This is the fifth in a series given to the Senior
University Georgetown in the Fall of 2014.
gradually, now. For some I may have gone too far out in the last
talk. Mind-stretching is part of the class, part of the
exercise. Don't believe any of it if it hurts. Believe it a
little if it's fun. The point is that there are poets and
science fiction writers, fantasy artists and children's authors
and illustrators, movie producers and toymakers.
I put it to you that we in our own time have created myths in
the forms of Star Trek series of movies, Star Wars series, and
Lord of the Rings and Hobbit series. We've created Harry Potter
movies and scores of spin offs and variants. This is clearly
We grew up with two kinds of myth. The first were mainly the
Graeco-Roman myths that played such an important role in
language and literature. The second pretended it wasn't myth, it
was history. But it was myth. These were the histories of the
good guys and bad guys, most significantly in the 2nd world war,
less so---but still a fair amount---in the wars and
international tensions that preceded and followed the great
There were many other myths, too: The cowboys were the good
guys, the indians were the bad guys. Women were supposed to stay
home and raise the kids. Things were better back in the good old
days. There were thousands of them. Lots about military and
sports heroes, almost none about bookish boys and even fewer
about really bright girls and women. Lots of myths.
The Semantics of Myth
Semantics deals with how words mean. Everyone knows that Mother,
the Flag (American, of course) and Apple Pie is good. Words have
not only flat definitions but also emotional impacts. There are
those who have been bad mothers, used the American Flag for
wicked purposes, and it is possible to make an apple pie that
doesn't taste that good. But still...
Myth is bad. We grant that primitive people can have their
myths---after all, we have the guns and have colonized them.
It's a patronizing attitude. We don't have myths, we have OUR
beliefs---which are always true---not myth! Oh, sure, we may
argue about the fine points, or even the coarse points, but
we're dealing with "truths" not myths.
But then in the 1960s Joseph Campbell pointed out that, hey,
everybody always including modern people---us!---have myths.
It's not just for other people! In this sense, he re-did the
meaning a bit, but also got us to look at the process of what
should be the word, myth-ification?
One of the main modern myths is that we can get away from myth.
We can use science to get at the hard, dry truth. And we have
made some progress in this direction, and have spun off several
sparks of dissonance. One is a dour existential philosophy that
believes in not believing, thinks it's possible to be ultimately
skeptical. Hint: Can't be done.
Another spin-off is the despair that comes from excessive
de-mythification. That includes human relations and love, if you
really take it to its logical extreme, and folks wither
psychically without love.
What's going on is that we're in a transition phase, myth-wise.
The old myths are seeming foolish to many and there's no
consensus as to what the new myths are. I could tell you some
candidates, but until they start gathering a significant
minority if not a majority, they're weak. It's not that they're
wrong. Of course they're wrong---er---non-factual, not
completely factual-- but the myth that there can be a completely
factual myth is a myth indeed.
We live in an era when there has been re-mythification---I
dare to coin that phrase. We've never been apart from
myth, of course. Humans create meaning systems in the
forms of stories. They are often hardly coordinated. There
was no one reading them, because few could read, and no
one bothered saying, "hey, this story is inconsistent with
that story. So which way was it?" Maybe it was
apparent to everyone that it was a story, for goodness
sake. There was no hope of thinking that one could
literally explain the moon or the sun, the wind or death
or sickness. Folks told stories.
It runs quite deep, this story-business. It wasn't as
though folks thought the stories weren't so. There were
many stories. No one claimed that their favorite story was
the only true story. Maybe everyone knew at some level
that no human story could ever capture some abstract ideal
of ultimate truth, as if it could be comprehended by
It was clear that life, so vivid to us, was limited, and
for those who were wise, this forced us to reach for that
which was unlimited. Only with the emergence of abstract
thinking about ultimate principles---which may not have
happened until the last few thousand years---would there
be an illusion that the human mind could begin to pin down
the great mysteries. I suspect this is an act of ultimate
hubris, overweening pride, and perhaps wise people
believed---as a slight justification---that the simple
people needed a story, one story, to unify them, to
protect them. Some believed the story allegorically, and
some believed it literally.
Gradually, the major narratives or myths in the West were
suppressed, or perhaps patronizingly accepted as fairy
tales, or co-opted so that the Roman Saturnalia became the
Roman-Christian "Christmas." There was a lot of this kind
of thing. And as long as the Church had control, they
could argue for allegory. With the emergence of personal
religion, simple interpretations and odd cults
emerged---along with the idea that any of that myth was
We've had centuries of this latter shift into truth being
something that even theoretically could be known---or
theoretically known for sure that it could never be
known---and it all tended to eclipse myth, story. "Our"
side, our friend, allies, the good people, had true
beliefs. Their side, or those we patronized, had "myths,"
which implied that those ideas should not be taken
literally. If they became threatening, then their beliefs
were evil, satanic, and deserved being ruthlessley
suppressed by violence. (Only recently has the ideal of
tolerance been promulgated, although at many times in the
past there have been political arrangements that were
"tolerant," since it was cheaper than violent suppression
and the expensive risk of revolt.
All this speaks to another shift---re-mythification.
Movies such as The Rise of the Guardians features the
cartoon characters of Santa Claus, Easter Bunny, Tooth
Fairy (Hummingbird-like), Sandman, and Jack Frost
versus the dark spirit villain.
There have been a number of Santa Claus movies that tell
the story in different ways, and some of these also
portray elves in various roles. The movie "Elf" told it
yet again. I know about these--- in a past life I worked
on level 7 isle 3---or was it level 3 isle 7---anyway, it
was about choo choo trains and I was an elf and helped
children to have a great time. So I have a soft spot for
the whole Santa Claus story---get all teary-eyed, etc.
That myth works deep down.
Yellow Submarine team of Beatles versus the Blue Meanies
Whos in Who-ville (The Grinch story at Christmas).
More Distantly Related Creatures
Dragons, Wizards, Monsters, Giants, Other Imaginary Critters
Seuss, Dr. (Theodore Geisel): Various creatures and stories,
such as the well known "The Grinch" and all the Whos in
Disney Movies about Dwarves (Snow White)
Grinch and all the Whos in Whoovile
fraggles, gremlins, toy trolls
Rise of the Guardians, Santa, Easter Bunny, Sandman, Tooth
Fairy... versus darkness,
Carrau, Bob. (1993). Monsters and aliens from George Lucas.
(Part of the Star Wars Trilogy of popular movies in the
1970s-90s. New York: Harry N. Abrams.
Eewoks star wars
All the characters from Star Wars and related movies.
E.g., in the The Phantom
Menace Other droids, podrace contestants,
the vile gangster, Jabba the Hut, Watto the Toydarian,
tusken raiders, jawas, sando aqua monster, spine studded
colo claw fish
Jar Jar binks, a gungan,
Queen Amidala and her fabulous
gowns, Gungans, kadoo
Star Trek creatures, tribbles furriy creatures star trek
Cute lil critters
Tall Story critters
Ghost stories and monsters
Dragons and books about them, hundreds\
Harry Potter critters, death dealiers, droings? Suck
out breath, dementors?
Lord of the Rings
Harry Potter’s house elves Dobby
The World of Warcraft, Everquest, online games one can take
roles of many types of character including elves.
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