Books Anne has written or has a chapter in.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Modern Mythmaking

While Tolkien was my “hook” into myth, folklore, and the mythic imagination as I was writing my dissertation, my larger interests are in mythology and the ideas of philosopher and visionary Joseph Campbell. Campbell wrote widely about coming to terms with how we tell our own stories and invent our own myths, and especially the signs and symbols we use to define them – in essence, confronting what it means to be human.

Consider the mythic imagination – what is it, who has it, why should we care about it?

Campbell believed that we, as humans in the modern world, re-create the myths and legends of antiquity in our daily lives. He saw this as a way of unlocking or releasing our human potential, whether for personal or public reasons. Human beings have been telling stories for millennia, as spoken tales, art drawn on cave walls, and later written down as text. These stories are called by various names: folktales, fairy stories, legends, fables and parables, myths. It’s a slippery task to identify the differences among these forms – obviously there are a lot of overlaps, with generous dollops of the magical, the supernatural, and the superhuman.

Folktales are usually stories that have been passed down orally from generation to generation. Often we don’t know the original author – some stories, for example, might have been created around the fire by a group instead of a single person. Often there are many versions of any given tale, some very similar while others may have only one or two characters in common and take place in totally different settings. The work of Katharine Briggs is your gateway to British folktales, if you want to dig further. Even more fascinating, at least to me, are the Japanese tales of shapeshifting, such as haunting encounters with the fox wife and the crane wife.

Folktales may have begun life based on a specific event, but they get changed almost every time they are told, even in the mouth of the same runesinger. Typically, the bases of these folkloric events happened so long ago we no longer have a record of what the actual story triggers even were. As time passes, the story loses its tenuous connection to reality so that the message or moral of the story becomes more important than the event from which it sprang. When that happens, it becomes a fable or a parable.

Next: legends and myths. Stay tuned!

1 comment:

  1. Can you recommend any studies/books around how myths change over time?

    fitstrider /at/