Everyday Mythologies

A blogalectic with Masha and Mr. Pond.

Saw the ghost of Elvis
On Union Avenue
Followed him up to the gates of Graceland
Then I watched him walk right through
—Marc Cohn, Walking in Memphis

In last week's discussion of mythopoesis, Masha had this to say:
When I think of our myth-makers, I think first of the Boss, whose lyrics make myth out of the mysteries of American life, out of factory work, long drives at night, out of trampled dreams and broken love.
And Mr. Pond had this:
We are not so much interested in events, but the people caught up in them; mythopoeia could arguably be the harmony of person and event, a specific combination which for one reason or another evokes powerful emotion, wonder, eucatastrophe.
This week's word is mythology, which, given the nature of classical education, means I think first of characters like Zeus and Athena and the Furies. Greek mythology. But I didn't come here today to discuss the quibbling, unscrupulous gods and goddesses of the ancient world. Bring out the Oxford!
1 a collection of myths, especially one belonging to a particular religious or cultural tradition:
     Ganesa was the god of wisdom and success in Hindu mythology
     a book discussing Jewish and Christian mythologies
  a set of stories or beliefs about a particular person, institution, or situation, especially when exaggerated or fictitious:
     in popular mythology, truckers are kings of the road

2 the study of myths.
I liked Masha's reference to Bruce Springsteen. His work builds and reinforces popular American mythology (definition 1), and it works so well because it goes in for Mr. Pond's point about the harmony of person and event and the evocation of eucatastrophe. (That word could have its own week for discussion.)

America, of course, is hardly a unified culture with a consistent, shared mythology. We have mythology by all the Oxford's definitions in wild variety—an enormous sampler platter both for use and study, not only of belief systems but of exaggerated tales by which we're all credulous about our neighbors and crazy relatives and Californians and Midwesterners and the Founding Fathers. We have New York and Washington and Hollywood. We have religions and the lack thereof in every imaginable form. We have playful nonsense about Chuck Norris, of whom the dark itself is reputedly afraid. We'll also buy into the most appalling rumors and lies about Barack Obama or Sarah Palin, depending on which side we're on.

Some of us study our myths with the detachment of a scientist, others with the passion of a lover, and still others with the apathy of young boys in their least favorite classes on the day before summer break.

And out of all this, we make art.

I firmly believe that mythology is a good and important thing, but like all good and important things it has dangers. And one of the reasons I love fantasy fiction is that it allows me to detach from the baggage of everyday mythologies, particularly the polarizing political and religious ones, and focus on the aspects I love and believe.

In our own little corners, in our own little chairs, fantasy writers dream of different realms. The exaggerations and fictions that humans believe about each other, that turn us against each other, that make it impossible to have some conversations without an eruption of conflict—these things take a night off existence, and we can take the tough questions one at a time.

We may not come up with magic solutions. Our art may not bring about peace in the Middle East, or heal the breach between Rome and the Reformation, or even convince Democrats and Republicans to stop calling each other evil morons. But it might take two people of impossibly disparate mythologies and stand them side by side for a moment, caught up in shared wonder and eucatastrophe.

And there's a lot to be said for that.


  1. "the exaggerations and fictions that humans believe about each other.." Wow, totally happening right now in my life (well, in the lives surrounding my life). I'm thrilled you brought in the healing aspect of everyday myths, its giving me ideas for a post.

  2. Sorry you're having to deal with all that, Masha! It happens to the best of us. Obviously. :) But I'm looking forward to your post.


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