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What is a Myth?

November 22, 2013 — Leave a comment
  1. It is extra-literary. 
  2. The pleasure of myth depends hardly at all on such usual narrative attractions as suspense and surprise.
  3. Human sympathy is at a minimum. We do not project ourselves strongly into the characters. We feel indeed that the pattern of their movements has a profound relevance to our own life, but we do not imaginatively transport ourselves into theirs.
  4. Myth is always in one sense of the word “fantastic.” It deals with the impossibles and preternaturals.  
  5. The experience may be sad or joyful but it is always grave. Comic myth is impossible.
  6. The experience is not only grave but awe-inspiring. Its as if something of great moment had been communicated to us. 
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He charged the ranks of the goblins of Mount Gram in the Battle of the Green Fields, and knocked their king Golfimbul’s head clean off with a wooden club. It sailed a hundred yards through the air and went down a rabbit-hole, and in this way the battle was won and the game of Golf invented at the same moment.

J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit

The experience is not only grave but awe-inspiring. We feel it to be numinous. It is as if something of great moment had been communicated to us. The recurrent efforts of the mind to grasp- we mean, chiefly, to conceptualise- this something, are seen in the persistent tendency of humanity to provide myths with allegorical explanations. And after all allegories have been tried, the myth itself continues to feel more important than they.

C.S. Lewis concerning myths, An Experiment in Criticism 

The value of myth is that it takes all the things you know and restores to them the rich significance which has been hidden by the veil of familiarity.

C.S. Lewis

We have come from God, and inevitably the myths woven by us, though they contain error, will also reflect a splintered fragment of the true light, the eternal truth that is with God. Indeed only by myth-making, only by becoming ‘sub-creator’ and inventing stories, can Man aspire to the state of perfection that he knew before the Fall. Our myths may be misguided, but they steer however shakily towards the true harbour, while materialistic ‘progress’ leads only to a yawning abyss and the Iron Crown of the power of evil.

J.R.R. Tolkien