A Note on the Life of Myth

It has recently come to my attention the lack of positive views toward the future (or continual production and consumption) of myths. Maybe saying it has recently come to my attention is a bit of a false step. I’ve always known, but maybe it was only recently strongly presented to me. I can list several articles which talk about myth in contemporary circumstances. Tolkien studies alone can account for many. Yet these researchers seem to be one or two steps shy from proclaiming that myth still has a pulse. But why?

Perhaps put better than I could: “the trouble with the contemporary condition of our modern civilization is that it stopped questioning itself […] Questioning the ostensibly unquestionable premises of our way of life is arguably the most urgent of services we owe our fellow humans and ourselves” (Bauman 1998).

We’ve stopped short at acknowledging myth’s continued life because it would require us to question ourselves. It’s easy to point at Tolkien and discuss how he’s everything like myth, but we stop just short of saying it is myth. Because if it is myth, what does that mean for those waiting for the midnight premier of Peter Jackson’s movies? What does this mean for those of us who re-read the Silmarillion or horde books on the history of Middle-earth?

We could take a page from early fandom studies and Other those who enjoy Lord of the Rings, but even fandom studies has seen issues with this approach and have moved in to other phases and approaches. And that does not truly help us. What about other popular culture narratives? It’s simply impractical to Other fans and sub-communities who enjoy every narrative in popular culture as we’d end up Othering all of society by the end.

Myth is not dead. It’s not near its death bed. It’s well alive, extremely active, and constantly working around us. Seeing it, however, would require us to open our eyes to the mirror. It compels us to question what we love and why we love it. It demands we dig deep into the foundational axioms of our society, which our myths are built on and reflect. Truly looking at these myths, and looking at them as myths, would require a look at ourselves. We would turn the microscope around. And that is a scary idea. But as Bauman puts it, we owe this to our society, and more importantly ourselves. And no, it won’t be easy.

Myths are constantly around us – from our television, on the movie screens, in the rumors we tell to each other, in urban legends we share around a campfire, and played out in video games. We hear them in radio shows and in music. We see them online, and create them in our communications.

Our academic hope to avoid discussing them as continuing to exist around us does not mean they don’t exist anymore. And we owe it to ourselves to actually look around us and see what’s happening. By studying these myths, we’ll learn more about our own contemporary society, and the underlying hopes, fears, and motivations we hold true.