Myth (The New Critical Idiom Series) by Laurence Coupe

This book is part of the series The New Critical Idiom edited by John Drakakis. It is written by Laurence Coupe who is a Senior Lecturer in English at Manchester Metropolitan University. Myth was written with the students of literature in mind. It gives them a comprehensive overview of the development of myth, showing how mythic themes, structures and symbols persist in literature and entertainment today. This book shows the relation between myth, culture and literature, it explores uses made of the term “myth” within the fields of literary criticism, anthropology, cultural studies, feminism, Marxism, and psychoanalysis, it discusses the association between modernism, post-modernism, myth and history, it familiarizes the student with themes such as the dying god, the quest of the Grail, the relation between chaos and cosmos, and the vision of the end of time. And finally demonstrates the growing importance of the green dimension of myth.
The introduction of the book is trying to establish a definition of myth that will take us forward into the book. The author starts by giving simple examples of how the myth is seen from different angles by different people. In literary and cultural studies myth is usually used as a synonym of ideology for example when we say “the myth of progress” or “the myth of the free individual”. In the entertainment world it is used as a synonym for fantasy. In either case the meaning is illusion. Then the author gives us four stories that define different types of myths, fertility myths, creation myths, deliverance myths, and hero myths. These are not the only types but they are the most seen in mythology. The author believes that mythology is an important element of literature and that literature is a means to extend mythology. The author decided to use the approach outlined by the theologian Don Cupitt to define myth. Don Cupitt considers that there are so many conflicting definitions of myth because each theorists takes one sort of myth and makes it the center of his studies that it is better to list a number of “typical features” and then act on the assumption that a narrative is mythic if it has most but not necessarily all of these features.
Part one is about reading myths.The author uses as his vehicle the film by Coppola Apocalypse Now. Through it we discuss the work of Frazer, T.S. Eliot and his “mythical Method”, Edgell Rickword’s mythopoeic program and Mircea Eliade’s work. Chapter one focuses on the fertility myth and Frazer’s work on it. Chapter two focuses on the creation myth and Mircea Eliade’s work on the subject and in chapter three the myth of deliverance is discussed and through out all three chapters the hero myth is discussed in relation to the material. All this is done with an eye on the literary and cultural texts and contexts.
Mythic reading is the subject of part two. Chapter four talks about two kinds of mythic reading: allegory, which is identified as realist; and typology, which is identified as non-realist. Chapter five and the subsequent chapters talk about the theories of the past and present. The people whose works are discussed are Sigmund Freud, Carl Jung, and Claude Lévi-Strauss in Chapter five; Ronald Barthes, Northrop Frye, Fredric Jameson and Marina Warner in Chapter six; Gary Snyder, James Lovelock, Theodore Roszak and Michel Serres in Chapter seven.
I really loved this book and enjoyed the examination of three types of myths in relation to the movie Apocalypse Now. I also very much enjoyed the easy explanation of the theories of myth in part two of the book. I think what makes it really good is the fact that it uses examples from works we have all read or seen at some point or another in our lives. It keeps the book fresh and makes the thought process very easy on the student (or in my case reader). It also brings about the conclusion that with the loss of myth we lose our environment, and that if the natural world is not alive (as is portrayed in myths) then it is a “wasteland”. Another idea that came across loud and clear was how to read myths and how to be a mythic reader. It is all in how your “see” the myth and from what point of view. A wonderful book indeed!


2 thoughts on “Myth (The New Critical Idiom Series) by Laurence Coupe

  1. David says:

    Haven’t yet read the book, but it sounds fascinating. Am particularly interested in what the author says about Jim Morrison’s work.

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