Saturday, March 10, 2012

Mythology in Mysteries: Myth or Reality?

Scott D. Parker

I am neck deep in the imagination of Edgar Rice Burroughs. Yesterday, I finished the fourth book in ERB’s Mars books, Thuvia, Maid of Mars, and am happily amazed at the mythology he created for his Barsoom, usually on the fly. Over the course of these books, ERB tells of the history, the races, and the culture of the inhabitants of the red planet. In just about every aspect of the definition of the word, he created a mythology.

Mythology. The word alone evokes visions of Greek gods and mortals traipsing about in loin clothes, swords in hands, fighting and solving riddles. In modern pop culture, it has also come to mean the inner workings of a body of work. TV shows like “Lost” and “Firefly” have an inner mythology as do books like the Twilight series, Harry Potter, Sookie Stackhouse (presumably since I’ve not read any), to say nothing of the obvious examples of Star Trek and Star Wars.

There’s an obvious theme present in the above examples: they all contain some sort of science fictional, fantasy, or paranormal component. Like the Greek and Roman versions of mythology, these examples have supernatural creatures or aliens or spaceships. Does the word “mythology” require such aspects?

Take the non-supernatural stories usually associated with mysteries. “Castle,” “CSI: Miami,” and “The Wire” contain their own versions of a common history among the characters. The same is true for long-running series featuring Marlowe, McGee, Poirot, Holmes, and Spencer.

But is it “mythology”? Does a set of characters and shared history constitute a mythology? Or does one need a monster to have a mythology?

Album of the Week: Duh Category

Bruce Springsteen's Wrecking Ball. Very good album I'm still learning. Yet nothing on the record tops the chill-inducing emergence of Clarence Clemons's saxophone in "Land of Hope and Dreams." It is both ethereal and eulogistic. Clemons had the unique ability to put more emotional resonance into a single note than many other sax players attempt with a blizzard of tones. I have loved this song for its effortless blend of realism and spirituality since I first heard it back in 1999, but this version, for what it represents for Clemons, Springsteen, the E Street Band, and, indeed, all of us pretty much makes this my definitive version.

Album of the Week: Non-duh Category

Andrew Bird's Break It Yourself. Completely different type of album by a man I only learned about in 2009. I took the advice of the NPR guys and listened to this one with my good headphones. There is a lot of things going on and it's a pleasure to hear the nuances of the songs. It is one of those rare modern records where you just want to sit and listen to it. Weird concept, huh? Just like it used to be. Early standouts: "Eyeoneye," for its catchy chorus and, yes, whistling. "Near Death Experience" for its unexpected lyrics: "And we'll dance like cancer survivors, like the prognosis was 'you should have died.'"

1 comment:

Jim Winter said...

When you look at science fiction or fantasy, the mythology stares you right in the face. Star Wars has a mythology that extends beyond the movies. Star Trek has one that's built almost entirely on throw-away lines and glimpses of something that become whole plots points. (Hence the 2009 reboot, which throws all that out the window.)

In crime, it's more subtle. The Wire has its own mythology, only much of it is based on fact. A more obvious example is the 87th Precinct series. McBain had to build an entire fictional city from scratch, and on occasion, you catch him forgetting that he's not writing about Manhattan.