Saw the author speak at ALA in the summer of 2010, reading from the sequel to this book. I put both books on my 12 Books, 12 Months list - they tie in...moreSaw the author speak at ALA in the summer of 2010, reading from the sequel to this book. I put both books on my 12 Books, 12 Months list - they tie in very nicely with the other updated mythology, past-meets-present books in the list. (less)
The book could be summed up as "No! That's not what I said!" in a painful, wincing way.
It was very simply and elegantly written, mixing words and metaphors from famous English translations of the Bible with Pullman's own what-if version. He managed to put some realistic human angles into the story of the gospels yet keep some of the original fairy tale aspects, too. One of the best examples I've seen of showing how we got it wrong, we got it all wrong.
Jesus' soliloquy at Gethsemane is a beautiful, believable, universal surrender to doubting the divine and, at the same time, a love letter to this crazy world we live in. I think everyone should read this book for at least that chapter alone, and if you want to skip ahead to it, fine -- it's pages 192 - 201 in the hardback edition.
I do wish that the book had a completely different title. The given title was too distracting to me. As I was reading, I kept trying to place things according to what the the title told me to expect, which made parts of the story confusing. I wish the title had instead been the big bold phrase on the inside front flap of the dust jacket:
This is a story.
A much more powerful way to describe what the reader is about to experience ... and by the end of the book, you might think of that title in a whole different way. (less)
I started with Short History of Myth because it is the first title in the Canongate Myth Series -- books by different authors, from different countries, retelling a myth from their culture. I heard about this series because Philip Pullman's latest book is the latest addition to the series (The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ).
The book is a nice, short introduction to mythology -- just 150 pages long. In such a small amount of space, it would be hard to really do justice to any particular aspect of mythology so I have to give Armstrong some credit for summing things up as well as she did. My biggest problem with the book was in the second and third chapters when she is describing the development of mythology and religion during the Palaeolithic and Neolithic Periods. There were so many universal statements and broad sweeping assumptions that I started getting really annoyed with the writing, even though I was really into the topic. Starting with the fourth chapter on early cities and city-states, the writing improved and the book got a lot more interesting. I now have a longer reading list with things I never thought I would want to read, like the Epic of Gilgamesh, when man first turns his back on his gods -- "Mortals are better off without these destructive encounters with irresponsible gods" (p. 74).
From there, we go into the Axial Age - so named because it is considered a pivotal time in humanity's spiritual development and marks the beginning of religions as we know them today. Post-Axial followed that with religions trying to become rational - throwing out their mythology in favor of silly attempts at "proving" the facts in their respective literatures. And finally, we get The Great Western Transformation, which brings us up to modern day. This chapter is terribly sad, depressing, emotional, but, by the end, hopeful.
This might be a weird analogy, but bear with me … I felt like I was reading something like Peter Pan, with a lot of foreshadowing of Tinkerbell's death and not knowing if this new altered version of Peter Pan would save her or not. At the same time, I found myself rooting for Tinkerbell even though I've always thought of her as rude and troublesome before. Replace Tinkerbell in this equation with religion/mythology and maybe you'll get what I mean.
Mythology is the hero in this little book. A misunderstood, riches-to-rags character of heartache. Our heartache. Their heartache. Everyone's heartache. But if another person's mythology isn't dressed up like our own, we try to destroy it ... then steal the clothes to drape over our own mythology anyway. Does mythology die in the end? I'll leave that to you to decide.
p. 124 "Myth had made human beings believe that they were bound up with the essence of the universe, yet now it appeared that they had only a peripheral place on an undistinguished planet revolving around a minor star."
p. 138 "It has been writers and artists, rather than religious leaders, who have stepped into the vacuum and attempted to reacquaint us with the mythological wisdom of our past." (less)
Read this a long, long time ago and decided to read it again before revisiting the Connie Willis classic _To Say Nothing of the Dog _. Using an ebook...moreRead this a long, long time ago and decided to read it again before revisiting the Connie Willis classic _To Say Nothing of the Dog _. Using an ebook version in the iPad Kindle app. (less)