From Dante and Shakespeare to James Joyce and Margaret Atwood, writers have felt the need to draw on archaic narrative patterns. But if myths are just 'false stories', why do we keep telling them? In this lively book, Laurence Coupe brings order to a vast and complex area of interest by giving any student new to the field a clear two-stage account of the study of myth. The first part, 'Reading Myth', starts from the works that most students will already know, such as Eliot's The Waste Land and Coppola's Apocalypse Now. On the basis of these, the reader is gradually acquainted with the key mythic themes, such as that of the dying god. In the second part, 'Mythic Reading', the focus is on the key mythic theories, such as those of Freud or Frye, as they might be applied to a variety of literary and cultural texts. However, it soon becomes clear that the reading of myth and the making of myth are complementary activities - 'reading myth' is also 'mythic reading'. Coupe's overall thesis is that myth, far from being something to leave behind, as the 'rational' argument has it, is always in the process of being recreated. There is, he claims, an intimate connection between myth, language, narrative, history and imagination. Thus we can only begin to understand classic literature, contemporary film or popular song by first taking into account its mythic dimension. Myth is an essential guide which draws on many exciting ideas comparatively new to literary and cultural theory.
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