True to both worlds.

monica byrne


Photo: a still from the film Apocalypto.


As part of research for my next novel, I re-watched the Mel Gibson film Apocalypto in my new home theatre setup. It was a thrilling multi-sensory experience. Mel is good at creating those. It’s clear he and his team did a ton of research, but used it to serve an already-existing agenda: namely, a parable about the moral decay of a civilization.


Even with my amateur knowledge of the ancient Maya, I got exasperated: Why are they in the jungle? Most of the Maya lowlands were cleared for agriculture. What the hell kinda creation story was that, told by the fireside? There’s nothing like that in the Popol Vuh. What time period is this? The film ends with the Spanish coming ashore, which didn’t happen until six hundred years after the urban centers were abandoned. And yes, the ancient Maya practiced violent human sacrifice—including by…

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