Mythopoeia (also mythopoesis, after Hellenistic Greek
μυθοποιία, μυθοποίησις "myth-making") is a
narrative genre in modern literature and film where a fictional or
artificial mythology is created by the writer of prose or other
fiction. This meaning of the word mythopoeia follows its use by J. R.
R. Tolkien in the 1930s. The authors in this genre
integrate traditional mythological themes and archetypes into fiction.
1 Introduction and definition
3 The place in society
4 Critics of the genre
5 In literature
5.1 Lord Dunsany
5.2 J. R. R. Tolkien
5.3 C. S. Lewis
5.4 William Blake
5.5 Collaborative efforts
5.6 Other modern literature
6 Modern usage
7 In music
9 See also
12 External links
Introduction and definition
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Mythopoeia is also the act of making (creating) mythologies. Notable
mythopoeic authors include J. R. R. Tolkien, C. S. Lewis, William
Blake, H. P. Lovecraft, Lord Dunsany, George R. R. Martin, Mervyn
Peake and George MacDonald. While many literary works carry mythic
themes, only a few approach the dense self-referentiality and purpose
of mythopoeia. It is invented mythology that, rather than arising out
of centuries of oral tradition, are penned over a short period of time
by a single author or small group of collaborators.
As distinguished from fantasy worlds or fictional universes aimed at
the evocation of detailed worlds with well-ordered histories,
geographies, and laws of nature, mythopoeia aims at imitating and
including real-world mythology, specifically created to bring
mythology to modern readers, and/or to add credibility and literary
depth to fictional worlds in fantasy or science fiction books and
Mythopoeia are almost invariably created entirely by an individual,
like the world of Middle-earth.
The term mythopoeia is from Greek μυθοποιία,
"myth-making". In early uses, it referred to the making of myths in
ancient times. It was adopted and used by Tolkien as a title of one
of his poems, written in 1931 and published in Tree and Leaf. The
poem popularized the word mythopoeia as a literary and artistic
endeavor and genre.
The place in society
Works of mythopoeia are often categorized as fantasy or science
fiction but fill a niche for mythology in the modern world, according
to Joseph Campbell, a famous student of world mythology. Campbell
spoke of a Nietzschean world which has today outlived much of the
mythology of the past. He claimed that new myths must be created, but
he believed that present culture is changing too rapidly for society
to be completely described by any such mythological framework until a
Critics of the genre
Mythopoeia is sometimes called artificial mythology, which emphasizes
that it did not evolve naturally and is an artifice comparable with
artificial language, so should not be taken seriously as mythology.
For example, the noted folklorist
Alan Dundes argued that "any novel
cannot meet the cultural criteria of myth. A work of art, or artifice,
cannot be said to be the narrative of a culture's sacred
tradition...[it is] at most, artificial myth."
Lord Dunsany's book "The Gods of Pegana", published in 1905, is a
series of short stories linked by Dunsany's invented pantheon of
deities who dwell in Pegāna. It was followed by a further collection
Time and the Gods and by some stories in The Sword of Welleran and
Other Stories and in Tales of Three Hemispheres. In 1919 Dunsany told
an American interviewer "In
The Gods of Pegana
The Gods of Pegana I tried to account for
the ocean and the moon. I don't know whether anyone else has ever
tried that before". Dunsany's work influenced J. R. R. Tolkien's
J. R. R. Tolkien
Tolkien's legendarium and
J. R. R. Tolkien
J. R. R. Tolkien wrote a poem titled
Mythopoeia following a discussion
on the night of 19 September 1931 at
Magdalen College, Oxford
Magdalen College, Oxford with C.
S. Lewis and
Hugo Dyson in order to explain and defend creative
myth-making. The poem refers to the creative human author as "the
little maker" wielding his "own small golden sceptre" ruling his
"subcreation" (understood as genuine creation within God's primary
Tolkien's legendarium includes not only origin myths, creation myths
and an epic poetry cycle, but also fictive linguistics, geology and
Tolkien discusses his views on myth-making, "subcreation" and "faery"
in the essay On Fairy-Stories, written in 1939 for presentation by
Tolkien at the
Andrew Lang lecture at the
University of St Andrews
University of St Andrews and
published in print in 1947. At about the same time, he addressed the
same topics in the form of a short story, Leaf by Niggle. Smith of
Wootton Major (1967), a novella designed to explain the theme of
In On Fairy-Stories, Tolkien emphasizes the importance of language
(the human linguistic faculty in general as well as the specifics of
the language used in a given tradition):
Mythology is not a disease at all, though it may like all human
things become diseased. You might as well say that thinking is a
disease of the mind. It would be more near the truth to say that
languages, especially modern European languages, are a disease of
Language cannot, all the same, be dismissed. The
incarnate mind, the tongue, and the tale are in our world coeval. The
human mind, endowed with the powers of generalization and abstraction,
sees not only green-grass, discriminating it from other things (and
finding it fair to look upon), but sees that it is green as well as
being grass. But how powerful, how stimulating to the very faculty
that produced it, was the invention of the adjective: no spell or
incantation in Faerie is more potent. And that is not surprising: such
incantations might indeed be said to be only another view of
adjectives, a part of speech in a mythical grammar. The mind that
thought of light, heavy, grey, yellow, still, swift, also conceived of
magic that would make heavy things light and able to fly, turn grey
lead into yellow gold, and the still rock into a swift water. If it
could do the one, it could do the other; it inevitably did both. When
we can take green from grass, blue from heaven, and red from blood, we
have already an enchanter's power—upon one plane; and the desire to
wield that power in the world external to our minds awakes. It does
not follow that we shall use that power well upon any plane. We may
put a deadly green upon a man’s face and produce a horror; we may
make the rare and terrible blue moon to shine; or we may cause woods
to spring with silver leaves and rams to wear fleeces of gold, and put
hot fire into the belly of the cold worm. But in such 'fantasy,' as it
is called, new form is made; Faerie begins; Man becomes a
C. S. Lewis
At the time that Tolkien debated the usefulness of myth and mythopoeia
C. S. Lewis
C. S. Lewis in 1931, Lewis was a theist and liked but was
skeptical of mythology, taking the position that myths were "lies and
therefore worthless, even though 'breathed through silver'".
However Lewis later began to speak of Christianity as the one "true
myth". Lewis wrote, "The story of Christ is simply a true myth: a myth
working on us in the same way as the others, but with this tremendous
difference that it really happened." Subsequently, his Chronicles
of Narnia is regarded as mythopoeia, with storylines referencing that
Christian mythology, namely the narrative of a great king who is
sacrificed to save his people and is resurrected. Lewis's mythopoeic
intent is often confused with allegory, where the characters and world
of Narnia would stand in direct equivalence with concepts and events
from Christian theology and history, but Lewis repeatedly emphasized
that an allegorical reading misses the point (the mythopoeia) of the
C. S. Lewis
C. S. Lewis also created a mythopoeia in his neo-medieval
representation of extra-planetary travel and planetary "bodies" in the
Cosmic or Space Trilogy.
Main article: William Blake's mythology
William Blake worked in multiple artistic mediums, printing
and illustrating extensive art books, his own extensive mythological
community is both written about and illustrated. Here, Los is
tormented at his smithy by the characteristic part of human nature
Spectre in an illustration to Blake's poem Jerusalem. This image comes
from Copy E. of that work, printed in 1821 and in the collection of
the Yale Center for British Art
William Blake's "prophetic works" (e.g. Vala, or The Four Zoas)
contain a rich panoply of original gods, such as Urizen, Orc, Los,
Ahania and Enitharmon. Blake was an important
influence on Aleister Crowley's Thelemic writings, whose dazzling
pantheon of 'Godforms' and radically re-cast figures from Egyptian
mythology and the
Book of Revelation constitute an allegorical
mythology of their own.
Cthulhu Mythos of
H. P. Lovecraft
H. P. Lovecraft was likewise taken up by
numerous collaborators and admirers.
Current attempts to produce a new mythology through collaborative
means include the movement known as New or Metamodern Classicism.
According to its website, metamodern classicism seeks to create "a
vast, collaborative cultural project, uniting Painters, Poets,
Musicians, Architects, and all Artists in one mythopoeic endeavor. Our
goal is none other than a living mythological tradition: interactive,
dynamic, evolving—and relevant."
Other modern literature
George MacDonald and
H. Rider Haggard
H. Rider Haggard are in this category.
C. S. Lewis
C. S. Lewis praised both for their "mythopoeic" gifts.
T. S. Eliot's
The Waste Land
The Waste Land (1922) was a deliberate attempt to model
a 20th-century mythology patterned after the birth-rebirth motif
described by Frazer.
The repeated motifs of Jorge Luis Borges's fictional works (mirrors,
labyrinths, tigers, etc.) tantalizingly hint at a deeper underlying
mythos and yet stealthily hold back from any overt presentation of
The pulp works of
Edgar Rice Burroughs
Edgar Rice Burroughs (from 1912) and Robert E.
Howard (from 1924) contain imagined worlds vast enough to be universes
in themselves, as did the science fiction of E. E.
"Doc" Smith, Frank Herbert, and
Michael Moorcock one or two
generations later.
Fritz Leiber (from the 1930s) also created a vast world, similar to
that of Robert E. Howard's; vast enough to be a universe, and indeed
was a fictional omniverse. It is stated that the two main
Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser
Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser "travelled through universes
and lands" and eventually going on to say they ended up back in the
fictional city of Lankhmar.
Star Maker (1937) by
Olaf Stapledon is a rare attempt at a cohesive
science fiction mythos.
In the 1960s through the 1990s,
Roger Zelazny authored many
mythopoetic novels, such as Lord of Light. Zelazny's Chronicles of
Amber is a ten-volume series of particular note for its mythic and
metaphysical themes. Zelazny cited the
World of Tiers
World of Tiers series by Philip
Jose Farmer as an influence.
Greg Stafford created the world and attendant mythology of Glorantha
(from 1975), which formed the basis for a role-playing game (see
Runequest and Heroquest), though its literary scope far exceeds its
Stephen King's novels and short stories form an intricate and highly
developed mythos, drawing in part on the Lovecraftian, with characters
such as the demonic Crimson
Randall Flag appearing in several
(otherwise unrelated) works, as well as a supernatural force known
only as "The White". The Dark Tower series serves as a linchpin for
this mythos, connecting with practically all of King's various
storylines in one way or another.
J. K. Rowling's
Harry Potter book series, as well as the series of
films adapted from her work, exist within a mythopoetic universe
Rowling created by combining elements from various mythologies with
her own original fantasy.
Rick Riordan's Camp Half-Blood chronicles, which include three
pentological book series, Percy Jackson & the Olympians, The
Heroes of Olympus and
The Trials of Apollo series, as well as their
film adaptations, exist within a mythopoetic recreation of the ancient
Greek and Roman mythologies and chronicles the lives of modern
American-born, Graeco-Roman demigods and their interactions with Gods.
His other mythopoetic works,
The Kane Chronicles
The Kane Chronicles and Magnus Chase and
the Gods of Asgard are also similar except the fact that they revolve
around Egyptian and Norse mythologies. Riordan's works amalgamate
elements of day-to-day life of teenagers like coming of age, ADHD,
love and teenage angst into modern interpretations of Egyptian and
Graeco-Roman mythologies and his own fantasy.
The novels of Neil Gaiman, especially Neverwhere,
American Gods and
Anansi Boys, function similarly.
Phillip Pullman created an alternate version of the Judeo-Christian
mythology in His Dark Materials, and its sequel series The
Dust, where the Angels have more or less created a facade to fool the
Indian author Amish Tripathi's
Shiva trilogy and its prequel series,
Ram Chandra series chronicle the life and exloits of Hindu Gods, Shiva
Rama recast as Great, historical human figures. It carefully
blends traditional Indian characters into a mythopoetic recreation of
the original tale. This trend of "myth retelling" was
South Indian veteran, M. T. Vasudevan Nair, whose
Malayalam language classic, Randamoozham, and its many translations
(including "The Lone Warrior" in English) follow a similar pattern of
plot-crafting. Other works like Shivaji Sawant's Mrityunjaya and
Yugandhar, Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni's The Palace of Illusions, Anand
Neelakantan's Asura: Tale of the Vanquished,
Ashok Banker and Devdutt
Pattanaik's various retellings and Krishna Udayasankar's Aryavarta
Chronicles have also followed this lead.
Worldbuilding and Fictional universe
Frank McConnell, author of Storytelling and Mythmaking and professor
of English, University of California, stated film is another
"mythmaking" art, stating: "
Film and literature matter as much as they
do because they are versions of mythmaking." He also thinks film
is a perfect vehicle for mythmaking: "FILM...strives toward the
fulfillment of its own projected reality in an ideally associative,
personal world." In a broad analysis, McConnell associates the
American western movies and romance movies to the Arthurian
mythology, adventure and action movies to the "epic world"
mythologies of founding societies, and many romance movies where
the hero is allegorically playing the role of a knight, to "quest"
Sir Gawain and the Quest for the Holy Grail.
George Lucas speaks of the cinematic storyline of Star Wars
as an example of modern myth-making. In 1999 he told Bill Moyers,
Star Wars I consciously set about to re-create myths and the
classic mythological motifs." The idea of
Star Wars as
"mythological" has been met with mixed reviews. On the one hand, Frank
McConnell says "it has passed, quicker than anyone could have
imagined, from the status of film to that of legitimate and deeply
embedded popular mythology." John Lyden, the Professor and Chair
of the Religion Department at Dana College, argues that
Star Wars does
indeed reproduce religious and mythical themes; specifically, he
argues that the work is apocalyptic in concept and scope. Steven
D. Greydanus of The Decent
Film Guide agrees, calling
Star Wars a
"work of epic mythopoeia". In fact, Greydanus argues that Star
Wars is the primary example of American mythopoeia:
"The Force, the Jedi knights, Darth Vader, Obi-Wan, Princess Leia,
Yoda, lightsabers, and the
Death Star hold a place in the collective
imagination of countless Americans that can only be described as
mythic. In my review of A New Hope I called
Star Wars 'the
quintessential American mythology,' an American take on
Tolkien, and the samurai/wuxia epics of the East ..."
Roger Ebert has observed regarding Star Wars, "It is not by accident
George Lucas worked with Joseph Campbell, an expert on the
world's basic myths, in fashioning a screenplay that owes much to
man's oldest stories." The "mythical" aspects of the Star Wars
franchise have been challenged by other film critics. Regarding claims
by Lucas himself, Steven Hart observes that Lucas didn't mention
Joseph Campbell at the time of the original Star Wars; evidently they
met only in the 1980s. Their mutual admiration "did wonders for
[Campbell's] visibility" and obscured the tracks of Lucas in the
"despised genre" science fiction; "the epics make for an infinitely
classier set of influences".
Mythos of the Superheroes and the
Mythos of the Saints,
Thomas Roberts observes that:
"To the student of myth, the mythos of the comics superheroes is of
"Why do human beings want myths and how do they make them? Some of the
answers to those questions can be found only sixty years back. Where
Superman and the other superheroes come from? In his Encyclopedia
of the Superheroes, Jeff Rovin correctly observes, "In the earliest
days, we called them 'gods'."
Superman, for example, sent from the "heavens" by his father to save
humanity, is a messiah-type of character in the Biblical
tradition. Furthermore, along with the rest of DC Comic's Justice
League of America,
Superman watches over humanity from the Watchtower
in the skies; just like the Greek gods do from Mount Olympus.
"Jack Kirby's Fourth World" series, with the cosmic struggle between
Apokolips and the gods of
New Genesis and Mister Miracle
and Orion as messiah-figures is another good example. Neil Gaiman's
Sandman series created a mythology around the Endless, a family of
god-like embodiments of natural forces like death and
In classical music, Richard Wagner's operas were a deliberate attempt
to create a new kind of Gesamtkunstwerk ("total work of art"),
transforming the legends of the Teutonic past nearly out of
recognition into a new monument to the Romantic project.
In popular music, George Clinton's Parliament-
produced numerous concept albums which tied together in what is
referred to as P-Funk mythology.
While ostensibly known for improvised jamming, the rock group Phish
first cemented as a group while producing leading member Trey
Anastasio's senior project in college, called The Man Who Stepped Into
Yesterday. The song cycle features narration of major events in a
mythical land called Gamehendge, containing types of imaginary
creatures and primarily populated by a race called the "Lizards". It
is essentially a postmodern pastiche, drawing from Anastasio's
interest in musicals or rock operas as much as from reading philosophy
and fiction. The creation of the myth is considered by many fans
the thesis statement of the group, musically and philosophically, as
Gamehendge's book of lost secrets (called the "Helping Friendly Book")
is summarized as an encouragement to improvisation in any part of
life: "the trick was to surrender to the flow."
The musical collective NewVillager constructed a mythology from Joseph
Monomyth of which all their music, art, and videos serve to
Rhapsody of Fire
Rhapsody of Fire have created and tell the stories of a
full-developed fantasy world with tales of epic wars between good and
evil, although many elements are taken directly from Tolkien and other
The black metal band Immortal's lyricist
Harald Nævdal has created a
mythological realm called
Blashyrkh — described by the band as a
northern "Frostdemon" realm — filled with demons, battles,
winter landscapes, woods, and darkness which is the primary subject on
their albums. A mythology forming a greater whole that has been in
development from the start of their career in 1991.
Mythopoeic Society exists to promote mythopoeic literature, partly
by way of the Mythopoeic Awards.
Mythic fiction, literature that is rooted in tropes and themes of
existing – instead of more artificial – mythology
Religion and mythology / List of religious ideas in fantasy fiction
^ New Shorter Oxford English Dictionary
^ For example, "The first two, the most remote stages, are purely
linguistic germs of mythology : the third is in the domain of
mythopoeia, or myth-building." Bunsen, C. C. J. (1860). Egypt's Place
in Universal History: an Historical Investigation in Five Books,
Volume IV. Translated by Charles H. Cottrell. Longman, Green, Longman,
and Roberts. p. 450. Retrieved 2009-08-03.
Mythopoeia by J.R.R. Tolkien". ccil.org. Archived from the original
on 9 January 2006.
^ a b c Dundes, quoted by Adcox, 2003.
^ M. K. Wisehart, "Ideals and Fame: A One-Act Conversation With Lord
Dunsany," New York Sun
Book World, 19 October 1919, p.25
^ Dilworth, Dianna (18 August 2011). "What Did J.R.R. Tolkien Read?".
GalleyCat. Retrieved 24 March 2018.
^ (Lewis 1946, pp. 66–67)
^ Menion, 2003/2004 citing essays by Tolkien using the words
^ Brown, Dave. "Real Joy and True Myth". Geocities.com. Archived from
the original on 26 October 2009.
^ Abate, Michelle Ann; Weldy, Lance (2012). C.S. Lewis. London:
Palgrave. p. 131. ISBN 9781137284976.
^ "Copy Information for
Jerusalem The Emanation of The Giant Albion".
William Blake Archive. Retrieved Sep 11, 2013.
^ Morris Eaves; Robert N. Essick; Joseph Viscomi (eds.). "Object
description for "
Jerusalem The Emanation of The Giant Albion, copy E,
object 15 (Bentley 15, Erdman 15, Keynes 15)"".
William Blake Archive.
Retrieved September 12, 2013.
^ "Metamodern Classicism". weebly.com.
^ Lobdell, 2004.
^ "...And Call Me Roger": The Literary Life of Roger Zelazny, Part 2,
by Christopher S. Kovacs. In: The Collected Stories of Roger Zelazny,
Volume 2: Power & Light, NESFA Press, 2009.
^ Ezhil, Thogai (April 2014). "IJELLH, April 2014- Myth Maker" (PDF).
International Journal of English Language,
Literature and Humanities.
2 (1): 377–385. ISSN 2321-7065. Retrieved 5 March 2015.
^ Tripathi, Amish. "Shiva-Trilogy". authoramish.com. Retrieved 5 March
^ McConnell 1979:6
^ McConnell 1979:5, 99: "film is a perfect model of the epic paradigm:
the founder of the land, the man who walls in and defines the human
space of a given culture..."
^ McConnell 1979:15.
^ McConnell 1979:21.
^ McConnell 1979:13, 83-93.
^ Hart, 2002. Evidently quoting Moyers quoting Lucas in Time, 26 April
^ McConnell, 1979:18.
^ Lyden, 2000.
^ a b Greydanus 2000-2006.
^ Hart, 2002. Quoting Ebert on
Star Wars in his series The Great
^ Hart 2002.
^ Roberts, Thomas, The
Mythos of the Superheroes and the
Mythos of the
^ KNOWLES, Christopher, Our Gods Wear Spandex, Weiser, pp. 120 - 2
^ International Journal of Comic Art, University of Michigan, pp. 280
^ Puterbaugh, Parke. Phish: The Biography. Philadelphia: Da Capo
Press, 65-67. Print.
^ "Phish.Net: The Lizards Lyrics". phish.net.
^ "CoC : Immortal : Interview : 5/19/1999". Retrieved
Adcox, John. Can
Fantasy be Myth?
Mythopoeia and The Lord of the
Rings. Published by The Newsletter of the Mythic Imagination
Institute, September/October, 2003.
Menion, Michael. Tolkien Elves and Art, in J. R. R. Tolkien's
Aesthetics. 2003/2004 (commentary on
Mythopoeia the poem).
Chance, Jane (April 2004). Tolkien and the Invention of Myth: A
Reader. Lexington, Kentucky: University Press of Kentucky.
C. S. Lewis, George MacDonald:
Lobdell, Jared (2004-07-01). The Scientifiction Novels of C.S. Lewis:
Space and Time in the Ransom Stories. McFarland. p. 162.
Lewis, C. S. (1946), The Great Divorce, London: Collins,
Film-making as myth-making
McConnell, Frank D. (1982). Storytelling and Mythmaking: Images from
Film and Literature. ISBN 978-0-19-503210-9.
Hart, Steven. Galactic gasbag, Salon.com', April, 2002.
Greydanus, Steven D. An American Mythology: Why
Star Wars Still
Film Guide, copyright 2000-2006.
Lyden, John. The Apocalyptic Cosmology of Star Wars, The Journal of
Religion & Film: Vol. 4, No. 1 April 2000 (Abstract).
Mythopoeia TV tropes
Hong Kong action
Commedia sexy all'italiana
Mo lei tau
Commedia sexy all'italiana
Exploitation film template
New French Extremity
New French Extremity
Cinema of Transgression
New French Extremity
Food and drink
Girls with guns
Mouth of Garbage
Rape and revenge
Commedia sexy all'italiana
Mexican sex comedy
Slice of life
Sword and sorcery
Australian New Wave
British New Wave
Kitchen sink realism
Cinéma du look
Cinema of Transgression
European art cinema
French New Wave
German underground horror
Nigerian Golden Age
Grupo Cine Liberación
Hollywood on the Tiber
Hong Kong New Wave
Iranian New Wave
Japanese New Wave
New French Extremity
Nuevo Cine Mexicano
Praška filmska škola
Romanian New Wave
Kitchen sink realism
Yugoslav Black Wave
Classical Hollywood cinema
Film à clef