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A Fantasy Geek’s Guide to YouTube: Mythology

YouTube (logo)YouTube is an app, a website and a cultural phenomenon. It’s also a vast and only partially explored wilderness full of content that ranges from dynamic to dire. Whatever your interests are, there’s probably at least one channel out there for you. But managing to dig out the channels that cater to your own SFF needs can be a bit like panning for gold in the sea. (If the sea was full of flying fish that kept on jumping in your face and screaming unskippable adverts at you while passing sailors tried to give you beauty tips.) So let me help you out by drawing your attention to some of the best channels and YouTubers I’ve discovered over the years.

Disclaimer: This article isn’t sponsored by YouTube, Google or any of the featured channels in any way. YouTube is not a perfect platform, as many YouTubers will tell you. Other platforms such as Twitch or iTunes are available; I just don’t know them as well as I do YouTube. Other channels are available as well, these are just the ones I like enough to geek out over in a blog article.

This month’s topic is mythology; all the channels listed here have at least some videos on mythology. But none of them are exclusively focused on it and we’ll probably come back to at least one of them in a future article. Still, that just means that there’s more content to explore in the meantime!

Monarch’s Factory

Created and hosted by Dael Kingsmill, (see what she did with the name there?), a former member of the now defunct Geek & Sundry Vlogs programme. The Geek & Sundry Vlogs channel still exists so you can catch Dael’s back catalogue on there.

Dael narrates directly to the camera and clearly loves her subject matter, which consists of stories from mythology, folklore, fairy tales and D&D. She narrates in a quirky, conversational style and likes to drop her own thoughts, observations and general antics into the mix. If a story seems weird or jarring to your modern sensibilities then Dael probably agrees with you and will probably say so. You’re much more likely to enjoy her videos if her particular style appeals to you. The only way to be sure of that is to go and watch one of her videos, but I’ve listed some of the features of those videos below to help you to decide whether you’d like to check her content out.

Dael Kingsmill

– Puns. Set shields to repel dad-jokes or be prepared to feel a bit queasy.

– Fluffy animal hats. Dael wears these. Not all the time or even most of the time but watch enough of her videos and you’ll definitely see the odd piece of fluffy geek-chic headwear on display. Most notably the one she wore when narrating the story of Princess Donkey-Skin.

– Food videos. Dael occasionally narrates while eating breakfast or drinking something. Apparently people like that. I guess it makes for a cosier atmosphere, as though you were chatting to a friend over brunch, rather than watching a pre-recorded video.

Swan Princess conspiracy videos. Okay, there’s actually just one of these but Dael and her siblings have put a huge amount of thought into it.

– Pet names for fandoms. Dael addresses her viewers by saying ‘hello humans’. Do with that what you will.

Now, Dael isn’t a teacher, (except possibly when it comes to D&D), she’s a storyteller. And she’s good at it, her style is engaging, she does all the voices, she pulls all the faces and she’s even made me laugh a few times, which isn’t the easiest thing to do!

Dael’s videos cover lots of stories from Greek Mythology but also some Norse and Celtic myths, including the bizarre and sprawling tale of the Mabinogion, (which features early stories of King Arthur, though he’s very different to his modern depictions). Egyptian gods turn up here and there as well. And there are more recent, (though still not modern), stories such as Sir Moore and the Dragon of Wantley or Krampus. Even seasoned mythology buffs probably won’t have encountered all of Dael’s tales before; both The Purple Hair of Immortality and Milk Trousers were new to me!

The Purple Hair of Immortality

Mythology aside this channel is the best YouTube source I’ve ever found for original, (i.e. not modernised or sanitised), fairy tales. The stories that you didn’t hear as a kid because they were too full of gory details or weird tangents. Tales like the aforementioned Princess Donkey-Skin, the queer tale of The Three Feathers and the full story of Bluebeard in all its blood-drenched glory.

Dael has also recently begun a web-series called Wolfgang, which is about three young werewolves annoying each other while waiting out the full-moon each month in an increasingly damaged flat.

Favourite quotes from this channel:

“I’m not putting liquorice on my tortoise.”

“Theseus don’t got buns.”

“Norse mythology is so metal!”

“And the power of Christ compels the trousers!”

“Gods are bad at disguises and worse at mercy.”

“He’s already nine steps down the path to douche-dom.”

“The tree! The TREEEE!!!”

“These chickens must inhabit this world that I have created.”

“Anyway, that’s the myth for the week. I hope you enjoyed it, or at least were as disturbed by it as I am.”

Overly Sarcastic Productions

Overly Sarcastic Productions (logo)There are two presenters on OSP. Blue focuses on history while Red provides summaries of classic literature, world mythology and story tropes. So, along with tales from mythology you can enjoy snarkily summarised versions of classics like Paradise Lost, The Aeneid and Dante’s Inferno, (and its two sequels that, like me, you might not have heard of before). Writers or story enthusiasts might also pick up some good tips from Red’s videos about tropes, such as the Five Man Band or One Hat Race, (yes, the term I mentioned in my article about weird fantasy races).

Instead of talking to camera Red illustrates her videos with a series of drawings, (her own, I believe), including her personal avatar; a young woman with red eyes and anime hair. She also sometimes uses video clips.

Don’t worry about the title of the channel; the videos aren’t all narrated in a sarcastic tone of voice, though sarcasm and irony do get used a lot. E.g. “Theseus tells Hermia to marry Demetrius or die because Athens was a really progressive society.”

Like Dael, Red has a very casual and conversational way of telling stories and she isn’t at all shy about calling out a writer’s hang-ups or a character’s problematic behaviour. She’ll also drop in comparisons to modern student life, e.g. comparing the way the Sphinx of Thebes threw herself off a cliff, due to the ‘pressure of being outsmarted’, to what college freshmen at Ivy League Universities ‘do with booze’.

Paradise LostRed frequently considers classic characters in modern terms and will often highlight any characters who have alternative sexualities or gender identities, including any form of LGBTQ identity but also that often-neglected group who identify as asexual. If you’re interested in learning about, writing about or exploring your own relationship to such identities; then you may well find it worthwhile to sift through Red’s videos, whatever your thoughts on mythology are. Also, anyone who was ever freaked out by horrible gender politics in The Taming of the Shrew will enjoy Red’s lively commentary on the play. (Rant, who said anything about a rant? Not me, noooooo).

Like most of the channels on this list; Red takes a lot of stories from Graeco-Roman mythology. But she also covers a handful of myths from Japan, (which might help you to understand a little of why anime and manga seem so bonkers to the Western observer). And she’s been known to dip into Aztec, Egyptian, Celtic and Hawaiian stories as well. Then there’s The Legend of Mwindo; a fascinatingly magical story from the Nyanga people of the Congo. And an epic, (five videos and counting), series summarising the immensely famous Chinese legend Journey to the West. Here’s hoping that she takes on The Romance of the Three Kingdoms one day, because I can never seem to finish that book no matter how many times I try.

Journey to the West (part ii)

As you might have guessed from the comment above about college freshmen; Red, (and Blue as far as I can tell), is a university student. This is reflected in her treatment of stories and her obvious knowledge of the themes and ideas that connect them. For example, she points out that Aphrodite, (Greek goddess of love, sex and beauty), often doesn’t react well to any mortals who free themselves from her influence by worshipping Artemis, (the chaste huntress). So don’t let her laid-back and light-hearted commentary fool you into thinking that you can’t learn a thing or two from her videos; you can. But if, like me, you enjoy a sardonic, modern, (dare I say it, ‘millennial’), take on classic stories, then you’ll have a great time watching these videos even if you’re already familiar with the subject matter.

(Spoiler Alert: Blue’s videos are going to be mentioned in a future article about weapons and warfare.)

If you’re still not sure whether this is the channel for you then check out the quotes below. Or imagine what it would be like to listen to Archer, (if he was sober, a lot brighter and waaay more politically correct), narrate classic myths.

Favourite quotes from this channel:

“The citizens of Thebes are mega-grateful to Oedipus for getting rid of their kitty-problem.”

“Agamemnon. Let me start this off by presenting my personal opinion on this famous Greek hero: **** this guy!”

“Unsurprisingly, giving awesome cosmic powers to a suicidally impulsive magical monkey leads to some wacky hijinks.”

“They abruptly encounter a tiger demon who introduces himself by ripping his own skin off.”

“You think you can outrun a woman who was raised by BEARS?”

“Committing all the treasons and generally making a nuisance of himself.”

“It appears to have inherited the prowess of its daddy rock.”

“Triply immortal and thoroughly drunk.”

Mythology and Fiction Explained

Mythology and Fiction ExplainedThis channel does pretty much exactly what it says on the tin. As you might guess from its straightforward title it has the most straightforward narration of the lot. The videos tend to be fairly short, with many being about four and a half minutes long. The host doesn’t really goof around, rarely goes off on tangents and concentrates on providing the facts, (if facts is the right word when discussing myths and legends). Mythology does seem to be his primary focus but he also talks about modern SFF series such as Star Wars and The Lord of the Rings.

The videos usually give general information and brief stories about a mythological being or type of creature, such as Odin’s Ravens, Apophis, the Banshee or the Kirin, rather than telling one particular myth, as Red and Dael more often do. When the host does focus on a particular story, such as Lycaon, he tends to explain the different versions of the myth rather than sticking to a single narrative. He also sometimes mentions a bit of historical context for a myth and notes how it changed over time. For example, he explains how different culture’s retellings of the manticore myth led to it gaining wings and the head of a lion.

The narrator, who refers to himself as Your Host: Mythology and Fiction Explained, does offer his own, carefully considered, opinions on the topics he explains e.g. that Hades is a misunderstood god who was relatively benign when compared to his brothers Zeus and Poseidon, both known for being hot-tempered, destructive and inclined towards rape. As another example, he draws an interesting comparison between the attack of the monstrous Typhon on the Olympians and the fall of the Norse Gods in Ragnarok.

The Events Of Ragnarok Explained

Our host covers, (you guessed it), a lot of stories from Greek Mythology, including some obscure figures like the original Titans. Norse Mythology is his next favourite topic. Unlike most of the channels on this list he tackles modern urban legends too and has recently started experimenting with something called creepypasta, (apparently that’s not a kind of food). He also has a couple of videos each about Slavic Mythology, Japanese Folklore and Egyptian Mythology. And he’s begun a few of his videos with poems, which may or may not be his own creations.

Ammit The Devourer Of Souls

Mythology and Fiction Explained doesn’t actually feature the face of our host, or even an avatar. Hardly a problem if, like me, you tend to listen to YouTube videos while doing housework but it might mean that some people find it harder to engage with the content. (Though a lot of people seem to prefer this style of presentation; this channel is absolutely exploding right now.) Instead, the videos all feature a range of artwork that drifts lazily across the screen as the narrator speaks. And I don’t know where Your Host: Mythology and Fiction Explained gets his artwork from but it’s absolutely gorgeous; you could watch the videos without sound and still get tons of awesome ideas for stories or RPG sessions.

(Please note that this collection of art occasionally includes classical paintings which feature nudity or modern fantasy pictures of characters wearing not a whole lot. So, you might want to avoid watching these videos in any place where you’d feel uncomfortable reading e.g. a Conan the Barbarian graphic novel.)

If you want someone to narrate the basics of a particular mythical being to you, without dropping in jokes or exclaiming over how weird the whole story is, then this is the channel for you. As with most YouTube videos; these summaries aren’t a substitute for doing your own research, but they’re a great introduction to each mythical being or subject and you’re bound to glean a few interesting facts from them.

Favourite quotes from this channel:

“Today we’re going to examine why werewolves have become such an iconic figure in popular culture, where they originated from and WHY IT’S COME TO THIS!” *plays a clip of Jason from Twilight taking his shirt off*

“The Berserkers being drunk would explain why they were running around, almost butt-naked, in animal furs.”

“But with passion comes sexual activity.”

“He indeed chomped down and swallowed Tyr’s hand.”

Crash CourseWorld Mythology

At the time of writing Crash Course is the most popular channel on this list by several orders of magnitude. But then it’s been around for seven years, has tons of videos and has the backing of Google itself. Crash Course features a number of different presenters giving mini-lectures on a wide range of academic subjects, from science to history.

Crash Course World Mythology

The mythology series on Crash Course is hosted by Mike Rugnetta, who appears onscreen as though talking to camera. This series of videos has high production values compared to the other channels on this list, with a digital studio creating animated versions of various deities and creatures to go along with the narration. In particular, every video features a story that’s told in what’s called the Thought Bubble, which is a full-on animation. An animated version of Thoth, (the ibis-headed Egyptian God of law and knowledge), serves as a sort of sidekick to Mike and is often the ‘straight man’ who reacts wordlessly to his jokes and little asides. (And yes, there’s artwork here too so you’ll probably encounter a classical nude or two if you watch the whole series, you have been warned.)

There’s even a short snatch of theme music at the beginning and end of each video, though it sounds a bit tinny to me.

Like Overly Sarcastic Productions, (only more so), Crash Course is definitely on the academic side of things and consciously presents itself as such, (sometimes even referencing academic works on the subject in question), which makes me instinctively trust the presenter more. Though I’ve known the other channels to pick out nuances that Mike misses and vice versa. For example, Mike describes Pele of Hawaiian Mythology as a straight up goddess while Red explains that she’s a Kupua, which is something between a god and a spirit but not quite either.

Fire and Buffalo Goddesses

If you’re thinking of Mike as a dusty old professor lecturing you in a dull monotone then you can stop now. He’s not as quirky as Dael nor anywhere near as snarky as Red but he’s friendly and personable and quite willing to inflict puns on his audience. It’s easy to imagine him as the presenter of a TV documentary.

Most of the videos on this channel don’t cover just a single myth. Instead videos focus on a broad topic such as “Creation from the Void”, “Tricksters” (trickster gods), or “The Dying God” and explain it with the help of at least a couple of examples from world mythology, sometimes a lot more than that. Mike also goes into details about the themes the stories draw on and the lessons that they’re meant to impart. For example: Tricksters represent our own animal nature since they often can’t resist giving in to their baser urges, even as they demonstrate considerable cunning in getting their way.

Tricksters - An Introduction

Of all the channels on this list, Crash Course explores the widest range of myths. Norse, Greek, and Egyptian pantheons all get their own videos of course, but so do the Orishas of Yoruban Mythology. Native American and Canadian First Peoples legends are explored too, (which is what prompted me to add the wendigo to my list of creatures that could do a more interesting apocalypse than zombies could), as are Abrahamic and Chinese myths. Other highlights include The Ramayana, The Epic of Gilgamesh, and the story of Maui, Oceania’s hero. Mike also references the pantheons and belief systems of peoples that I’d never even heard of before. And, full disclosure, I haven’t caught up with all of the videos in this series yet so there are probably even more mythologies referenced in them than I’ve mentioned so far.

Rama and the Ramayana

Crash Course is an interesting way of expanding your knowledge and understanding of mythology and it feels far more structured than the other channels. While, like any mythology series, the subject matter can be dark or disturbing, the cute animations soften the blow a bit. I’d recommend it for anyone who wants to create their own mythologies or secondary worlds; it gives you a great grounding in the nature of gods and the reasons why humans treasure them so much. That being said, the series on Mythology ended in January, capping out at 40 videos, which is still a respectable amount of mythology to absorb. Plus, there’s a whole video dedicated to mythical horses!

Favourite quotes from this channel:

“Cosmic sexy time.”

“I suppose, maybe, clobbering is the only way Gilgamesh knows how to communicate with people who aren’t goddesses?”

“When they [the centaurs] show up, they hit the open bar pretty hard.”

“Don’t boast when gods are around; they always take it super-personal.”

“Many scary magical ladies.”

“And it’s the same deal. Oatcake, no blessing, maid-job, chimney, bag-grab, horse, sheep, goat, kiln, cow, mill-refusal, falling asleep and, yup, turned to stone.”

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2 Comments

  1. Yora says:

    The Journey to the West recaps are one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen.

  2. Jennie Ivins Jennie Ivins says:

    I love Crash Course! One of my favorite YouTube channels. :3

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