Chapter 41

Stagecoach and Firefly: Science Fiction and the Journey into the Unknown

When we consider the title of Part 7, "Myth in a Contemporary Context," it might strike us that popular entertainment today is a major conduit for propagating ancient mythological themes. However, although the themes endure, the method of spreading and preserving the stories is different: whereas ancient cultures relied on their oral traditions and on writing the works down on animal skins or papyrus scrolls or incising them into wet clay tablets, modern narratives are now propagated through books, the Internet, movies, and games.

Despite these changes, these contemporary stories represent timeless concepts, and their narrative vehicles—instead of focusing on real or invented past events—project a vision of the future.

The most prolific genre in this respect is science fiction. Sci-fi offers multifaceted portrayals of the human condition in future times, but these projections are drawn from present and past universal concerns, the same ones which are encountered directly or indirectly in all chapters of this book.

As you read this chapter, note how works such as Firefly or Serenity can convey the journey-into-the-unknown theme, in this respect resembling the Humbaba episode in Gilgamesh (Chapter 16) illustrating much the same Joseph Campbell illustrated in his study of the hero's journey. (See Chapter 15.)

Note also that a classic film from 1939 (Stagecoach), set in the American West over a century ago, makes an interesting counterpart to the science fiction works.

In this chapter, the introduction is especially rich in analyzing additional works and tying in concepts such as liminality (Chapter 27) to provide a comprehensive picture of this broad—and increasingly important—facet of mythological studies.

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