Posted by: Matt Q. McGovern | January 24, 2012

Open Mythos vs. Closed Mythos

When discussing a lot of the books I like to read, I find that this is one particular subject I like to bring up.  I coined the term myself as a way to categorize the way the book’s mythos (or supernatural / paranormal / magic / etc.) is implemented in the story.

By open mythos, I mean that the supernatural elements of the book are portrayed in open society.  That is to say that the book’s supernatural characters are known to society, and any practice of the supernatural, for example magic, is practiced openly.  There can be rules for such practice, as well as rules for certain characters, but they’re known by all.

Closed mythos means that the society resembles our own in real life, and any supernatural characters (or practice of certain magic, etc.) are only known by a few characters (usually the protagonist), and are not known to society.  There will often be some secret society that makes the effort to keep society in the dark.

I like this subject a great deal because of the challenges that both types of mythos present to writing.  For example, in an open society, the local law enforcement will likely have some abilities to combat creatures like vampires.  The old rule that says a vampire can enter a house unbidden as long as they’ve been admitted once looks more like breaking and entering in today’s world.  A good story utilizing the open mythos might need to take into consideration voting rights and the sort of social issues that would be present in a modern day society with vampires in it.

The first challenge I think of when dealing with a closed mythos is when someone with supernatural abilities does something so dramatic that it seems impossible to cover up in society.  There has to be something to hide it and explain it, whether it be in that secret society, or even some government level group that deals with the media while stopping (and even trying to eliminate) the source of the ability.

While I generally prefer closed mythos to open, I have favorites for both.  Kim Harrison’s The Hollows series is my favorite open mythos.  She has even included the necessary details in back story to provide that alternate history we need to understand how witches, werewolves, elves, pixies and magic can exist in the modern world.

My favorite all time example for closed mythos is Brian Lumley’s Necroscope series, which was followed up by several trilogies.  In those books, the things that go bump in the night have to be monitored by governments and are often used against one another in various clandestine activities.

J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series is a wonderful example of what might be considered a hybrid.  The story is clearly closed mythos in that there is a whole governmental department whose sole responsibility is to cover up any magic that happens to the outside world.  Yet we spend a lot of reading time at Hogwarts, where the style is clearly open mythos.  I admire the way both styles are supported.

The longer a series goes, it’s often harder to keep the style of mythos to where it continues to work.  The best books and stories can do this well.

As you read the various types of fiction that can include this little classification of mine, which is your favorite and why?


  1. cool I really liked this post, Im new to writing and the whole “classification” of writing styles and branding of certain literary methods used in fiction, I found it very insightful thx.


  2. Reblogged this on The Book of Ascension Blog and commented:
    A cool articles about the classification of writing styles in fiction that I stumbled upon I really liked it and hope you guys do to!



  3. I’m glad you liked it; it’s one of my favorite subjects to talk about and I can’t believe it’s taken me this long to realize I should post about it.

    I’ll be sure to check out your blog!


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