Chapter 46

Mythological Themes in Modern Narrative

This chapter continues the demonstration that a familiarity with mythology enriches our enjoyment of the creative arts, as well as the understanding of our own culture. In essence, we get a deeper pleasure in the arts when we recognize references to ancient, enduring themes that deal with universal situations.

As you work on assignments for other courses or read, watch movies and TV, and play video games, you'll be able to connect motifs, plot lines, characters, and ideas with the myths you know. When this happens, you'll see how satisfying it is to gain insight into the ways we fit in as a part of a timeless world audience.

This chapter focuses on just three examples from rather recent literature, but you can find the correlations to widely known myths in a great variety of creative work.

The excerpts here illustrate various approaches toward mythology in literature. James Joyce based his Ulysses rather directly on Homer's Odyssey (see Chapter 1). We can compare events in the novel to specific episodes in the Greek epic and also to characters in the stories, which are separated by more than 2,600 years.

In The Centaur, John Updike uses counterparts of ancient Greek mythology to work out everyday modern problems in a small Pennsylvania town.

The third work in this chapter, Angela Carter's "Beauty and the Beast," is an update of the old, well-known folktale. Carter keeps the basic story line while overlaying motivations, emotions, and outcomes that are a part of our own world rather than that of centuries ago.

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