When I think of myth I cannot help but think of the great educator and writer Joseph Campbell. And, whether I like it or not much of what I write here today will probably be his thoughts re-thunk and set down in different order. Sorry, I wish I could be more original but that tells you just how important he was (and is) to this subject. It was he, not I (darn it), who began to recognize mythology as one great story. His studies caused him to recognize that myth was nothing more than a set of stories that try to make some sense of this old world, and the world beyond. That, upon looking more closely, we can see that myths use universal themes from across human experience. And that myth comes from humankind as a whole, while dreams are personal and individual.
For source material simply look up one of his many books – ‘The Hero With A Thousand Faces’ is one I recall, or see a series of his lectures recorded as ‘Mythos I and Mythos II’ available at Netflix.
Society, Campbell claimed, must have a central myth to hold it together. Without that essential element, society will fly into a million pieces. That, he continued, is exactly what is wrong with our world today. Nowhere can we find a single myth or story that we can agree upon. In fact I will take that a step further and say that we do not even believe there is a single story that could define us. That leads, naturally, to the fragmented literature of the post-moderns, so called, and the overwhelming numbers of stories and various points of reference now found on the internet. Every story is important; we are told, and equally valuable. Every point of view is correct for the person expressing that point of view, and we must respect it as such. A single story? That’s a laugh. We’re lucky if we can find two people to agree on the validity of any story at all. And this is to our detriment, according to Campbell.
The stories today that most embody mythology are found in the fantasy genre. This gives the reader one measure of distance between the story and the underlying myth. It can be read for entertainment, in other words, and never has to be acknowledged as any kind of truth. Here we still find the hero going forth to be confronted by innumerable dangers and mystical experiences and encounters with strange and wonderful beasts and peoples and maidens or men. Try to write anything that is genuinely mythological and you will find lots of resistance, I’m afraid. I am speaking to myself here because what I am currently working on comes from just that background – genuine myth. I am looking for ways to convey that universal story in ways that are fresh and meaningful for moderns and post-moderns. Not a small task.
In order to accomplish this, I have decided to use motif and symbols that come from the deep well of our common humanity, and a series of interlocking epiphanies along with the ‘normal’ plot development of the story. And so, since this is a blog written from within the creative eye, I will be writing more about these subjects in the near future. I do hope these journeys into literature will be a benefit to you, dear reader, as well as to me and my own work. As always I invite your comments.
Until next time then, I remain…
Yours In Literature, Jim