Stolen Myths and the Writers Strike

A good story, well told is more valuable than dragon’s gold

Paul Greenberg
3 min readAug 1


Photo by Martin Sanchez on Unsplash

As readers of this page know, I occasionally ask writers from various backgrounds to contribute their thoughts. This week’s essay comes from Matt Greenberg, a fantasy, science fiction and horror screenplay writer based in Los Angeles. His credits include Pet Semetary, Halloween H20 and Reign of Fire. This essay points out a key worry for screenwriters as they enter the third month of a strike: theft.

Almost 100 years ago, a young woman named Arndis Thornbjarnardottir left her home in Reykjavik, Iceland and journeyed to Oxford, England where she had secured a job as an au pair. It was her first time away from her native country. Though her English was quite good, Arndis felt scared that she wouldn’t be able to understand the inhabitants.

Arriving at Oxford train station, she got a pleasant surprise. Her new boss — a 30-something scholar recently hired by the university — greeted her in fluent Icelandic. His syntax was archaic, closer to Old Norse (he’d learned the language from ancient books), but his warmth was genuine and Arndis felt welcomed in his home.

Over the course of the next few years, Arndis helped the scholar and his wife raise their son. At night, she regaled the boy with stories of her native country — folk tales of giants, trolls, dwarves. Not only was the child enthralled, the scholar himself was captivated as well. He had studied the language and had read Norse poetry and mythology, but he had never actually been to Iceland or heard these stories told by a native speaker. For the first time, the tales felt alive.

It just so happened that, in addition to being a professor of linguistics, the scholar also dabbled in writing fiction. Just a hobby, really, nothing published yet. But the magic of Arndis’ storytelling inspired him. He began incorporating elements of those tales into his own work. Soon, he had a beginning for his first book.

Arndis was present when he read the opening lines it to his son.

“In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit…”

No one can say how much Arndis Thornbarnardottir influenced J.R.R. Tolkien. Her name is now mostly forgotten. But I believe this much is certain: her storytelling mattered. Profoundly.

Storytelling does not exist in a vacuum. It is a chain. Every storyteller — be they great or small, famous or unknown — is a link in that chain. It stretches thousands of years back. It is unspeakably powerful.

We’re approaching the end of the third month of the strike. There is no end yet in sight. But screw it. I’m going to the picket line today. I will think of Arndis and Tolkien. Their stories matter. Our stories matter.

We are the chain.

We will not be broken.



Paul Greenberg

New York Times bestselling author of Four Fish as well as The Climate Diet and Goodbye Phone, Hello World