Sacred Narrative: Readings in the Theory of Myth

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Author: edited by Alan Dundes

Publisher: University of California Press

ISBN Number: 9780520051928

Publication Date: November 15th 1984

Reviewed by: cuardai


Sacred Narrative is a collection of essays written by a number of myth theorists representing the different fields that deal with myths.  Anthropological folklorists, classicists, theologians, psychologists, social anthropologists, and religion historians wrote the essays. There are twenty-two essays in all covering the 19th and 20th century theorists, which give us two distinct approaches to myths.

In the 19th century the focus of the theorists was on the question of origins of myth while in the 20th century the theorists were concerned with the structure and function of the myth.  The editor of the book starts out the introduction with the definition of myth that provided the guideline for the selection of the essays in the book.  The definition says, A myth is a sacred narrative explaining how the world and man came to be in their present form. (Italics and bold letters my own) (p.1)  The use of sacred is for distinguishing between myth and folktales, which are usually secular and fictional according to the Editor.  Knowing how hard it is to actually agree on a definition of myth, I find that the definition provided by the editor agrees with my own idea of what a myth is.  Or so I thought…

The more I read the more I had to think about what a myth is, and the more definitions I read from each essay, the more I had to re-think some conclusion I had come to from the previous one.  I should say here that the definitions of myth used by the writers of each essay all fit in with the one provided as a criterion for the selection and yet they were still unique and very different.  My only regret is that not one of the essays dealt with any Celtic myths, though some if not all the essays had some aspects that could be used in the study of Celtic myths.  If I had to choose favorites from among the essays then I would have to choose the first four because they deal with general myths and the last one because it dissects the myth of George Washington.

Another thing that I love about the book is the list of further reading suggestions on the theory of myths that the editor supplies at the end of the book.

Just a word of caution this is not an easy book to read, it is not as scholarly as some books but it is not something that you read if you don’t want to think.

Sacred Narrative, mythology, Theories of Myth
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