Monday, November 27, 2006

A Short History of Myth


Title: A Short History of Myth: (Myths)
Author: Karen Armstrong
Gendre: Religion, History
Series: Myth Series with Margaret Atwood, Jeanette Winterson, A, Y. Byatt, Donna Tartt & more!

ISBN: 0676974198
# of Pages: 159
Published: 2005; Alfred A Knoff Canada

Began & Finished Reading:
Sometime in November '05. Read it in one sitting... that kindof book.

Since Grade Three when my Mom came to school and dropped off my blue-framed glasses, I have been a blind bat. Close, far--doesn't matter. I was squinting all the time even with the lenses on. Last year when my doctor told me that my eyes were as dry as a prune, my father, in an act of charity decided to send me to IRIS & get my eyeballs zapped. Up until that point when they were cutting open my cornea, I was looking forward to the morning that I would awake without having to poke my eyeballs out. Alas, my first morning post-surgery was spent in bed, lying on my back wearing a huge pair of protective sunglasses, my eyes tearing up. The only form of entertainment I had were dreams (which can be fun & scary) & CBC radio. Boy did I learn a lot! One of the episodes was an interview with Margaret Atwood on her piece The Penelopiad; they went into some detail on the idea of myth and Armstrong's work. Well of course the first thing I did when getting out of bed was head to Chapters & buy books (now that I could read without glasses!!!) And since Atwood’s work didn't turn me on, so to say, I decided to pay the non-fiction world a visit and that’s how I ended up reading Armstrong's slim volume, The Short History of Myth.

The Gist: Armstrong's piece is a short overview of what a myth is and the various interpretations and presence it has had throughout World History. Her chapters are broken up in chronological order of time periods--from Paleolithic to Present--and she does examine the international scale and not solely Western myth. She examines the effects myth has on a populace as a whole more so than on a particular individual and how the myth & ideology supports many of the social, political and economic structures in place at the said time.

Comments: Already the idea of examining 'myth' on such a large scale level is ambiguous and it’s difficult even now to think of how she does it in 150-some pages! Fact is, she doesn't... Armstrong's work is a springboard if anything... a push in the right direction. She does have a list of references at the end which you can take up on any of the topics that interested you most. Overall, it’s a great addition to my library, but it’s not the know-all, have-all on mythology. I recommend the book Mythology by C. Scott Littleton (ISBN: 184480616). Many of Armstrong's points help with the interpretation of myths while reading them and understanding how they function on several levels.

Best Part: One unique element in this book is that throughout the work, Armstrong examines root words & the evolution of their meaning.

"Today the word 'myth' is often used to describe something that is simply not true. A politician accused of a peccadillo will say that it is a 'myth', that it never happened. [...] But in the pre-modern world, when people wrote about the past they were more concerned with what an event meant. A myth was an event which , in some sense, had happened once, but which also happened all the time."

Also, you can see her language is simple but appropriate unlike those business books you read that make you feel like a high school drop out the grammar and vocabulary is so, "I see Jane. Jane sees me."

Worst Part: She integrates historical aspects well but there is a lack of STORY. It would be nice if there were brief examples of myths themselves. The omission is understandable, I guess, considering the size but since when was there a maximum number of pages for a book? I think if she would have made it 60 pages longer and include some actual myths it would have enriched her text considerably.

Recommend To: A teacher to include on a summer reading list ACCOMPANIED by a myth. I can see how this can be a constructive tool for younger students to apply in essay writing in the future--a skill it seems the education system is not addressing correctly considering the number of students that do not understand that a thesis is NOT an introduction. Armstrong organizes and clearly explains her ideas in a way that could stand to be emulated.

Cool Fact: Armstrong was a Nun, who during her time living in a convent went to Oxford University during the day. She left the order during her school years and when her Doctoral thesis was rejected by the panel, she went her own way. Armstrong’s biography, The Spiral Staircase: My Climb Out of Darkness.

10 Comments:

Carl V. said...

Mythology is something I am totally fascinated with, fueled even more by all the Tolkien I have read this past year, but I never seem to take the time to read anything about it. I get caught up in fiction so much that I don't often read nonfiction. I am currently reading J.R.R. Tolkien, Author of the Century (among many other reads) by Tom Shippey. It has alot to do with how Tolkien's work is grounded in age old mythology.

Nessie said...

Though often Tolkein is caught up in creating a masterpiece due to his detailed invention of language (and that is one of the reasons). Yet I don't think he would have been able to create such a conection between character and audiance without his myths. Hobbits, elves, and orcs alike had their own history, legends, and myths. We understand that because we have been using myths since the paleolithic age to understand ourselves. Now Tolkein is using that to have us understand 'him'.

Framed said...

Nessie, thanks for visiting my blog and I love reading yours. This review gave me some great ideas for Christmas. I've had trouble making comments here previously so I'll try it as anonymous, but it's really Framed.

Framed said...

Never mind, it worked this time. I'm really bloggily challenged.

Nessie said...

Hahaha happens to the best of us. Now that we are challenge buddies for TBR 12 I'll be frequently visiting.

Happy to be of Christmas Help

Nessie said...

Hahaha happens to the best of us. Now that we are challenge buddies for TBR 12 I'll be frequently visiting.

Happy to be of Christmas Help

Lotus Reads said...

Nessie, I am currently on page 2 of Atwood's "Penelopiad", still too early to say ofcourse but I'm hoping it will be a good read. I have a copy of Karen Armstrong's "A Short History of Myth" on my bookshelf, but with all these challenges running from Jan-April, I'm not sure when I'll get to it. Perhaps I should have read it before the Atwood, huh?

Nessie said...

Yeah I think so! There is still time to put it down. Now that I think of it not many of the challenges allows for Non fiction... Maybe we should start that... I find that history books really accent my fiction reading because i understand it that much more.

Lotus Reads said...

I love works of non-fiction, especially travel and history, so yeah, a non-fiction book challenge would be right up my alley! I really did enjoy "The Penelopiad" and I might like to link toyour post "A Short History of Myth" when I get to it!

Lotus Reads said...

By "it" I meant the Karen Armstrong book! :)