“Literature began as an aid to memory, and it continues to serve myth in that role, preserving a few strands of myth from extinction in the way endangered animal species are preservedby zoos and exotic plants by botanical gardens.”
“Wisdom of the Mythtellers” by Sean Kane
This is my second encounter with this book; my first was a scholarly approach, as Wisdom of the Mythtellers was one of the texts used in my mythology class, taught by the formidable and amazing Ari Berk at Central Michigan University. I think I enjoyed the book more with the guidance of Berk’s insightful and engaging lectures to accompany it; by itself it’s enjoyable, but I feel the journey was a little lonely this way. Wisdom of the Mythtellers is Sean Kane’s exploration of the power of myth, especially in an oral tradition, as told by storytellers and shamans to cultures both modern and ancient. He goes through the elements of myth: boundary, pattern, nature, tradition, and so on. These elements are highlighted by fascinating examples of tales from many different cultures: the Haida of the Pacific Northwest, the Aboriginal tribes of Australia, Ancient Greek, Welsh and Celtic, Native American, and very brief mentions of Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism.
These little stories are my favourite parts of the book, as are the direct discussion of the deeply entrenched meanings and reasons behind them. The development of myth and the importance of people to tell them and send them along the line from generation to generation is inspiring and encouraging, and inspires someone, as a writer, to constantly be aware of the oral tradition that preceded literature and how rich and deep and aware they were. It is a book that caused me to pause several times to jot down a new idea or a reminder about something to make my work richer and give it more depth to nature and the spirits of storytelling that preceded me and my own.
In a second reading, Kane’s insights aren’t quite as exciting and revealing as they were the first time, when it was approached from a scholarly student perspective, but it was still a nice refresher, a very inspiring reminder of the importance of mythtelling and the connection we used to have with the gods of nature and of animals, of the seasons and the sun. I think this book would be an exceptionally good tool in particularly for a writer of fantasy fiction; the richness of the developed world and myth for such works is what can often make or break the illusion of the fantasy. But it could still be useful for any sort of writing, for any sort of creator of worlds, or even for one who simply appreciates stories, especially ones so fluent in the ways of the world around us and the people that have walked those ways.
It makes me want to dive back into all the mythologies I’ve so far developed for Aryneth and make them even better. It’s a great book to have on hand, a spectacular reference and reminder of all the strains of things seen in a successful, effective, and deeply meaningful myth. It makes me miss the beauty of a well-told story around a campfire, deep in the woods of Pennyslvania on cool summer nights. And it definitely makes me miss Ari Berk’s mythology class, or even just discussions with other world-builders and the myths they create to make that world more entrenched in something real and touching and deep.
Books Read: 14 out of 100.