The Mythology of the Road

Written by R. S. Belcher

Most Urban Fantasies tend to be centered around, well, urban landscapes—vast sprawling cities, tiny hidden shires, small towns—like this little place in the old west I wrote about called Golgotha. Civilization is an intricate character in so many fantasies, from Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser’s Lankhmar to Sandman Slim’s Los Angeles.

My latest book focuses on another archetypal mythology—just as visceral and human as urban stories—the mythology of the road. At the center of the myth of the road is the wanderer, a traveler who, in taking the hero’s journey, gets in touch with some lost, secret part of themselves or makes some great discovery. From The Canterbury Tales to The Hobbit to Easy Rider, you can see the theme, the mystical transformation of the individual through the crucible of the road.

The road also represents the frontier; the unknown on the other side of that mountain, sea, or continent. Americans have invested a great deal of cultural identity in mobility, a constant hunger for new frontiers to escape a static present. American myth focuses on the road and has made heroes and cultural icons of those who travel upon it, either literately or metaphorically—the frontier explorer, the mountain man, the cowboy, the railroad engineer, the astronaut, the biker, even Kerouac’s Beats and the Hippies that followed them.

In the 70s, truckers joined the ranks of modern folk hero. For a time the country was obsessed with CB radios and the arcane code language professional truckers used over the airwaves. Gear-jamming nomads roaming the asphalt of the interstate in movies like Smokey and the Bandit and Convoy turned a normal blue collar profession into something larger than life.

As a kid of the south, growing up in that era, I recall listening to a CB base station in my mother’s kitchen. I remember sneaking out of bed in the middle of the night to listen, trying to understand the secret code these knights of the wheel spoke to each other as they raced through the darkness. We lived close enough to the interstate to hear the traffic rushing by day or night. Many nights, those sounds were the lullaby that put me to sleep.

There were a ton of urban myths tangential to the highway in the 70s—tall tales of psychopaths with a hook for a hand killing kids in cars, murderous hitchhiking strangers, the Boggy Creek Monster terrorizing a small town, chainsaw-wielding cannibals, Bigfoot, and ghostly hitchhikers uttering apocalyptic prophecy before they vanish.

My new novel, The Brotherhood of the Wheel, explores the horrors and occult secrets of America’s highways. Its heroes are a secret society of truckers, outlaw bikers, and state troopers who protect travelers from roaming serial killers, monstrous urban myths, and the devouring, unknowable things that loom just beyond your headlights.

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