Jennifer W. Spirko; Scott E. Johnson, Oakton Community College; and Bradley McIlwaine
With David Lowery’s film, The Green Knight, headed for a pandemic-delayed opening this summer, the Arthurian mythos re-enters popular culture yet again. How do this and other recent retellings of the Matter of Britain connect our world with its roots? We’ll consider not only the new film, but also such novels as Kingfisher, by Patricia McKillip; Once & Future, by A.R. Capetta; and Cursed, by Frank Miller and Tom Wheeler, alongside the TV series based on it. What version of Camelot and its attendant tales and heroes do today’s Arthurian works present? How are they in dialogue with earlier renditions? How are they in dialogue with earlier renditions? What keeps us returning again and again to this most evergreen of myths?
J.R.R. Tolkien coined the term mythopoeia as a philosophical concept referring to the process of artificially creating mythologies and belief systems of imaginary worlds. While building a fantasy world, one ought to consider the possibilities this world offers for religious explorations or examine how the existing pantheons weave their way into fiction and reality. To be more precise, what happens when gods lounge languidly among their supposed believers. This paper aims to examine mythopoetic tendencies, elements and powers in Neil Gaiman’s novels American Gods and Anansi Boys, a fictional duology whose protagonists are in constant cohort with various gods — whether they like it or not. American Gods follows the former convict Shadow, who unwittingly joins forces with the Old Norse high god Odin, who has primed himself to declare, and preferably, win the war against the new American pantheon born out of worship, dependency and addiction to the internet, media, conspiracy theories and corporate environments. Gods are envisioned as entities, which are brought to life through
cultural practices, customs and repetitive claims, which makes them exponentially more powerful as their followership grows, but also susceptible to being disempowered and dissipation if they are forgotten. This vulnerability makes them aggressive and willing to bring on the combined force of many apocalypses in order to assert dominance and ensure their continued survival. On the other hand, Anansi Boys, while still embroiled in godly affairs, concerns itself with creating the myth of the self through a reversed hero’s journey. Charlie, an average clerk, wishes only to lead a normal life away from his family. Yet, the news of his father’s death sets a series of inexplicable events into motion, including the return of Charlie’s not entirely real, but certainly evil twin, as well as a number of gods from the Caribbean pantheon. In order to save his reality, Charlie must accept his heritage, becoming a mythopoet of the self, who has the power to narrate his own existence outside of meddlesome gods’ wills. This paper will provide a theoretical overview of how myths are born and reproduced throughout social and cultural DNA before endeavouring to shed light on mythopoeia in American Gods and Anansi Boys, with a view to hinting at the narrative power of myths and their ascent into reality.
When discussing depictions of the alien in American popular culture — as extraterrestrial, as strange foreigner, and as both, an otherworldly Other — the most famous example is rarely considered; SUPERMAN. Introduced in 1938, this strange visitor from another planet possesses powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal men but walks among us disguised as a mild-mannered human. He’s the fantastic hiding in plain sight as the most mundane, an Other beloved as familiar, a singular being of another race who’s come to symbolize the best in humanity. And not by accident. Superman was created by two Cleveland teens, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster. They were Jews in the Midwest during the rise of Nazism abroad and at home, bashful geeks bullied by other boys and rejected by girls, one the son of immigrants from Eastern Europe and the other an immigrant himself. They were Others in every sense, and into their alien hero they poured all their wishes, to belong and be accepted but also to be exceptional and revered. To be special but also to blend in. To be both Super and man. They gave their assimilation/assertion fantasy a nebbish secret identity based on themselves and empowered him with their Jewish heritage; the origin story of Moses as a baby sent adrift to safety, the physical and moral strength of Samson the mighty lawman, and the mission of the Golem as an inhuman protector of his creators. They made him a refugee fleeing catastrophe on the eve of World War II and sent him to tear Nazi tanks apart nearly two years before the US joined the war. In following decades, Superman’s mostly Jewish writers, artists, and editors continued to borrow Judaic motifs for their stories, further exploring the character’s unique standing as an alien who’s accepted as human, an Other who’s come to embody our idealized selves. In the postwar era he was blamed for causing juvenile delinquency, in the sixties and seventies he underwent frequent Kafkaesque metamorphoses, in the eighties he unsuccessfully attempted to renounce his alien heritage and with it his Otherness, and more recently he’s been featured in various alternate narratives in which he turns evil, like The Dark Side comic books, Injustice video games, and Zack Snyder’s Justice League film.