The title to any story is the first thing readers see. It has the power to intrigue, to dazzle and to place a powerful idea in their heads about what they might be in for when they turn the first page.
I spend a lot of time thinking about titles for my stories because I want each one to sound cool, but also mean something to me. Sometimes I come up with a title that perfectly encapsulates what the story is about and other times I create one that prompts questions or evokes an emotional response in readers when they see it. But no matter which path I choose, I always strive to make my titles layered in their meanings, so curious readers can potentially uncover the underlying significance in the name I’ve chosen.
Most of the time I start a project with a title in mind, but every so often one comes to me while I’m working on a story. The latter was the case with TO MEGA THERION. When I was invited to write a short story for Outland Entertainment’s APEX: World of Dinosaurs Anthology I agreed to do it right away, but in all honesty I wasn’t quite sure what I’d write about. At the time, I had been scripting comic books for a handful of years, but I had not written prose in two decades, so coming up with a story that fit that format took a few days of thinking and a few more nights of dreaming. When I settled on a fantasy yarn about an anthropomorphic, dinosaur-barbarian king in his final days, I decided to start writing it without much structure in place and without a name. This was unusual for me, as I typically plan out my stories from beginning to end, with hard openings and conclusions, and a softer, more flexible middle section that I affectionately refer to as “the belly.”
For TO MEGA THERION I conceived the lead character – King Phantar Ro – in my mind, and I knew where he stood physically and emotionally at the start of his story, but rather than write an extensive outline for him, I just wrote the opening scene cold. Typing out that introductory sequence without a map was a way for me to sink my bare teeth into Phantar; to understand who he was on a purely emotional level as his character poured out of my imagination. I wanted to allow the circumstances of the scene to dictate his actions and reactions, as well as his motivation for what he’d do next in the story.
King Phantar Ro illustration based my short story, TO MEGA THERION. Art by Jonathan La Mantia.
Fortunately, writing Phantar in this free-form style did exactly what I hoped. It helped me to crystallize the character’s direction and it also lead me to the first and only name I thought of for his tale. TO MEGA THERION came to me soon after I finished writing the first chapter. And once I had that title, I suddenly knew exactly what would happen in the rest of the story.
So, what was it about TO MEGA THERION that compelled me to use it as a title and how did it help shape my short story? Well, there are four main reasons why that particular name clicked for me:
- Greek Theater
TO MEGA THERION is a Greek descriptor that translates to “The Great Beast.” It sums up who Phantar is in the simplest terms because he is very much a beast. The character is based on the dinosaur Euoplocephalus, who roamed the Earth during the late Cretaceous period. Phantar is also a great king who has never been defeated in combat. Using this powerful moniker for him also inspired me to think of my tale as a Greek tragedy, which you may have learned about in school. When I was a teenager in junior high, my teachers introduced me to plays like Antigone by Sophocles and Prometheus Bound by Aeschylus, which focus on a protagonist (usually a person of importance and outstanding qualities), who falls to disaster through the combination of a personal failing and circumstances with which he or she cannot deal with. Much of the time Greek tragedies are based upon myth and history, which is something I did my best to build as I told Phantar’s story.
“Antigone in front of the dead Polynices” painting by Nikiforos Lytras, 1865.
Deciding to go with the Greek title, TO MEGA THERION, also influenced me to use Greek names for most of the characters and to set Phantar’s kingdom in Thrace, which was a geographical and historical region in Southeast Europe that Greece was part of.
TO MEGA THERION is the name of one of my all-time favorite metal albums by the band Celtic Frost. I’ve been a metalhead for 30 years now. I can’t remember a day when I haven’t spun a heavy metal record. I also happen to be a host on the Metalheads Podcast, so over the last few years metal music has become even more of an obsession for me. Listening to metal is almost like a second job at this point! When I knew I’d be writing about a dinosaur barbarian, it only made sense that it should be one of the most metal stories I had written to date. With that in mind, whenever I sat down to type I immersed myself in the sounds of extreme black and death metal exclusively, to set the proper mood.
Celtic Frost’s 1985 debut album, To Mega Therion. The cover is a 1977 painting by H.R. Giger titled “I Satan.”
The idea for the title, TO MEGA THERION, came to me as I was spinning Celtic Frost’s classic, debut album of the same name on vinyl, just as I completed writing chapter one. I was listening to the opening track, “Innocence and Wrath,” and I held the record cover in my hands, staring at the menacing art of H.R. Giger. The album title suddenly hit me like a bolt.
- Mother in Law
The title of Celtic Frost’s first album was inspired by Aleister Crowley, an infamous occultist, novelist, painter and ceremonial magician from the late 19th and early 20th centuries. When I was a teenager I discovered that Crowley identified himself as Master Therion because his mother called him The Great Beast at an early age, after the unholy monster of the apocalypse from the Book of Revelation, the final book of the New Testament. In my story, Phantar’s mother, Davstana Ro, is a very important and strong presence who guides her son’s choices and actions even in death. TO MEGA THERION is a title that honors that mother/son dynamic in my work.
Aleister Crowley’s book, Liber AL vel Legis, also known as The Book of the Law. First published in 1909.
The connection also goes deeper than that. Crowley developed the mystical system of Thelema, an esoteric and occult social and spiritual philosophy. Therion is a deity in Crowley’s 1909 text Liber AL vel Legis, commonly known as The Book of the Law. When I researched its origins as a teen, I discovered Crowley had fashioned a religious movement by creating a new mythology, in part based on the enduring belief that he was the beast. Practicing Thelema wasn’t something I was interested in, but the idea that Crowley elevated the beast (ergo himself) to god-like status intrigued me. This concept was something I decided to explore with Phantar from a slightly different angle; a king who is so legendary in his exploits that he’s become an almost mythic figure in his world. His subjects and his enemies think of Phantar as a great, unconquerable beast. The character is acutely aware of that perception, but he doesn’t want to fully embrace that elevated idea of himself even as his status continues to rise.
- Revel in the Beast
I’m atheist, but I have enjoyed reading scripture from time to time because I find many stories from various religions fascinating. As I’ve mentioned, the Book of Revelation refers to a beast. In fact, there are two beasts described in the text, written by an author identified only as John. The first beast comes "out of the sea" and is given authority and power by the dragon. He initially appears in Revelation 11:7 as he comes out of the abyss, then he is described in Revelation 13:1-10. We also learn some of the mystery behind the beast’s appearance in Revelation 17:7-18. The second beast is associated with Revelation 13:11-18 and comes "out of the earth” to direct people to worship the first beast.
For my story, I focused on the first beast in the King James version of Revelation 13:1-10, which reads:
“And I stood upon the sand of the sea, and saw a beast rise up out of the sea, having seven heads and ten horns, and upon his horns ten crowns, and upon his heads the name of blasphemy.”
2 “And the beast which I saw was like unto a leopard, and his feet were as the feet of a bear, and his mouth as the mouth of a lion: and the dragon gave him his power, and his seat, and great authority.”
3 “And I saw one of his heads as it were wounded to death; and his deadly wound was healed: and all the world wondered after the beast.”
4 “And they worshipped the dragon which gave power unto the beast: and they worshipped the beast, saying, ‘Who is like unto the beast? Who is able to make war with him?’”
This medieval tapestry, La Bête de la Mer (from the Tapisserie de l'Apocalypse in Angers, France), shows John, the Dragon and the Beast of the Sea, as described in the Book of Revelations.
One of the things I wanted to do with my story was to create a great beast in Phantar who has seemingly defied the Gods by defeating every opponent put in front of him. The questions posed in 13:1-4: “Who is like unto the beast? Who is able to make war with him?” were big inspirations for the character and how he perceived his life and legacy.
The very first scene in TO MEGA THERION also takes place on a cliff above the ocean. There is a moment when Phantar stands on the edge, looking out on the vastness of sea and sky, as the waves crash against the shore. Including the ocean was an intentional reference to where the first beast from the Book of Revelation comes from.
In my story, King Phantar battles seven of his guards to the death. I chose this number purposely as a nod to the number of heads the beast is described as having. Although Phantar can be considered the beast, or Therion, I liked the idea that these opponents that “make war with him” could form a beast as well; that they are a seven-headed force in opposition to a single, god-like figure.
Finally, the title, "Book of Revelation," is itself significant to me because "book" is a way to describe a person’s (or in this case a dinosaur’s) story. “Revelation" is something Phantar ultimately experiences as he’s faced with his legacy, and what it means to him and how it matters in terms of his lineage, and in the pantheon of warrior regents from Thrace.
Not long after I turned in my completed story to Outland, my editor, Alana, asked me what the title TO MEGA THERION meant. I sent her the translation and laid out its significance as I have done above, along with a couple more reasons that you’ll need to uncover for yourself after you finish the story. To do so here would spoil it. When Alana read my response, she asked me to write this blog so Outland could share it with a wider audience.
A few months later, when I finally sat down to write this essay, I found myself pausing and smiling for a moment before I touched the keys.
The first thing I thought of was what I’d name it.