The mythic impulse – what drives our species to think in these terms and put these concepts into stories? A primary reason is to locate ourselves in the universe, to interpret space and the planet we inhabit. Refining that slightly and we have mystical reasons: religious, metaphysical, a sense of awe, a reverence for the mystery of life. On a social level, myths validate established moral orders, and establish codes of behavior. Psychologically, myths help explain how individuals relate to culture and society – they explore what it means to be human. It’s this last function that I think applies most to the artist (writer, sculptor, musician, etc.) as mythmaker.
How does this so-called “mythic impulse” translate into what we write? It’s in the recognition of mortality, confronting the inevitability of death. It’s in expressing the social order you’re part of (or want to deny), in trying to see more deeply into the “spectacle” of the universe and our own existence within it.
Campbell wrote and lectured on the concept of humanity’s impulse to explain itself in mythic terms, and frequently suggested that in today’s cultures it’s more often the artist who articulates mythic structures and symbols in our lives, assuming a function once relegated mostly to the priestly class of past millennia. As artists, and particularly as writers, we siphon structure and content from the mythic imagination and make it uniquely ours. Is there a progression from the flawed gods of old to dark superheroes like Batman and Optimus Prime? Anyone who thinks myths aren’t relevant to our modern society hasn’t read any Neil Gaiman recently. And maybe that’s another topic all by itself!