Sometimes you find yourself in the middle of nowhere, and sometimes, in the middle of nowhere, you find yourself.
British novel: let’s go to a party and find a wife.
German novel: let’s go to the wilderness and find ourselves.
Russian novel: let’s go to the depths of despair and then find out there is an even deeper level of despair we didn’t know about and go there.
I’ve always wanted to get as far as possible from the place where I was born. Far both geographically and spiritually […] I feel that life is very short and the world is there to see […] and one should know as much of it as possible. One belongs to the whole world, not just one part of it.
— Paul Bowles, American expatriate composer, author, and translator
Myth can be considered a genre. It is the oldest genre and to this day is the most popular.
Myth is not a part of every story. Even Joseph Campbell himself said that there was no mythic structure to be found in 25% of stories.
Mythic form is enjoyed by audiences across cultures.
Myths are born of the sticky dark. That’s why the truest have survived thousands of years. They present fictional answers to primal questions: Why do tragic things happen? Which is stronger, love or death? What if death is just the beginning?
— Marcus Sakey, Publishers Weekly
THE INFLUENCE OF GREEK MYTHOLOGY
Originally, the Greeks invented myths which are now the foundation of Western thought. Even back then these were considered allegorical and metaphorical. In Greek myths, there were always at least two levels of beings: Gods and humans. The gods represented the aspect of man which was able to gain enlightenment/excellence. The gods did not necessarily rule the humans.
Consider the Greek gods ‘psychological models’ which represent character traits.
THE SYMBOLISM OF MYTH
Myths use a clearly prescribed set of symbolic objects. Original audiences always knew that these objects stood for something else. These objects also represent something within the hero. Even today, audiences will recognise these:
- Journey = life path
- Tree = tree of life
- Underground = unexplored region of the self
- and so on.
Take The Pilgrim’s Progress as a fairly modern story making use of mythic symbols:
Although The Pilgram’s Progress is allegorical, it is impossible even for an adult to read about Christian’s journey to the Celestial City in any other way than as a story. The passages through the Slough of Despond and the Valley of Humiliation, the fight with the monster Apollyon, the loss of Christian’s comrade Faithful in Vanity Fair, the crossing of the River of Death: these are actual and vivid events, as real in their own way as the mass of detail with which Defoe built up Robinson Crusoe. It may be noted that the themes of all these three books — the dangerous journey, as in The Pilgrim’s Progress, the desert island, as in Robinson Crusoe: and the miniature or other imaginary world, as in Gulliver — have served for innumerable later books, both children’s and adult, and are by no means worn out.
– – Written for Children by John Rowe Townsend
For more on this see The Three Main Types Of Modern Mythic Structure, in which I have added an extra.
EXAMPLES OF STRONGLY MYTHIC MODERN FILMS
- Lord of the Rings
- Superman/Spiderman/Batman etc – comic book stories are modern myth forms.
- Close Encounters
- Crocodile Dundee
- Dances With Wolves
- The Lion King
- Groundhog Day
- Avatar – science fiction stories often use the myth form, not only because myth is about the journey but also because myth is the story form that explores the most fundamental human distinctions (human/robot etc.)
- Thelma and Louise – a female buddy movie. Buddy movies tend to make use of mythic structure.
- The African Queen – classic example of river as setting in a mythic story, along with Heart of Darkness
- La Strada
- Beauty and the Beast
- The Piano – myth blended with romance
- Bringing Up Baby
- Singin’ in the Rain
- Dona Flor And Her Two Husbands
- Annie Hall
- Sleepless in Seattle
- True Grit – basically a crime story, blended with mythic structure
- Harry Potter – mixture of myth, fairytale and coming-of-age in a school story. Typically for heroes of myth stories, Harry is a foundling, abandoned by his parents and brought up by horrible people.
- Le Week-end – a film written by Hanif Kureishi in which the journey takes the form of a romantic weekend away with the purpose of rekindling a failing marriage
- Locke – a road trip with one on-screen character played by Tom Hardy. Extraordinarily well scripted, we really only see Tom Hardy sitting in his car. The opponents he meets on his journey come only in form of voices through his car phone. By the end of the journey he is in a different place both physically and spiritually.
- I Don’t Feel At Home In This World Anymore – an indie-film which provides an excellent example of modern use of mythic symbolism such as the labyrinth and the river. The backdrop is American suburbia. The main hero is a woman, though she is joined by a man. Interesting for its gender inversions.
- Wildlike – a 14 year old girl is sent to stay with her uncle in Alaska one summer as her mother is receiving treatment for an illness. She is soon faced with the task of running away from the uncle and making her way back to Seattle. She meets various helpers and opponents along the way, and contributes to a grieving man’s character arc as he grieves for his own wife’s recent death.
- Jolene – a 2008 film based on a story by E.L. Doctorow. A young orphan marries but in a Cinderella-like tragedy things don’t go well and she ends up on the road, meeting all sorts of people along the way, mostly horrible.
- Hunt For The Wilderpeople — a New Zealand comedy drama about the relationship between a cranky man and a boy, who go bush, pursued by the police for suspected child abuse.
Then there are computer games, such as Halo and Red Dead Redemption.
Continue reading “What Is Meant By ‘Mythic Structure’?”