Thursday, September 25, 2008


What follows is simply a lot of my thoughts on a lot of issues, mostly being brought up from my new graduate mythology classes. If you have any thoughts on any of it, please let me know.

1) I am trying to work through whether stories - specifically the stories that would be classified in the fantasy genre - can be considered myths. There is such a wide variance on what myth is that for me the question bears examination.

For instance - in a Newberry Library class on Welsh Mythology last night, the instructor defined myth, in a nutshell, as a narrative, set in sacred time and sacred space, with divine (immortal or superhuman) actors, often associated with a particular ritual performance. Big nutshell, I guess. In my Graduate program at Pacifica, another component of myth would be the use of symbols from the unconscious to tell that narrative.

Now - I don't know the stories of Welsh Mythology, but the instructor made it clear that after so many years, they are rather literary by now. I can't wait to learn about the rituals they were part of originally. And my unconscious is getting a work out in my readings for Grad School, which also emphasize ritual as an important part of myth.

So, in moshing all these ideas together - Fantasy is a narrative. You could say set in sacred time and space. Often with divine actors - and if you consider anyone in touch with these divine actors, or with their unconscious, as divine also, I think that provides more evidence for Fantasy as myth. Additionally, Fantasy definitely uses symbols in telling the story. Are they the symbols of the unconscious? Not necessarily. And is there any sort of ritual content that follows from, or by, reading these stories? On first thought, probably not. There are fannish activities, and there may be studies relating fanac to ritual, but that's beyond my knowledge right now. In general, the type of ritual usually involved with myth is missing from these stories.

However, on second thought, my whole premise is that the content of Fantasy can often change reader's attitudes towards their real lives. The views written into the fantasy narratives of so many of todays genre authors are views of how the world could, and maybe, should, be. On a personal level, do these stories change lives? Maybe. I think they can. Is there any aspect of ritual in a reader who seriously relates to these texts and uses them to look at life in a new way?

2) On a different tack, if myths are stories using the symbols from our unconscious, is a thought-out story any less mythical? OK, perhaps it is not a myth simply because it uses symbols. It might only be an allegory. However, the definition of myth is rather fluid, both academically and in general usage. Doesn't the very act of thinking involve, on some level, those unconscious symbols? Thinking is formulating ideas by working with, or pulling out, the symbols from our unconscious. Consciously or not. Thinking is similar to dreaming, but with rational rules - not symbols any more, but thoughts. If the intent is to explore a different kind of landscape, or any aspect of ourselves, but still tell about real lives in some way, I think we are close to myth and the Fantasy story having the same function.

3) One of the aspects being left out is the religious component to mythology. I have already expressed my views that religion is myth and that the traditional use of religion makes me nervous. Specifically, our world has changed, yet most religions try to force us, and everyone else, into a box of similar belief. Conversion as a goal is dangerous. Will there ever be a time when the major religious texts lose their holy power and become, like the Welsh Myth texts, more literary? They already can be read that way, but the organized powers behind them don't like that much.

4) The Archetypes of the unconscious led to myth, religion and philosophy. Science followed. We can probably assume that unconscious archetypes are leading to new ideas in scientific fields, right?

5) On a personal level, what do we do with archetypes now? What is being created with these symbols? Is this only for artists to wrestle with? Does the average muggle just get neuroses because they ignore their internal archetypes?

6) The archetype of the hero is well known. Is there an anti-hero archetype? As the lead character in much (too much in my opinion) of modern story, it would seem there must be. Was this archetype always in existence, or is this something new we have created? As I undersatnd it, new archetypes are not really created. I think I have a problem believing that.

7) Modernity is an endless parade of visuals and symbols. We either reflect on their meaning or are conditioned to soak them in. My film class called Visual Analysis was great, because their premise was that in the onslaught of images being thrown at us, we have a responsibility to filter them and understand them. I took that class twice! Now, my myth classes are very concerned with the analysis of the images our unconscious is barraging us with. Similar processes; utterly different material.

8) We used to have our actions animated by our internal symbols and we lived them. When did this stop exactly? Can we trace when mythic and religious thought began to be drowned out by rationality? Not that I mean this is a completely good thing. Symbolic and religious thought can make life easier to live, though not necessarily squaring up against our rational thoughts. The problem rises in the global sphere when religions clash. They promote division. Where do we find the religious thought that makes life easier for everyone, that promotes unity?

If you read through all that, you must have some thoughts. Leave a comment. Thanks!


Nikki said...

Wow Joe, you certainly have a lot of thoughts bouncing around in your mind right now! Our readings do that though, don't they?
Anyway, I would like to comment on one of your ideas here. I think fantasy - good fantasy - is definitely myth. And I think this applies to fantasy stories across various mediums, including books, film and television. Again, I stress that not ALL fantasy is myth, but that Well Developed fantasy absolutely is, as can be seen in my MA thesis on "Buffy the Vampire Slayer." ;) I also see "Harry Potter" and "Lord of the Rings," powerful fantasy series, as complete mythologies. I think sometimes the symoblism found in these various fantasy stories is intentional, and sometimes it probably develops unconsciously.
Campbell teaches, “Now, in order to aid personal development, mythology does not have to be reasonable, it doesn’t have to be rational, it doesn’t have to be true; it has to be comfortable, like a pouch.”
In "The Hero's Journey" Campbell also discusses the validity of reading and of other entertainment mediums such as television, concluding: “All I can say is go in there and enjoy it. A big range of reading. If you’re not going to go in there and enjoy it and read, you’re not going to find the myths . . . You’ve got to read. Or find some other medium to get in touch with them.”
Finally, Campbell also emphasizes that the myths have to stay current to maintain their potency/relevancy. We need new myths, and I think we find those in fantasy. I think that's a part of why the superhero genre is so popular right now (Batman, Superman, Spiderman, X-Men). Not only do we relate to the elements in those fantasies, but we need them.

Joe Muszynski said...

Thanks, Nikki - I'm sure I agree with all you said - and yes, well-developed, re. deeply created and considered, is key. I just wonder about all the definitions and how ritual is part of them. That doesn't quite seem to fit in with what we are talking about.

BTW - I don't know Buffy from anything, but would like to read your paper. Please send it over when you have a chance.