Otherwise) Award. Currently, she’s a freelance book editor with Tessera Editorial and The Darling Axe and is co-director of FiyahCon Fringe BonFiyah under the larger umbrella of FIYAHCON, a BIPOC-centered convention for science fiction and fantasy readers and writers.