It’s safe to call the Lore podcast a phenomenon.
The show focuses the real, often terrifying history, behind lore, mythology and scary legends—both well known and obscure.
It’s currently one of the most popular podcast in the iTunes store, it’s creator Aaron Mahnke, has teamed with some of the minds behind The Walking Dead to turn the series into a TV show for Amazon.
We recently talked with Mahnke about the transition to TV, the social implications of the stories featured on the show and why it often underscores something scarier than monsters or ghosts.
How did the idea of taking your podcast and transforming it into a TV show come about?
Six months into the show, like last August or so, I started getting emails from producers, people who saw potential in the podcast, and that’s when I really started thinking about it.
I started getting the idea that maybe there is a way to tell these stories visually.
Working with the people who make The Walking Dead is kind of a no-brainer. That felt like a good place to be.
I was wondering about your personal background. A lot of your shows have these supernatural, sometimes religious themes. Did you have a religious background growing up?
I did. And it’s not something that I am trying to brand in the message of Lore, but I think that there’s this underlying tone through a lot of the stories: that people are a broken people who do things that hurt each other, and sometimes, it’s because of these superstitious stories and folklore that we tell each other.
I think of Bridgett Cleary in the 1890s. She was an Irish woman who got sick and her husband believed that she was an elf Changeling, because that was a common piece of folklore in their era. You would think, common sense-wise, “Well she’s sick, she went for a walk in the rain and she got a fever. Just help her get better.” But he thought she was a Changeling and went through all the folklore prescriptions that basically involved torturing her and eventually burning her to death.
These stories highlight how broken we are as people, and how that brokenness spills out into the lives of others around us. And I think it’s just an important lesson to pick up on. Especially in this day-and-age, where we’re really trying to lift up and honor the people of the fringes of society. And to look at tales from 300 years ago where anybody who didn’t tow the line or anybody on the fringe were sometimes literally hanged.
It’s easy to think we haven’t really come a long way in a few centuries. It’s a line you have to walk. I don’t get too preachy; but as people, we can do better.
Do you still consider yourself a religious person?
I do, yeah.
When you approach a story, at least on the podcast, it’s always with skepticism but never cynicism. Do you try to approach each story a a skeptic?
I don’t know that I’m going to say that I believe everything that happens in these stories, but I certainly believe that the people involved really think these things happened.
And there’s something to learn behind that. Why do people believe in ghosts? Whether or not ghosts are real, these people believe in them, so what does that tell us about ourselves that we are prone these kinds of things? What does it tell us about ourselves that we’re afraid of dead bodies or we’re afraid of the people on the fringes of society?
I think I’d have half the audience, or maybe even less, if I picked a side. But this is where I feel comfortable: I tell the story. I try to make sure it’s a story I vet as much as I can, and I take the focus off of is it true or not and more on what does this say about us as humanity that we even tell these stories to begin with?
Are there any things that you try to avoid? I think everything is handled reverently, but are there any areas when dealing with the supernatural or religious themes that you just don’t want to venture in this medium?
Yeah, I try to avoid violence and gore just for the sake of shock value. There are other podcasts out there where people can get that. I try not to glorify and revel in the evil of humanity or in the scariness of these superstitions or monsters or what not.
To me, the story is the most important part. So I don’t want to get caught up in the graphic description of entrails and blood and things like that. I’m a lot more interested in the humanity that’s at the core of these stories.
Some people will say, “Well you totally missed out on that opportunity to go into more detail.” But if that detail means I’m just going to get more graphic, then I’m really not a fan of that.
I just try to have good taste. I just try to do what’s appropriate according to my compass and that’s what I’ve been doing.
Are there any episodes that you’re particularly proud of?
There’s an episode called “Half Hanged” about a woman in western Massachusetts in the 1680s who is one of those outsiders: outspoken, non-religious, cranky, broke all the rules that governed women in her society at the time. And because of that, she was blamed for the illness of a town elder, and they tried to convict her as witch. They failed so they ended up just grabbing a rope and stringing her up themselves.
It’s an episode where you really see the fear of outsiders and the fear of others being played out in real life. I like it as well, because it’s a story with a lot of redemption.
Their execution of her failed, and in some ways, when you walk away from the hangman’s noose, you’re more a witch than you were before and there’s irony in that, too.
How important is it that it ends on a redemptive note? Obviously, not all of them can, but a lot of them do. Is that something you’re really seeking out for that last sort of redemptive note to leave the audiences on?
Not necessarily. I think the thing that I seek out more than anything else is a moment to say, “You probably think you have it all figured out, you think you see through this story and you know what’s going on, but here’s just one final detail that might leave you wondering.”
I think if I seek out anything in particular, that’s the main goal. I want people to leave still unsure. I don’t want it to be a show where they feel like they’ve gotten all the answers and now they know the truth.
I want them to walk away knowing that they know a lot more about the story, that they’ve gone on an emotional journey with the characters, and at the end of it, they’re still left wondering.
That’s when it lives with you.
Jesse Carey is a mainstay on the weekly RELEVANT Podcast and member of RELEVANT's executive board. He lives in Virginia Beach with his wife and two kids.