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Myths as windows to truths


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I gave this lecture to my high school English students in January of 2004. It features consideration of Daniel Wallace'S 1993 novel, "Big Fish."

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Myths as windows to truths

  1. 1. Myths as Windows to Truths <ul><li>A Lecture by </li></ul><ul><li>Donald Gerz, B.A. </li></ul><ul><li>January 2004 </li></ul>Featuring Daniel Wallace’s Novel, Big Fish
  2. 2. An Overview of Myth <ul><li>Myths typically occur in every culture all around the world ( Encyclopedia Britannica ). </li></ul>
  3. 3. An Overview of Myth <ul><li>Thousands of years ago, people listened to ancient myths in the same way that we today read and consider our own sacred books—books like the Bible , the Torah , and the Koran ( Encyclopedia Britannica ). </li></ul>
  4. 4. An Overview of Myth <ul><li>Most of the old stories of any given mythology were created much earlier than the invention of writing ( Encyclopedia Britannica ). </li></ul>
  5. 5. An Overview of Myth <ul><li>Myths deal with various aspects of any given culture—even our own ( Encyclopedia Britannica ). </li></ul>
  6. 6. An Overview of Myth <ul><li>Some were meant to simply tell a story, but most have a deeper meaning hidden within the tale for the listener/reader to consider ( Encyclopedia Britannica ). </li></ul>
  7. 7. An Overview of Myth <ul><li>The three most common types of tales are sagas, legends, and tales ( Encyclopedia Britannica ). </li></ul>
  8. 8. An Overview of Myth <ul><li>Sagas are based on great historical events ( Encyclopedia Britannica ). </li></ul><ul><li>Legends are fictional stories associated with historical persons and places ( Encyclopedia Britannica ). </li></ul><ul><li>Tales are simple narratives of adventure ( Encyclopedia Britannica ). </li></ul>
  9. 9. An Overview of Myth <ul><li>Tall Tales are stories that have these features: </li></ul><ul><li>1. A larger-than-life, or superhuman, main character with a specific job (Hietpas). </li></ul><ul><li>2. A problem that is solved in a funny way (Hietpas) . </li></ul><ul><li>3. Exaggerated details that describe things as greater than they really are (Hietpas). </li></ul><ul><li>4. Characters who use everyday language (Hietpas). </li></ul>
  10. 10. An Overview of Myth <ul><li>Some famous tall tales are Paul Bunyan , Johnny Appleseed , Pecos Bill , and John Henry (Hietpas). </li></ul>
  11. 11. An Overview of Myth <ul><li>Big Fish (1998), by Daniel Wallace, is a modern novel that is written in the form of an old-fashioned tall tale! </li></ul>
  12. 12. An Overview of Myth <ul><li>Therefore, since Big Fish is a tall tale (a certain kind of myth), you must always keep the nature of myth in mind when reading it . Otherwise... </li></ul>
  13. 13. An Overview of Myth <ul><li>You will never understand Big Fish: A Novel of Mythic Proportions ! </li></ul>
  14. 14. This Lecture’s Purpose <ul><li>This lecture’s purpose is to address the following issues: </li></ul><ul><li>1. What myths are. </li></ul><ul><li>2. Why myths are used. </li></ul><ul><li>3. H ow myths are used. </li></ul>
  15. 15. Noteworthy Figures <ul><li>I have selected quotations from eminent scholars and other noteworthy figures to illustrate and expand upon the points I make in the lecture. The source for these quotations is: </li></ul><ul><li>Moncur, Michael. 1994-2003. Quotations </li></ul><ul><li>Page . 10 Jan. 2004. . </li></ul>
  16. 16. Part 1 <ul><li>What are myths? </li></ul>
  17. 17. Myths: What They Are Myths are fictional and imaginative accounts and explanations of abstract truths and/or realities that cannot be observed or explained by conventional means such as history and the sciences.
  18. 18. <ul><li>“ Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.” </li></ul><ul><li>--- Albert Einstein </li></ul>
  19. 19. Myths: What They Are Unlike the sciences and history, myths are not concerned about facts that can be directly observed by the senses.
  20. 20. <ul><li>“ You cannot depend on your eyes when your imagination is out of focus.” </li></ul><ul><li>--- Mark Twain </li></ul>
  21. 21. Myths: What They Are Instead, myths are primarily concerned with those kind of things that are just as real and true as scientific and historical facts but that are of a different nature.
  22. 22. <ul><li>“ It is possible to store the mind with a million facts and still be entirely uneducated.” </li></ul><ul><li>--- Alec Bourne </li></ul>
  23. 23. Myths: What They Are Myths, then, are primarily concerned with those kind of abstract things that can only be seen through the focused and trained eyes of the intellect, the human spirit, and the literary imagination.
  24. 24. <ul><li>“ Everything you can imagine is real—real in a different sense, but real.” </li></ul><ul><li>--- Pablo Picasso </li></ul>
  25. 25. Myths: What They Are Thus, myths are about topics such as love, goodness, duty, adventure, virtue, loyalty, courage, wisdom, destiny, fate, life, death, friendship, coming of age, eternity, truth, enlightenment, and the hero.
  26. 26. <ul><li>“ Storytelling reveals meaning without committing the error of defining it.” </li></ul><ul><li>--- Hannah Arendt </li></ul>
  27. 27. Myths: What They Are Obviously, the sciences and history cannot measure something that is impossible to observe through the senses. However, myths are designed to convey the lessons of love, goodness, courage, and all the rest of the many unseen truths that are beyond the physical realm.
  28. 28. <ul><li>“ Our life is composed greatly from dreams from the unconscious, and they must be brought into connection with action. They must be woven together.” </li></ul><ul><li>--- Anais Nin </li></ul>
  29. 29. Part 2 <ul><li>Why are myths used? </li></ul>
  30. 30. Myths: Why They Are Used Since most knowledge deals with those things that cannot be experienced by the five senses, myth has a fulltime task to perform in the enlightenment and wisdom of our human species.
  31. 31. <ul><li>“ The words that enlighten the soul are more precious than jewels.” </li></ul><ul><li>--- Hazrat Inayat Khan </li></ul>
  32. 32. Myths: Why They Are Used To be sure, myth is not the only source of human knowledge of abstract realities, but it is one of the more significant ones. (Other sources include disciplines such as literature, philosophy, certain kinds of psychology, theology, and, of course, art. There are many more.)
  33. 33. <ul><li>“ Every extension of knowledge arises from transforming the unconscious into the conscious.” </li></ul><ul><li>--- Friedrich Nietzsche </li></ul>
  34. 34. Part 3 <ul><li>How are myths used? </li></ul>
  35. 35. Myths: How They Are Used Myths are used in more ways and in more instances by more people than you can imagine. Since they operate below and above our sensory radar, myths are something we tend either to be unaware of or something we tend to take for granted.
  36. 36. <ul><li>“ Naïve reality (as opposed to critical reality) is merely an illusion, although a very persistent one.” </li></ul><ul><li>--- Albert Einstein </li></ul>
  37. 37. Myths: How They Are Used Myths and mythic elements are routinely used by artists and craftsmen of all types—novelists, short story writers, television writers, screenwriters, directors, painters, poets, dramatists, speech writers, music composers of all stripes, and in many more ways by many other diverse and creative people.
  38. 38. <ul><li>“ All the works of man have their origin in creative fantasy. What right have we then to depreciate imagination?” </li></ul><ul><li>--- Carl Jung </li></ul>
  39. 39. Myths: How They Are Used It is important to realize that myths come from all cultures (western, eastern, third world, middle eastern, etc.) and from all times and eras (prehistoric, ancient, middle ages, modern, postmodern, and even the present) . One might say that we humans are myth-making beings!
  40. 40. <ul><li>“ We go where our vision is.” </li></ul><ul><li>--- Joseph Murphy </li></ul>
  41. 41. Myths: How They Are Used Thus, whether we realize it or not, myths of every conceivable kind and from every conceivable culture and time are continually being used, adapted, and modified by those who create what we see, hear, feel, and even taste and smell!
  42. 42. <ul><li>“ We must never forget that art is not a form of propaganda; it is a form of truth.” </li></ul><ul><li>--- John F. Kennedy </li></ul>
  43. 43. Myths: How They Are Used Myths transform abstract truths and realities that we cannot perceive through our five senses into representations that are so concrete and vivid we can almost sense them. Myths provide us with “images” of those things which can only be seen through the intellect, the spirit, and the literary imagination of humans.
  44. 44. <ul><li>“ Imagination is the beginning of creation. You imagine what you desire, you will what you imagine, and at last you create what you will.” </li></ul><ul><li>--- George Bernard Shaw </li></ul>
  45. 45. Final Words on Myth <ul><li>I plan to write a definitive text on myth.  It is my hypothesis that we cannot see ultimate truth and reality (or even subsets of it) except through myths, most of which we are unconscious of. Therefore, according to my reckoning, mythologizing is an inevitable and unconscious human trait that is as reflexive and necessary as is breathing. </li></ul>
  46. 46. <ul><li>“ Humanity’s task is to become conscious of the contents of the mind that press upward from the unconscious.” </li></ul><ul><li>--- Carl Jung </li></ul>
  47. 47. Final Words on Myth <ul><li>I see myths as lenses through which we attempt to see ultimate truth and reality. Like a lens, if the myth is cloudy or distorted, we cannot see (not to mention understand) what is right in front of us.  If, however, the myth is clear and distortion-free, we can see enough of ultimate reality and truth to know what decisions to make, to form our values, and to live with truth, courage, virtue, and joy...even while we may be in extreme pain. </li></ul>
  48. 48. <ul><li>“ Courage is not simply one of the virtues, but the form of every virtue at the testing point.” </li></ul><ul><li>--- C. S. Lewis </li></ul>
  49. 49. <ul><li>If valid, clear, and illustrative myths are reliable analogues of truth and reality, through them we can make out the face of Absolute Truth and Ultimate Reality. </li></ul><ul><li>Therefore, it is vital to carefully consider and wisely choose the kind of myths we use to see and understand truth and reality! </li></ul><ul><li>--- Donald Gerz, BA May 2004 </li></ul>Final Words on Myth
  50. 50. <ul><li>“ Myth is an attempt to narrate a whole human experience, going too deep in the blood and soul, for mental explanation or description.” </li></ul><ul><li>--- D. H. Lawrence </li></ul>
  51. 51. Primary Sources <ul><li>Hietpas, D. 2000. “Tall Tales.” 16 May </li></ul><ul><li>2004. . </li></ul><ul><li>Moncur, Michael. 1994-2003. Quotations </li></ul><ul><li>Page . 10 Jan. 2004. </li></ul><ul><li> . </li></ul><ul><li>“ Myth.” 2004.  Encyclopedia Britannica . </li></ul><ul><li>16 May 2004. </li></ul><ul><li> . </li></ul>
  52. 52. Quotations from Noteworthy Figures <ul><li>Hannah Arendt </li></ul><ul><li>Alec Bourne </li></ul><ul><li>Albert Einstein </li></ul><ul><li>Carl Jung </li></ul><ul><li>John F. Kennedy </li></ul><ul><li>Hazrat Inayat Khan </li></ul><ul><li>D. H. Lawrence </li></ul><ul><li>C. S. Lewis </li></ul><ul><li>Joseph Murphy </li></ul><ul><li>Friedrich Nietzsche </li></ul><ul><li>Anais Nin </li></ul><ul><li>Pablo Picasso </li></ul><ul><li>George Bernard Shaw </li></ul><ul><li>Mark Twain </li></ul>
  53. 53. <ul><li>Campbell, Joseph. The </li></ul><ul><li>Hero with a Thousand </li></ul><ul><li>Faces . Princeton, NJ: </li></ul><ul><li>Princeton University </li></ul><ul><li>Press , 1949. </li></ul>Secondary Work Consulted
  54. 54. The End
  55. 55. Myths as Windows to Truth <ul><li>A Lecture by </li></ul><ul><li>Donald Gerz, B.A. </li></ul><ul><li>English, Philosophy, </li></ul><ul><li>and Psychology </li></ul>Featuring Daniel Wallace’s Novel, Big Fish