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 Mythology - "enhanced history" or fairy tales?

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DarkLight
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PostSubject: Mythology - "enhanced history" or fairy tales?   Wed 04 Jan 2012, 15:43

Well someone had to break the ice, so here we are!

I'm wondering what your thoughts are on classical mythology? Was it all a load of bedtime stories, or is there a historical base to the myths and legends of classical Greece (I confine this to Greece for now, since Roman myth would fail all anti-plagiarism software checks!). For a good example, Homer's Iliad and Odyssey were considered to be purely fictional, until a certain Mr Schliemann went and did a bit of (badly done and highly destructive) digging in Western Turkey. Prior to this, Troy (Ilium) was thought to be a purely fictional construct, yet suddenly here's a huge city in the right location which showed evidence of being sacked.

How strange it would be if Hesiod's Theogony was actually just a handed down tale of a dysfunctional family in pre-Greek Greece. Any thoughts?
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PostSubject: Re: Mythology - "enhanced history" or fairy tales?   Wed 04 Jan 2012, 17:48

Perhaps a bit off the main thrust but this programme http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4SWKQIVbXgM has some interesting thoughts about how fossils may have been incorporated into myth to produce of the more exciting fauna.
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PostSubject: Re: Mythology - "enhanced history" or fairy tales?   Fri 06 Jan 2012, 09:49

Places have a habit of appearing out of myth and back into reality. Besides Troy there are several other notable examples, even one such here in Norway. Mythical people however tend not to do it so much - perhaps a reflection of the nature of archaeology rather than an indication that people in myth belong there and only there.

However a good rule of thumb when discussing myth, I have found, is that where myth imparts personality to an element it is normally in order to prosecute a certain philosophical viewpoint or a feature of such. Where myth employs references to place it is either to contextualise and augment the personalities who populate the myth or simply to provide pseudo-factual references that a contemporary audience can identify with in order to impose an air of actuality on the rest of the contents. It is those which fall into the latter category which tend to be found through archaeology.
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PostSubject: Re: Mythology - "enhanced history" or fairy tales?   Fri 06 Jan 2012, 10:58

A rather naive question - does all myth have to include an element of the magical, the supernatural or are there any that don't? What is the difference between myth and legend, or is there any?
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PostSubject: Re: Mythology - "enhanced history" or fairy tales?   Fri 06 Jan 2012, 11:12

There is a distinct difference when discussing the topic in academic circles. Myth purports to provide a religious (or similar philosophical or pseudo-philosophical) explanation for phenomena. These phenomena can be observable and experiencable in the real world but do not have to be. They can also be a reality only in as defined within another myth, and so on. Myth therefore tends to have both a self-contained logic and a self-contained chronology, should either be required to believe it.

Legend on the other hand tends to simply mean a narrative placed in an historical context. Its primary function is to impart an alleged story from the past. This of course could well be motivated by a desire to persuade an audience that a particular myth is a valid explanation for something, but not necessarily so.

Myths and myth cycles can therefore contain many legends. Legends however tend not to contain myth in the same way, but can of course be employed in an attempt to validate myth in the minds of the audience.

Or as Bierce remarked once (from memory) - "A legend is a lie told as a good yarn. A myth is whole bunch of lies told with no pretence to entertain."
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PostSubject: Re: Mythology - "enhanced history" or fairy tales?   Fri 06 Jan 2012, 11:58

ferval wrote:

- does all myth have to include an element of the magical, the supernatural or are there any that don't?

Since myths don't, by definition, have to concern themselves with realism they do tend therefore to incorporate fantastic claims almost as standard. An example of myth which avoids magic and the supernatural however is political mythology - the ouvre of fables and legends which grow up about the origins of particular ideologies etc. They still tend to veer from factual and truthful reportage, but they also tend to incorporate as many plausible assertions as possible.
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PostSubject: Re: Mythology - "enhanced history" or fairy tales?   Mon 12 Aug 2013, 21:59

DarkLight wrote:
(I confine this to Greece for now, since Roman myth would fail all anti-plagiarism software checks!)
It's interesting, nevertheless, how some mythological stories are echoed in seemingly unrelated cultures.

For example in Greek mythology the great monster Typhon is (after a literally Olympic struggle) trapped by the god Zeus under Mount Etna. His periodic but vain efforts to escape are said to be the cause of volcanic eruptions and earthquakes.

While on the other side of the world in Japanese mythology the giant catfish Namazu is vanquished and restrained underground by the god Takemikazuchi. His periodic and violent efforts to escape are also said to be be the cause of earthquakes.
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PostSubject: Re: Mythology - "enhanced history" or fairy tales?   Tue 13 Aug 2013, 07:16

Other cultures have such splendid monsters in their myths and legends: the English have worms.

The Lambton Worm is perhaps the best known of  our legendary worms.

This particular story usually has a section called "The Worm's Wrath", which, it must be admitted, doesn't sound that terrifying.

But, of course, I should add that "wyrm" was the Old English for "dragon". How fortunate it is that we have this alternative: St. George and the Worm doesn't sound at all right. And Drake as El Wormo would never have put the fear of God into the Spanish.

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PostSubject: Re: Mythology - "enhanced history" or fairy tales?   Tue 13 Aug 2013, 08:10

I liked that one! Smile 

England is a country whose history has, sadly, shorn it of nearly all of its ancient native mythology, leaving only the legends in its wake. Tolkien's day job at one time was a concerted effort to recover the myth cycles from the fragments, a task in which he ultimately failed. I think it was when he found that he was reduced to inventing plausible mythical frameworks for the scraps remaining that he decided to make a virtue of necessity and constructed a romance instead, so at least something came out of it of some worth.

The nearest I can think of in terms of myth relates to King Arthur, though not in the way that most people associate "myth" with what is now essentially three distinct legends separated by point and time of origin. It is the last one, the one concocted in Norman France/England, that fulfils the criteria of myth in that it is an essential ingredient in that pervasive myth (some people still amazingly subscribe to it today) of an era of chivalry. That particular myth had very real political and social value in its day which got it over the first hurdle of solely contemporary relevance, prime elements at its core proving useful to perpetuate in later generations, Arthur being one of them.

Another legend that cries out for a mythical context however - and which probably had one that is now almost completely lost without trace - is Beowulf, that marvellous hybrid of Saxon, Danish and Swedish elements which must have had a huge relevance for a people engaged in constructing myth that explained these disparate influences in their own society. The Cú Chulainn legend excised from its context within the Ulster Cycle of Gaelic myth would leave us with an interesting warrior figure of no relevance to contemporary society. The preservation of that cycle however allowed the reinvention of Cú Chulainn by successive generations, an ongoing process even today - exactly as myth is supposed to work. Poor Beowulf on the other hand has been left stranded in that respect. We can theorise to our hearts' content about the references but unless it is translated by a genius like Seamus Heaney (who incidentally grew up immersed in Ulster Cycle mythology imparted as history) its mythical point evades us.

Edit: Shouldn't leave a point about Heaney's "Beowulf" without his marvellous opening stanza - a heartfelt plea for the legend to take its place back in myth:

And now this is ‘an inheritance’ –
Upright, rudimentary, unshiftably planked
In the long ago, yet willable forward
Again and again and again
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PostSubject: Re: Mythology - "enhanced history" or fairy tales?   Tue 13 Aug 2013, 09:29

Those lines are superb, aren't they, but they are actually taken from his poem, "The Settle Bed". I think (not sure) he uses those lines as an introduction to Beowulf somewhere. I know of no other poet who understands the sea so well; he can get you right there in the longboat with the Spear-Danes - " ...yet willable forward/Again and again and again" - those simple words capture the rhythm of the oars and the thrust through the water perfectly.

You're quite right to say the man is a genius: his translation of Beowulf is up there with the best. His other stuff is pretty good too.

The Settle Bed
Willed down, waited for, in place at last and for good.
Trunk-hasped, cart-heavy, painted an ignorant brown.
And pew-strait, bin-deep, standing four-square as an ark.
If I lie in it, I am cribbed in seasoned deal
Dry as the unkindled boards of a funeral ship.
My measure has been taken, my ear shuttered up.

Yet I hear an old sombre tide awash in the headboard:
Unpathetic och ochs and och bobs, the long bedtime
Anthems of Ulster, unwilling, unbeaten,
Protestant, Catholic, the Bible, the beads,
Long talks at gables by moonlight, boots on the hearth,
The small hours chimed sweetly away so next thing it was

The cock on the ridge-tiles.
And now this is ‘an inheritance’
Upright, rudimentary, unshiftably planked
In the long ago, yet willable forward

Again and again and again,
cargoed with
Its own dumb, tongue-and-groove worthiness
And un-get-roundable weight. But to conquer that
  weight,

Imagine a dower of settle beds tumbled from heaven
Like some nonsensical vengeance come on the people,
Then learn from that harmless barrage that whatever is
  given

Can always be reimagined, however four-square.
Plank-thick, hull-stupid and out of its time
It happens to be. You are free as the lookout,

That far-seeing joker posted high over the fog,
Who declared by the time that he had got himself down
The actual ship had been stolen away from beneath
  him.
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PostSubject: Re: Mythology - "enhanced history" or fairy tales?   Tue 13 Aug 2013, 09:47

Maybe it was the publisher who thought it fitting to put it up front in my edition. There is most likely a proper credit which I just never noticed.

One things that in a way is quite sad about Heaney's translation is that he felt (rightly) the need to replace traditional English words with Irish-English words since he felt that the English word in these cases had been emasculated over time of its original impact, import and relevance. "Bawn", for example, replaced "hall" or "keep" when it referred to Hrothgar's embattled building, the better to convey the sense of the enemy without as English settlers in Ireland had once used the bawn (and coined the term) to just that end. Of the passage where Hrothgar waits and watches for Grendel's arrival Heaney defends this stance by saying "... indeed, every time I read the lovely interlude that tells of the minstrel singing in Heorot just before the first attacks of Grendel, I cannot help thinking of Edmund Spenser in Kilcolman Castle, reading the early cantos of The Faerie Queene to Sir Walter Raleigh, just before the Irish would burn the castle and drive Spenser and Munster back to the Elizabethan court."
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PostSubject: Re: Mythology - "enhanced history" or fairy tales?   Tue 13 Aug 2013, 15:25

Thank you for bringing this up, because it has made me check my own Faber & Faber edition of Heaney's Beowulf. You are absolutely right: Heaney himself does indeed head his Introduction with the lines from "The Settle Bed" which you have quoted. To my shame, I read the Introduction for the first time just half an hour ago. I'm so glad I did, because it is full of interesting details such as the information about the word "bawn" and the comment about Spenser which you mention.

Interesting too what he says about Gerard Manley Hopkins - "a chip off the Old English block". I'd never thought about that properly before either, but of course Heaney is right.

Comforting to know too how Heaney, genius as he is, still had to toil over his translation, "like a sixth-former at homework". Twenty lines a day was all he could cope with - "the whole attempt to turn it into modern English seemed to me like trying to bring down a megalith with a toy hammer."

And isn't what he calls his Hiberno-English "Scullionspeak" choice of "So!" instead of the corny old Victorian "Behold!" or "Lo!" or "Hark!", or even the more colloquial "Listen!", just perfect for that opening imperative "Hwaet"? Heaney tells us: "...in that idiom, 'so' operates as an expression which obliterates all previous discourse and narrative, and at the same time functions as an exclamation calling for immediate attention."

This be the verse all right - "the clear song of the skilled poet."

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PostSubject: Re: Mythology - "enhanced history" or fairy tales?   Fri 16 Aug 2013, 16:15

Casting a sword in a stone mold may be the origin of the Excalibur story. 



and the use of sheepskin for gold panning, the origin of Jason and the Golden Fleece.
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PostSubject: Re: Mythology - "enhanced history" or fairy tales?   Mon 19 Aug 2013, 08:57

DarkLight wrote:
How strange it would be if Hesiod's Theogony was actually just a handed down tale of a dysfunctional family in pre-Greek Greece. Any thoughts?
While we're in poetical mood DarkLight's original question above (what's he up to these days, I wonder?) was addressed beautifully by Patrick Kavanagh's "Epic", especially the closing couplet. A small dispute about a farm boundary becomes the stuff of myth ...

I have lived in important places, times
When great events were decided, who owned
That half a rood of rock, a no-man's land
Surrounded by our pitchfork-armed claims.
I heard the Duffys shouting "Damn your soul!"
And old McCabe stripped to the waist, seen
Step the plot defying blue cast-steel -
"Here is the march along these iron stones."
That was the year of the Munich bother. Which
Was more important? I inclined
To lose my faith in Ballyrush and Gortin
Till Homer's ghost came whispering to my mind.
He said: I made the Iliad from such
A local row. Gods make their own importance.

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PostSubject: Re: Mythology - "enhanced history" or fairy tales?   Fri 30 Aug 2013, 13:59

And now Seamus Heaney has left us ...

Seamus Heaney Dies Aged 74

I feel poorer already




A DRINK OF WATER

She came every morning to draw water
Like an old bat staggering up the field:
The pump's whooping cough, the bucket's clatter
And slow dimineundo as it filled,
Announced her. I recall
Her grey apron, the pocked white enamel
Of the brimming bucket, and the treble
Creak of her voice like the pump's handle.
Nights when a full moon lifted past her gable
It fell back through her window and would lie
Into the water set out on the table.
Where I have dipped to drink again, to be
Faithful to the admonishment on her cup,
"Remember the Giver," fading off the lip.



-- Seamus Heaney
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PostSubject: Re: Mythology - "enhanced history" or fairy tales?   Fri 30 Aug 2013, 19:49

And it was only yesterday that culling blackberries I recalled his nostalgic poem and was determined that I would not get so many that they would fur with mould before I could use them, His clear microscope on the small always revealed a greatly expanded view.
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PostSubject: Re: Mythology - "enhanced history" or fairy tales?   Fri 30 Aug 2013, 23:28

This is one of my favourite Seamus Heaney poems:


The Skylight

You were the one for skylights. I opposed
Cutting into the seasoned tongue-and-groove
Of pitch pine. I liked it low and closed,
Its claustrophobic, nest-up-in-the-roof
Effect. I liked the snuff-dry feeling,
The perfect, trunk-lid fit of the old ceiling.
Under there, it was all hutch and hatch.
The blue slates kept the heat like midnight thatch.

But when the slates came off, extravagant
Sky entered and held surprise wide open.
For days I felt like an inhabitant
Of that house where the man sick of the palsy
Was lowered through the roof, had his sins forgiven,
Was healed, took up his bed and walked away.



All the more poignant now.
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PostSubject: Re: Mythology - "enhanced history" or fairy tales?   Sat 31 Aug 2013, 09:11

They extolled his heroic nature and exploits
and gave thanks for his greatness; which was the proper thing,
for a man should praise a prince whom he holds dear
and cherish his memory when that moment comes
when he has to be conveyed from his bodily home...
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PostSubject: Re: Mythology - "enhanced history" or fairy tales?   Tue 17 Sep 2013, 18:13

In sunny Stafford (or rather soggy Stafford today) until recently there was a Wicca shop.In Stafford, not way down yonder in New Orleans. I thought it had closed but it's changed to a magical gift shop. So seems some folk believe in magic in the 21st century. When I was a child I was disapponted when I learned dragons and unicorns were not real. Haven't been to buy any magical gifts though. Some years ago when I was young enough to get away with long hair I was sweeping up some autumn leaves in the garden on a very windy day in the run-up to Hallowe'en. My then cat who was black was scaring me in case he ran in the road and I said something daft  like "Watch it". A couple of little girls who were passing must have thought I was speaking to them. I heard them say something about,"She's got a broom, she's got a black cat" whereupon they ran off quickly.
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PostSubject: Re: Mythology - "enhanced history" or fairy tales?   Tue 17 Sep 2013, 19:58

Ah, you need to talk to our resident Wicca watcher, Normanhurst. He's probably out in the forest right now, spying on nubile young witches and hoping they'll cast a spell on him. What kind of spell I will leave to your imaginations.
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PostSubject: Re: Mythology - "enhanced history" or fairy tales?   Wed 18 Sep 2013, 08:50

Current mythology is interesting. Children sort of half believe in Spider Man, Bat man and Super Man - and that in crisis the favoured one will zoom in to bring them to safety. I know of a girl of 7, who on being given a Super Woman kit with cloak   jumped down a three storied stair well, assuming that she could now fly; sci-fi may be taking over where mythology left off
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PostSubject: Re: Mythology - "enhanced history" or fairy tales?   Wed 18 Sep 2013, 09:12

For children belief and knowledge both contribute almost identically to experiential learning techniques that they naturally utilise to make sense of their world, especially when combined in a single experience. Fantasy pads out the gaps that knowledge might leave and knowledge provides solid launchpads for exploratory fantasy. It's what makes them so easy to indoctrinate into any given faith system unfortunately, but it's also a fantastic method of acquiring actual knowledge through experience (that we adults often dismiss as simply "play") that I often wonder why we actually lose the tendency to do it, if not the actual ability to do it, as we "mature". When my brother and I arranged a few planks and a push-chair with an upturned bucket on top in our backyard and sat inside it we were - to all intents and purposes - "in" the actual batmobile and had several high speed adventures without travelling a single inch that experientially are as valid in my memory to me as if we had once sat in the "real" thing. The flight-inducing superhero costume trap that several children have fallen into (literally) is an indication of the very real risks involved in the technique as a learning process. But you can't deny that it's a risk we all chose to ignore as kids when the possible rewards in terms of exploring and mastering our universe were so tantalisingly high.
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PostSubject: Re: Mythology - "enhanced history" or fairy tales?   Wed 18 Sep 2013, 09:30

Aye - I agree with all of that, nordmann and have relieved the play experience with a grandson - being somewhat like  The Cat in a Hat when my daughter is away and I can then change the house into a wonderland of duvet dragon dens and such all over ...that we clear away by 5pm...... I was delighted to find out that he now does similar with his brother. I still reckon that daydreaming is not a waste of time...... By furnishing children with shop bought objects of their fantasy worlds we strip the of the power of the mind. I never quite lost this play exporation because when writing, I am there. I live it - and the exciting part is then trying to try to bring  the reader into my world.
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PostSubject: Re: Mythology - "enhanced history" or fairy tales?   Wed 18 Sep 2013, 09:40

Yes. Adults have a perverse notion that "play" somehow should always equate with "fun". Kids know it's a very serious business indeed. It can be fun of course, but it can also be an exploration of just about every other human emotion to which they are gradually being introduced (in the case of some emotions one hopes very gradually). When their use of fantasy is inhibited for whatever reason then their ability to explore these avenues of experience and emotion is restricted. It's unavoidable. Why anyone should think this might be a good thing defeats me.

I suppose in a way one could lump adult belief in obvious myth as an extension of this ability to suspend disbelief in order to explore, and for some people this may indeed be true. But once the myth becomes formulaic then I doubt that it's much different from when one circumvents a child's natural propensity to fantasise by getting them hooked on Nintendo games and the like. The balance of control, once switched from the individual, fast turns what could have been a learning opportunity of real value into an indoctrinal teaching opportunity on the part of the provider of the artificial stimulus. Not the same thing at all.
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PostSubject: Re: Mythology - "enhanced history" or fairy tales?   Wed 18 Sep 2013, 10:41

The infusion of the National Curriculum with its aims and targets, prescribed levels and contents was the warning bell for me to leave education. I implemented it  because I saw the reasons for it as lanes of procedure with teachers  whose reasons for being in teaching were suspect; long holidays often  the  manque one. Being, private, abroad and head made it it easier for myself to move while apparently wearing the white jacket of strictures with great guile to carry on doing as I always did; taking my children into another world to explore the world like the white rabbit. When my classroom door closed out the rest. then we - me as well - had fun albeit maths, language - whatever. It was my job to open the windows of enticement. It was up to them to fly out to it. To be honest I loved every moment - it was so much fun. Of course they had to take exams to get into other schools - no one ever failed, honest - and that was because it was just another challenge,  I think. Rich days - and one of the joys  is that I am still in contact with so many of them - even from 50 years ago when I  started  not much older than they were.  Sadly, in later years I had few staff about me who understood the pleasures of education; and who with half knowledge of what they were really about, took themselves far too seriously, unable to use the joyous child's perspective. It was time to leave. Then came the first book.
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PostSubject: Re: Mythology - "enhanced history" or fairy tales?   Wed 18 Sep 2013, 16:02

So I guess this is a fairly safe place to admit that most nights I still revisit in my imagination a world that I started to develop when I was 14/15 years old or so and have expanded/explored ever since. So that now, even in my 50's, after a busy day and before going to sleep, I still regularly go back to the huge fantasy world that exists only in my mind. 

I know this world intimately, in places down to the very geology, rocks, weather, seasons, plants and animals, .... and to the history and culture of its inhabitants. But as I say, it exists only in my mind. Yet in times of need I know it is always there. I'll admit its not a always a particularly comforting world  - it has it's own particular problems and issues. But to me it is comforting by its own constant continuing existence. Though again I admit this world exists just in my imagination, nestling in a only several million neurons !

So I concur: Never underestimate the capacity and power of a child's imagination!

OK - Now you can call the men in white coats!
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PostSubject: Re: Mythology - "enhanced history" or fairy tales?   Wed 18 Sep 2013, 17:33

Goodness, there's so much here that makes me want to cheer and wave a colourful flag.  

I got extricated from my hole in the ground today by a phone call asking me to collect my granddaughter from school and we've just had one of her long and immensely complicated games which involved an imaginary child from Africa arriving in her school, speaking an invented language, inviting all her classmates to go home to Africa with her etcetera etcetera. I should be clearing up the litter of paper from all the hand drawn passports, the plates from the welcome feast and so on but that can wait. It's such a relief that a very tech concious child still prefers proper play.


P, I so understand. It was largely because of the straight jacket of curriculum and syllabus that I very promptly scooted out of mainstream education to a setting where I could have the freedom to teach what I felt would really mattered to the youngsters in my care and when the powers that be began to obsess about certificates and percentage passes (so they could tick all the right boxes, not for the long term benefit of the kids) that a well timed early retirement package gave me an exit.


MM, do tell us more, I envy you in your ability to hold on to that ability to retreat into a private universe. When does the first book or computer game come out?
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PostSubject: Re: Mythology - "enhanced history" or fairy tales?   Wed 18 Sep 2013, 18:05

And these games can lead to great things:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gondal_(fictional_country)

The world of Gondal was invented as a joint venture by sisters Emily and Anne. It was a game which they may possibly have played to the end of their lives. Early on they had played with their older siblings Charlotte and Branwell in the imaginary country and game of Angria, which featured the Duke of Wellington and his sons as the heroes.

As in the case of Angria, Gondal had its origins in the Glasstown Confederacy, an earlier imaginary setting created by the siblings as children. Glasstown was founded when twelve wooden soldiers were offered to Branwell Brontë by his father, Patrick Brontë, on 5 June 1826. The soldiers became characters in their imaginary world. Charlotte wrote:

“ Branwell came to our door with a box of soldiers Emily & I jumped out of bed and I snat[c]hed up one & exclaimed this is the Duke of Wellington it shall be mine!!...When I said this Emily likewise took one & said it should be hers when Anne came down she took one also. Mine was the prettiest of the whole & perfect in every part Emilys was a Grave looking fellow we called him Gravey. Anne's was a queer little thing very much like herself. [H]e was called Waiting Boy[.] Branwell chose Bonaparte. ”
 
— Charlotte Brontë, The History of the Year


However, it was only during December 1827 that the world really took shape, when Charlotte suggested that everyone own and manage their own island, which they named after heroic leaders: Charlotte had Wellington, Branwell had Sneaky, Emily had Parry, and Anne had Ross. Each island's capital was called Glasstown, hence the name of the Glasstown Confederacy.

Emily and Anne, as the youngest siblings, were often relegated to inferior positions within the game. Therefore, they staged a rebellion and established the imaginary world of Gondal for themselves. "The Gondal Chronicles," which would have given us the full story of Gondal, has unfortunately been lost, but the poems and the diary entries they wrote to each other provide something of an outline.[5] The earliest documented reference to Gondal is one of Emily's diary entries in 1834, 9 years after the Glasstown Confederacy, when the two younger sisters were aged 16 and 14 respectively; it read: "The Gondals are discovering the interior of Gaaldine."


They made up tiny books, just for fun...


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PostSubject: Re: Mythology - "enhanced history" or fairy tales?   Wed 18 Sep 2013, 18:13

I never knew any of that, Temp. How enchanting. 'The Gondal Chronicles' ... now that sounds like quite an entertaining story ....
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PostSubject: Re: Mythology - "enhanced history" or fairy tales?   Wed 18 Sep 2013, 18:20

Here's a map Branwell Bronte drew, MM. You can see "Sneaky's Land" quite clearly.



So, ferval, keep that little girl scribbling!

We wove a web in childhood

A web of sunny air

We dug a spring in infancy

Of water pure and fair
...

Opening lines from Retrospection by C. Bronte.
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PostSubject: Re: Mythology - "enhanced history" or fairy tales?   Mon 30 Sep 2013, 13:43

I'm keeping an open mind as yet about the Beeb's new fantasy "Atlantis".  I know mythology isn't true - well there may be a kernel of truth in the stories but I bet they've been "embroidered" over the passage of time.  The "Atlantis" writers are playing somewhat fast and loose with the Jason legend - on Saturday Jason fought the Minotaur (I thought it was Theseus).  I usually don't like changes in stories I know - even fictional ones - too much.  I hate "Once Upon a Time" the TV series because I feel the writers are being somewhat pompous and trying to change everything and be clever-clever (as well as Horrid Hen-ree the whiney kid - though I haven't been watching the second series).  I used to get hacked off by all the "fair" maidens in the story books; I was brown haired when I was young (with a bit of chestnut if the sun shone from the right direction - which it didn't always) and when I was reading the stories I got fed up of all the heroines seemingly being blonde.  I liked Snow White (though not "Once Upon a Time" Snow White) because having black  hair she was at least dark of hair - though brown would have been better.  Reading through Temperance's post above, I'm afraid my playmates and I were rather unimaginative compared to the Brontes - playing fairies and witches and kidnapping and that sort of thing, when we used our imaginations - and didn't I feel like thumping (don't worry I didn't actually do it) my blonde friends when they said I couldn't be the Princess because I had dark hair ..........
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PostSubject: Re: Mythology - "enhanced history" or fairy tales?   Mon 30 Sep 2013, 14:50

One thing is sure; if mythology is at times "enhanced history" then re-writing established myth will break that link with the past. A terrible disservice to both myth and history.

Injecting Jason, a hero associated with post-Alexandrian retrogressive justification for the spread of Greek/Macedonian authority in the lands then seen as the gateway to the rest of the world, into a much more ancient myth concerning Mycenaean acquisition of power and wealth in the post-Minoan eastern Mediterranean, simply shows a complete ignorance on the part of the writers concerning the respective myths' scope, purpose and age. It is akin to having William Tell turning up as a Helvetian prince fighting Caesar. Out of context, out of time, and missing the point of both narratives.

PS: I agree with you entirely about the blondes. To me "fair maiden" meant only that the lady concerned was beautiful, and I am sure that up to Disney this was how the whole world read the phrase too. Reminds me of two of my old acquaintances in a pub one evening, the one a rather pretty female who knew this all to well and the other a deliciously cynical Cavan man. He surprised everyone by suddenly and loudly complimenting her on her (recently touched up) blonde hair, describing it as "the very picture of those flaxen locks as immortalised in odes of old". With mock humility she replied that her hair was not really so golden, but needed help now and again. To which he responded, equally loudly as before, "Oh, it wasn't the colour I meant. It is so deliciously coarse and oily, like flax."
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PostSubject: Re: Mythology - "enhanced history" or fairy tales?   Mon 30 Sep 2013, 15:59

Well  I haven't said I definitely like it - just that I wasn't rushing to judgement.  On the whole I dislike changing earlier versions of stories as I said.  I forgave some pretty liberal artistic licence taken by the same team in the "Merlin" series (they had Morgause asking Arthur to kneel so that she could strike his head off -  though she didn't actually do it, when in the earlier tales it was the Green Knight who did so to Gawain).  I hated "A Connecticut Yankee at the Court of King Arthur" and also disliked the novels by Rosemary Sutcliffe (who I usually liked) and Mary Stewart (whose books were recommended to me and I found very disappointing) for tinkering with the Arthurian myth.  Thus far, I can tolerate (just about) time-travelling Jason much more than "kick-ass" Snow-White in "Once Upon a Time".

It saddens me that people seek to improve on what were already good stories.  The Atlanteenees and Once-upon-a-Timers aren't the first to do so I guess.  I'm sure I learned at school that Sir Walter Scott tried to "improve" some of the old Scottish (or Scots??) folk ballads.

Edit:  When  I first typed this I didn't see Nordmann's remark about the blondes.  Now I don't hate blondes.  I have even been known to have blonde friends. Nordmann's story about the lady with the "enhanced" hair is very funny though.
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PostSubject: Re: Mythology - "enhanced history" or fairy tales?   Mon 30 Sep 2013, 16:08

Indeed, it goes on all the time. With myth it has repercussions, especially in trying to understand their origins and points. But with fairy tales too it can be equally damaging. Excising the sex and violence from Grimms' collections for example (by the Grimms themselves on occasion, though much has been excised since) takes us a huge stride away from getting into the minds of the communities in Europe that originally devised the stories, the times in which they lived, and of course the stories' actual purposes.

For the same reason I cannot help but shudder when I see Enid Blyton's stories being "sanitised" for modern young sensibilities. While I understand the point of the exercise it is yet another barrier of incomprehensibility dropping down between us now and the mind-set of the generations just before us. The historian in me is aghast at losing the source data, and in such a relatively short time frame too.
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PostSubject: Re: Mythology - "enhanced history" or fairy tales?   Mon 30 Sep 2013, 18:48

I have realised that my previous post might seem ambiguous.  I liked most of Rosemary Sutcliffe's books but I didn't like "Sword at Sunset" which was about the Arthurian myth.  Apart from "The Ugly Duckling" and "The Emperor's New Clothes" I never liked Hans Christian Andersen's (sp??) stories.  I found "The Little Mermaid" frightening.
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PostSubject: Re: Mythology - "enhanced history" or fairy tales?   Mon 30 Sep 2013, 19:22

Andersen could be very dark and morbid. Even when little more than a child himself he wrote this; Det Døende Barn (The Dying Child). The last verse, written from the child's viewpoint, is harrowing:


Hvorfor trykker saa Du mine Hænder?
Hvorfor lægger Du din Kind til min?
Den er vaad, og dog som Ild den brænder,
Moder, jeg vil altid være din!
Men saa maa Du ikke længer sukke,
Græder Du, saa græder jeg med Dig,
O, jeg er saa træt! – maa Øiet lukke –
– Moder – see! nu kysser Englen mig!


Why do you press my hands so?
Why do you lay your cheek on mine?
It is wet, and yet it burns like fire,
Mother I will always be yours!
But you must no longer sigh,
Though if you must cry then I will cry with you.
Oh, I am so tired! Must close my eyes.
Mother, look! Now the angel is kissing me ...


There are few of Andersen's stories in which love and death are not presented as two sides of the same thing. Gloomy, yes. But often curiously uplifting and moving too. One thing I am quite sure of - they are by no means children's stories!
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PostSubject: Re: Mythology - "enhanced history" or fairy tales?   Mon 30 Sep 2013, 22:50

"The Little Match Girl" is one such story that I read countless times with dread and tears in hope that one day there would be a happy ending. Not a cosseted childhood, mine, I knew well of poverty and the strength of people who lived through it but this tale, though of a different era, explained the misery of the depression years that affected so  many lives.
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PostSubject: Re: Mythology - "enhanced history" or fairy tales?   Mon 30 Sep 2013, 22:57

Quite. People tend to be ignorant now of the true purpose of a "fairy tale" (I prefer the Norwegian "eventyr"). It was not the entirely mendacious modern version in which the child learns to expect a happy ending by right, but a way of imparting all the crucial lessons to learn in life when young, including that life is often just a piece of shit when it comes to fairness. The lesson is not in the outcome but in the behaviour of the protagonists beforehand.
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PostSubject: Re: Mythology - "enhanced history" or fairy tales?   Mon 30 Sep 2013, 22:58

On the other hand my 7yr old grandson told me in great detail on the phone, tales about Kronos and Rhea et al with keen interest......... he even suggested that he took  the phone to bed so that he could call me and discusss it further. That he had been picked to play in an under 10's team at an FA event for his area in Birmingham was brushed aside in his huge interest in what he called 'Classics.' The working's of a child's mind never ceases to fascinate. Just when I was thinking that all was lost......
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PostSubject: Re: Mythology - "enhanced history" or fairy tales?   Mon 30 Sep 2013, 23:10

Great to hear. What children get out of a good story is rarely what they go in looking for, and for them that is a brilliant part of the deal. If only more film producers and publishers could realise this simple fact.
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PostSubject: Re: Mythology - "enhanced history" or fairy tales?   Tue 01 Oct 2013, 12:58

Although I never warmed to most of Mr Andersen's stories I did quite enjoy (in an edge of my seat sort of way) the traditional story "Jack and the Bean Stalk" with the giant's "Fee-fi-fo-fum, I smell the blood of an Englishman".  When I heard it the first time I didn't know Jack was going to get away .....   It is good to hear from Priscilla that her grandson has a lively imagination.  I will freely admit I don't have an in-depth knowledge of Roald Dahl's stories for children but some are quite dark I think (not the Hollywood versions - Miss Honey in Hollywood "Matilda" was so sickly sweet she made one feel quite ill). Children do seem to like his writing though.  The first story (traditional) I remember that I thought had a wrong ending was the one about the two lovers where everything goes wrong and they die and are buried together and the flowering plants planted on their graves grow to entangle together.  I was quite angry when I read that the first time in what was then top infant class.  It wasn't a fairy tale but Ginger's fate in "Black Beauty" broke my heart in first year juniors - and then years later JO DIDN'T MARRY LAURIE in the sequel to "Little Women"!
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