A Short History of Myth (Canongate Myths Series) by Karen Armstrong


A friend of mine recommended A Short History of Myth to me when I asked her opinion on books that I could read to help me with an essay that I wanted to write.  The name sounded familiar so I went looking for it in my library and ended up buying a new copy because mine had somehow either disappeared or I lent it to someone and forgot about it.

The book is about the history of myths as opposed to the history of the theory of myths.  Karen Armstrong takes you on a tour of what myths are and what they meant to humanity through the ages.  She starts with the Neanderthals and goes right up to the present.  You must read the book though knowing that she has set ideas.  She believes that myths are stories that accompany ritual and that without the rituals the myths really have no meaning.  Also they help humans cope with human predicaments, in essence they tell you how to behave and interpret things that happen in your life.  And though the stories change as humans change they still speak to the same basic conditions.  To her a myth is true not because it gives you factual information but because it is effective.  If it does not give you a new insight into the deeper meaning of life it has failed.  She also looks at the roles of artists today and presents the hypothesis that they are making the myths of today.

I like the book because of the history and development of myth and because it talks about the myth itself rather than the history of the theories of myth.  However, because of the big scope of the book and the small amount of space she has to give it all to you the book is very limited.  Her views come through loud and clear (and she is very up front about those views so I can’t fault her there) and sometimes she makes conclusions with out giving you the evidence to back it up (I’m assuming because of the limited space she has at times, and because sometimes her views just can’t be verified).  All in all it was an ok book that serves as a good introduction to myths, with the caveats mentioned above.

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