But for any rule, it’s easy to think of a dozen exceptions: which suggests to me that there’s something wrong with the rules. Ruskin’s definition – that myth is “a story with a meaning attached to it other than it seems to have at first” – is at least honest about its own inadequacy.
But we believe we know a myth when we see one, and we’re usually right. There are tell-tale signs. One of them is timelessness: myths usually tell of a time before the memory of anyone living, and before the records of any human culture. Another is persistence: myths survive because they’re tenacious. Often, they originate in societies that have no written language, but then are transmitted through many generations until finally a culture comes into being which can capture them in a permanent record–although we suspect that by that time, the original stories may mean something different to those recording them than the meanings they held for their unknown originators.
From certain angles, at least, all of this seems to be a long way away from the stories told in modern fantasies–but I think there’s a continuity, or at least a very promising and telling set of correspondences, with my own work and with the work of many of the fantasists I love best. Our stories aren’t myths by any regular definition, but maybe they serve some of the same functions as myths and are best understood in the light of that tradition.
The talk I’m going to deliver at the symposium takes its title from a poem by Wallace Stevens, Some Friends from Pascagoula, which both begs the listener for a story and at the same time provides the story that it’s asking for. “Speak of the dazzling wings” is a command that obeys itself. And myths, I think, are the stories that enact themselves–the stories that happen all over again, or for the first time, or both, in the very act of being told. I think that may turn out to be one of their functions–to take us out of our own belated time into a dawn time that’s also a mental state.
I’m still in the process of putting my messy ideas together, but I hope to refer to Lord Dunsany, China Mieville, Italo Calvino, Gene Wolfe, George Orwell and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I’ve got a feeling I’m going to need all the help I can get.
I’m going to take a crack at R.D. Laing, too. His introduction to his own extended essay, The Politics of Experience, begins with the assertion that “Few books today are forgivable.” I want to try to prove that the books we lovers of sci-fi, fantasy and horror adhere to and write are among those few.
The 2nd Toronto SpecFic Colloquium will take place on Saturday October 15, 2011 at the Toronto Underground Cinema (186 Spadina Avenue). Register now at http://chiseries.ticketleap.com/specfic-colloquium/.
Mike Carey was born in 1959 in Liverpool, England, where both his parents worked in a bread factory and Mike "got [his] first glimpse of hell." He began writing the Eisner-nominated Lucifer monthly -- a story about the devil's quest for autonomy in a deterministic universe -- for DC/Vertigo in 1999 after working on several projects for Caliber Comics and the British the sci-fi anthology 2000 AD. Lucifer has been described as "a work of genius in the dark fantasy genre" and "the best fantasy comic around." Other writing credits include Hellblazer, Batman: Gotham Knights, Flinch, Sandman Presents, My Faith in Frankie for DC/Vertigo, and Ultimate Elektra for Marvel, and the Felix Castor series. In the introduction to the 2001 collection Lucifer: Devil in the Gateway, Neil Gaiman describes Mike Carey's stories as "...elegantly told, solidly written" and Carey himself as "...easily one of the half-dozen best writers of mainstream comics and climbing."