I came across a poem by JRR Tolkien today called Mythopoeia. I have to thank fellow blogger Glaiza at Paper Wanderer. (Do check out her gorgeous book blog!) Her post launched me onto one of those fascinating, time-sucky adventures in Cyberspace, where you lose the better part of a day and gain a sackful of shiny nuggets of knowledge and an impressively swollen TBR list. In fact, I sprouted a new shelf on my Goodreads profile: Mythopoetic.
Mythopoeia & Meaning
Mythopoeia is a literary term that refers to myth making. JRR was a modern master-mythopoet with his creation of Middle Earth. His fellow Inkling CS Lewis was also a Jedi mythopoet. And speaking of Jedi, George Lucas’s Star Wars fits the criteria too.
JRR wrote his poem Mythopoeia to address CS’s disdain for myths. JRR believed that myths were vessels of truth whereas CS saw them as “lies and therefore worthless, even though breathed through silver.”
God, I love these guys. Arguing in heroic couplets–how badass is that? I wish people nowadays discussed things in verse. Instead, worthy online discussions are hijacked by outbursts of Twitter Rage and devolve into expletive-clogged troll-fests.
Back to civilised discourse: According to the poem’s Wiki:
“Mythopoeia takes the position that mythology contains spiritual and foundational truths while myth-making is a ‘creative act’ that helps narrate and disclose those truths.”
To convince his friend and associate of the fundamental nature of myths, JRR writes:
only a void, unless a jewelled tent
myth-woven and elf-patterned; and no earth,
unless the mother’s womb whence all have birth.
JRR’s poem converted CS to a trust in the power and truth of myth. (Tolkien must have been a persuasive man; on a spiritual level, he famously led Lewis to embrace the Christian faith). Lewis set a new mythopoeic benchmark by populating Narnia with around 50 species of mythological creatures, including fauns, griffins, jinns, naiads, and even Santa Claus. I remember rereading The Lion, the Witch & the Wardrobe as an adult and having the sensation of sitting on the sidelines, sad and sober, at a Mardi Gras parade.
Mash-up & More
Mytho-mashup is not new of course. It’s a feature of popular urban fantasy, where werewolves and vampires clash, and fae do battle with demons. Then there’s the fabulously fun Iron Druid Chronicles by Kevin Hearne, who brilliantly blends Celtic mythology with, well, just about every other kind of mythology. Seriously. What a romp! (I LOVE Oberon!)
My interest in Tolkien and Lewis’s discussion, and in the word mythopoeia itself, relates to my latest book Toby Fitzroy & the Quest for the Scales of Time. I describe the story as “MG maritime fantasy-adventure with lashings of steampunk.” Toby’s sea adventure pits him against scary traditional mythological beings as he quests for a prize of my invention–The Scales of Time. (You’ll have to read the book to find out what they are and if he secures them…)
I’m happy to learn that a Mythopoeic Society exists to keep alive the spirit of the Inklings with the study and celebration of modern mythopoeic literature for adults, children and scholars. (Click the link to the site at your own risk! You won’t emerge without a swollen TBR list.)
And I am chuffed to confirm my stories fall into the same category (but, sadly, not the stellar quality) as works by Neil Gaiman, Terry Pratchett, Juliet Marillier, Peter Beagle, and Jane Yolen. Hats off to my mythopoeic heroes!