Monday, October 09, 2006

A Short History Of Myth

Just thought I would pop on by to say a few words about a truly excellent book I have recently read. Karen Armstrong’s A Short History of Myth.
But first, as you can see in the “Currently Reading” sidebar thing, I am just now working my way through Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales.
I was forced to read through a wee piece of it in high school, but back then I was a halfwit, and hence, I did notte lyke it at alle!
Now I am older. More mature! No more a halfwit.
I am a wholewit!
And I am luvving thys booke!
Just read The Miller’s Tale today. I laughed out loud.
It is amazing that something a guy wrote like…. over 700 years ago can make me, a modern-day wholewit, laugh out loud!

Karen Armstrong.
There are no words I can adequately conjure, to express how much I love the writings of Karen Armstrong.
Ever since reading her two memoirs, Through The Narrow Gate and The Spiral Staircase, [I’ve written of these, here]
I have personally identified with her arduous spiritual journey, and have appreciated her scholarly pursuit of greater insight into matters both religious and spiritual.
I say all of this preamble only to acknowledge that I am probably predisposed to speak favorably of this book of hers, on myth. So forgive me, but yes.
This book is real good. She has hit the mark, again.

It’s not a deep-sea dive into a dark, pressurized, unoxygenated world.
It is a wonderful, gliding skim across the surface of human history, like a skipping rock… touching down upon several epochs, six, in fact, where mankind has experienced profound seismic shifts in their mythmaking.
After an amazing introductory chapter entitled “What Is A Myth”, Armstrong takes us there. The flat stone skips, from The Paleolithic Period [The Mythology of the Hunters, c.20000 to 8000 BCE] to:
The Neolithic: Mythology of the Farmers (c.8000 to 4000 BCE)
The Early Civilizations (c.4000 to 800 BCE)
The Axial Age (c.800 to 200 BCE)
The Post-Axial (c.200 BCE to c.1500 CE)
The Great Western Transformation (c.1500 to 2000)

I will greatly summarize by saying that this is essential reading for anyone wanting an overview of the evolution of myth.
And her progressive argument, especially as it culminates in the concluding chapter, is the best I have ever come across in its explication of myth as an art form.

Other than the late Joseph Campbell, I believe there is no one better equipped, to teach us about myth, than Karen Armstrong.
At the end of it all, at chapter 7, have we arrived anywhere?
Thankfully, no.
The stone is still skipping, and this author knows that.
And not only this. She shows us that the stone will never sink, and that there is no shoreline, on the other side, where it will ever come to rest.

“There is never a single, orthodox version of a myth. As our circumstances change, we need to tell our stories differently in order to bring out their timeless truth. In this short history of mythology, we shall see that every time men and women took a major step forward, they reviewed their mythology and made it speak to the new conditions. But we shall see also see that human nature does not change much, and that many of these myths, devised in societies that could not be more different than our own, still address our most essential fears and desires.”
-- From chapter 1, A Short History of Myth

I could say more, but it would save a lot of time if you would just click here and order the book for yourself.
Bookpuddle rates it five skipping stones out of five.



Rebecca H. said...

I love Karen Armstrong too (A History of God was great) and that book on myth sounds fascinating.

Cipriano said...

Holy Sacred Cow!
I think that this is an example of what is called [in some mythologies].... the Legend of Instant Response Time!
I mean, I only posted this blog about nine seconds ago. Anyhoo, great to hear from you, as always.
Isn't Karen Armstrong just a real sweety? Have you read her memoirs? It's enough to kill you.

Cold Molasses said...

I just looked at this book at Indigo yesterday. I picked it up to buy it, but my frugal side reminded me that I have about 8 books at home already waiting to be read. But after reading this, I'll think I'll break down and buy it! You should start charging a commission Cip!

Cipriano said...

No kidding Cold Mol!
Truly... it is an important book.

Carl V. Anderson said...

The Miller's Tale was great! I made it quite a ways through Canterbury Tales many, many years ago. I need to pick it up and read it again.