Thursday, August 19, 2010

Living Mythologies: New Myths for Old Pantheons?

Something I've sort of thought about here and there is the outgrowth of "new mythologies" about various pantheons. I'm not necessarily talking about stuff like Disney's "Hercules" (although I am a little, I guess), but about new stories where the authors/filmmakers/etc. obviously did a lot of research and tried to keep the Gods' personalities intact and create stories similar to the myths that inspired them.

For example, the Percy Jackson books. While there are some problematic elements (I've seen a few people unhappy with the portrayal of Kronos and some of the Titans, and I can understand that), it seems like Rick Riordan did a lot of research into mythology and even added in some elements of Hellenism into the books (the kids all burn parts of their meals to the Gods, the Underworld is the one from Greek mythology, not the Christianish one that's in a lot of these things, Athena's demi-god children all sprang from the minds of their human parents when they were inspired by Athena, etc.).

Or some of Neil Gaiman's writing, especially "American Gods" and "Anansi Boys." Or Diana Wynne Jones' "Eight Days of Luke."

I recently read ... somewhere nonfiction (I unfortunately didn't write it down, and it might have even been a documentary and not a book I'm thinking of) that the reason that there are so many different versions of some of the more well-documented myths is that the stories were not meant as dogma, but just to portray the Gods and teach some morals or even just be entertaining. So they kept being added to, even after people became more skeptical. (I think this was specifically about Greek myth.) And I got from that a sense that the myths are in a weird state of true and not true at the same time — they're not factual, but there's truth in them, even when they contradict each other, if that makes sense.

Do you think that stories that are rooted in mythology and history but that portray the Gods and create new stories can "merge" with the traditional mythology as part of a religious tradition? In a few hundred years, will "Eight Days of Luke" join the Eddas and "Percy Jackson" join the Iliad?

Will some of the events in new stories about the Gods become "canon" like Dante's circles of Hell sort of did for Christianity (i.e., it's not given as canonical in the Catholic version, at least, but pretty much everyone knows about the circles of Hell and it's accepted on at least a cultural level)?

Do you think ancient mythologies can continue to expand and grow as ancient religions are reconstructed, or should mythology stay in the past?

(My own opinion on the matter is that the answer to the last question is "yes," but I'm undecided on the first two.)

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