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What is "Mythopoeic"?

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  • d.bratman@xxxxx.xxx
    Wendell makes a very useful and necessary point in observing that before the Inklings could be grouped together as a literary movement, someone - not
    Message 1 of 16 , Aug 13, 1999
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      Wendell makes a very useful and necessary point in observing that before
      the Inklings could be grouped together as a literary movement, someone
      - not necessarily themselves, and in this case definitely NOT themselves -
      had to decide that they belonged together. And yes, so far as I know it
      was Glen Goodknight in 1967 who first used "mythopoeic" as a label; there
      have been others, including the "Oxford Christians" (which includes other
      writers, notably Sayers).

      But it should also be added that it was inevitable that they would indeed
      be grouped together, no less than for the Elizabethan playwrights or the
      Romantic poets. I don't remember what Chad Walsh said in his 1949 book
      (and if he hadn't read the then-unpublished _Lord of the Rings_, he would
      have been rather prescient), but others in following years made the
      same connection, notably Edmund Fuller and Charles Moorman.

      There are other groupings to which each can be assigned, of course.
      Williams is the grandfather of Indigenous Fantasy; Lewis is the grandfather
      of ten thousand Narnia clones; Tolkien of ten thousand Tolclones. Lewis
      may also be claimed as a science fiction writer. Tolkien falls, more
      clearly than Lewis, into the imaginary worlds tradition defined by Lin
      Carter.

      David Bratman
      - not responsible for the following advertisement -
    • Kevin Grant
      ... I m not sure how you can say this. It seems to me that the Inklings, more than any other group I can think of, DID define themselves as a literary
      Message 2 of 16 , Aug 13, 1999
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        >
        >Wendell makes a very useful and necessary point in observing that before
        >the Inklings could be grouped together as a literary movement, someone
        >- not necessarily themselves, and in this case definitely NOT themselves -
        >had to decide that they belonged together.


        I'm not sure how you can say this. It seems to me that the Inklings, more
        than any other group I can think of, DID define themselves as a literary
        movement. Didn't Tolkien and Lewis both say that since no one was writing
        the sorts of stories they liked, they would have to do it themselves? And
        the very fact that the Inklings met together regularly to discuss their
        writings and offer support and criticism for each other points to a
        conscious awareness of being a "movement." Whether they realized what would
        come after them or not, is not the point. What matters is that THEY
        themselves most certainly did decide they belonged together - even despite
        (or perhaps even because of) the differences of style that have been noted.

        Perhaps you are saying that they did not consiously define themselves as
        "mythopoeic," I'm not sure. But they did define themselves as the Inklings.
        We who have come after them have seized upon a term common to most of them
        and have made it a defining quality of the group, but we are not the ones
        who decided that they were a group in the first place.

        Maybe I have misunderstood the comment. Could you explain it a bit more?


        Kevin Grant
      • Staci Dumoski
        ... Actually, Wendell, I was not referring to this group. It s another one entirely, and if anyone who -is- a writer is interested in joining, please contact
        Message 3 of 16 , Aug 13, 1999
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          On Fri, 13 Aug 1999 WendellWag@... wrote:

          > > Last night, I was telling my husband about a group of writers
          > > I've joined with online who are all interested in writing
          > > mythopoeic fiction.
          >
          > Thanks for the compliment, but if I were capable of writing mythopoeic
          > literature instead of merely talking about it, I'd be doing so right now.

          Actually, Wendell, I was not referring to this group. It's another one
          entirely, and if anyone who -is- a writer is interested in joining, please
          contact me offlist.

          Staci Ann Dumoski Phantastes
          Editor and Publisher "The Fantasy Writer's Guide"
          editor@... http://www.phantastes.com
        • d.bratman@xxxxx.xxx
          Kevin Grant asks some good and interesting questions. Here s my attempt at a response. No, the Inklings did not define themselves as the Inklings. The
          Message 4 of 16 , Aug 13, 1999
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            Kevin Grant asks some good and interesting questions. Here's my
            attempt at a response.

            No, the Inklings did not define themselves as the Inklings. The
            Inklings was, as W.H. Lewis makes clear in the introduction to his
            brother's Letters, not a formal organization with a membership list,
            set goals or an agenda. Unlike the Romantic poets (at least the
            Wordsworth-Coleridge end) or the Dadaists, their members did not compose
            manifestos to which others pledged allegiance, formally or informally.
            If you had asked various Inklings what kind of writers they were, some
            of them might have said "I am a Christian", but they certainly would not
            have said "I am an Inkling" or "I am one of the Oxford Christian Movement",
            the way some writers of science-fiction or mysteries or other genres
            identify themselves with a group.

            The Inklings were a very informal social group, and also something
            vaguely approaching a writers' workshop. These activities do imply
            something of a community of mind, but they don't require an agreement
            on principles. Indeed, the Inklings agreed on very little, and Tolkien
            notoriously disliked most of Williams's work, although he tried to
            understand it and was very fond of him personally (despite some famous
            postdated grumbles).

            When Lewis and Tolkien said to each other that they should write the kinds
            of books that they wanted to read, they were not passing a motion at an
            Inklings meeting (a notion they'd have found absurd), and were not acting
            in their capacity as Inklings at all (they'd probably have said that they
            had no such capacity). They were acting as two individuals whose tastes
            happened to overlap.

            All this is not to deny that the Inklings were, in fact, a kind of literary
            movement. They were almost forced into it, by default, since the general
            literary community of their time did not agree with the values that they
            did share: that there was a place for the mythopoeic, the numinous, the
            Christian or Christian-inspired supernatural, in literature, and that
            storytelling values were paramount.

            But it's up to later critics to decide what amounts to an undeclared
            literary movement. These writers had no such intention. This is important
            because it's misleading to see Tolkien, Lewis, and Williams as three sides
            of the same object. Their books are not in any way interchangable.

            David Bratman
            - not responsible for the following advertisement -
          • Matthew Heffron
            For the general difference between myth and fantasy, think about the difference between Tolkien s Middle-Earth literature and his short story Farmer Giles of
            Message 5 of 16 , Aug 13, 1999
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              For the general difference between myth and fantasy, think about the
              difference between Tolkien's Middle-Earth literature and his short story
              Farmer Giles of Ham. Myth is larger - it explains things, creates a whole
              atmosphere of a world. Most fantasy isn't large enough to create a whole
              mythology, and not all mythologies are just fantasy (ie, Greek religion). A
              discussion of what myth is would be very interesting, I think.

              Matt H.


              ----Original Message Follows----
              From: Steve Schaper <sschaper@...>
              Reply-To: mythsoc@onelist.com
              To: mythsoc@onelist.com
              Subject: Re: [mythsoc] What is "Mythopoeic"?
              Date: Thu, 12 Aug 1999 11:05:10 -0500

              From: Steve Schaper <sschaper@...>

              It would be interesting to define 'mythopoeia' versus fantasy in
              general or even faery tales in general.

              --Steve
              ======================================
              It's 1999, where's Moonbase Alpha?
              ======================================

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            • Kevin Grant
              ... I enjoyed and see great merit in your response (now I can see how easy it is to deconstruct or read into the Inklings situation). But to speak
              Message 6 of 16 , Aug 14, 1999
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                >All this is not to deny that the Inklings were, in fact, a kind of literary
                >movement. They were almost forced into it, by default, since the general
                >literary community of their time did not agree with the values that they
                >did share: that there was a place for the mythopoeic, the numinous, the
                >Christian or Christian-inspired supernatural, in literature, and that
                >storytelling values were paramount.
                >
                >But it's up to later critics to decide what amounts to an undeclared
                >literary movement. These writers had no such intention. This is important
                >because it's misleading to see Tolkien, Lewis, and Williams as three sides
                >of the same object. Their books are not in any way interchangable.
                >
                >David Bratman



                I enjoyed and see great merit in your response (now I can see how easy it is
                to deconstruct or read into the Inklings situation). But to speak
                philosphically for a moment, does the historical and regular gathering of
                Tolkien, Lewis and Williams NOT constitute a literary group if we later
                critics say otherwise (and with the differences of character as well as
                literary styles among the three, that wouldn't be an unreasonable
                occurence)?

                I agree completely - their books are not interchangeable, and in many
                senses, no they are not three sides of the same triangle. But can't a
                literary group be defined as much by diversity as by unity - even by
                themselves (unconsciously, perhaps for most of them - I somehow imagine
                Tolkien and Lewis would have consciously recognized what they were involved
                in after a bit, what with their need for groups of male companionship and
                the importance of such defining activities)? Yes, Tolkien was stubborn as a
                mule, and never took anything said to him about his work well unless it was
                praise - but does that mean he isn't a part of a literary group (I shy away
                from using "movement" now)? Yes, he was not fond of Williams' work (and I
                should note I know almost nothing about him myself), but does that make the
                gathering of the group any less valid? Lewis was blatant about the
                Christian content in his books, and Tolkien wrote as a Christian but created
                a world where there is no Christ (for including Christ is a major intrusion
                of the primary world into the secondary world, thus destroying the fairy
                tale) - but can't they thrive from such differences of opinions on important
                matters?

                My point is that surely THEY must have been aware of that. Surely they must
                have realized how important they were to each other, and how much they
                affected each other's literary vision and writing. I suppose that in the
                end I will probably agree with David Bratman that the group is truly only
                remembered as a movement because we later critics have approved of what they
                did and can see what has grown out of that. But I must lament the fact that
                such a group could ever possibly be remembered or defined in any other way,
                should even later critics decide so.

                In any case, I agree now that they had no aspirations to be a "movement"
                persay. I think the "group" dynamic was much more important to them - but
                I do think they would have seen the potential they had to be a movement
                (could such briliant literary minds NOT see it?).

                God Bless,

                Kevin Grant
              • d.bratman@xxxxx.xxx
                ... I d say it doesn t -- but that s not as arbitrary as it sounds. Literary historians don t come to their conclusions by flipping a coin, but by looking at
                Message 7 of 16 , Aug 18, 1999
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                  Kevin Grant writes:

                  > does the historical and regular gathering of Tolkien, Lewis and Williams
                  > NOT constitute a literary group if we later critics say otherwise (and with
                  > the differences of character as well as literary styles among the three,
                  > that wouldn't be an unreasonable occurence)?

                  I'd say it doesn't -- but that's not as arbitrary as it sounds. Literary
                  historians don't come to their conclusions by flipping a coin, but by looking
                  at the actual phenomena and describing it as they see it. Even Humphrey
                  Carpenter, who in his book _The Inklings_ is at pains to emphasize the
                  differences among the trio, acknowledges that they form a grouping of
                  significance.

                  > But can't a literary group be defined as much by diversity as by unity

                  Say what?

                  > Yes, Tolkien was stubborn as a mule, and never took anything said to him
                  > about his work well unless it was praise -

                  Not really; that's Lewis exaggerating. Tolkien probably was unresponsive to
                  suggestions in person, but that doesn't mean they couldn't have a major
                  influence on his next draft, and Lewis realized that too, saying that one of
                  Tolkien's frequent reactions to criticism was to write the whole work over
                  again from the beginning.

                  > but does that mean he isn't a part of a literary group (I shy away from
                  > using "movement" now)?

                  No it doesn't, but I don't think I said it does.

                  > Yes, he was not fond of Williams' work (and I should note I know almost
                  > nothing about him myself), but does that make the gathering of the group
                  > any less valid?

                  In one sense it does. It means they're not interchangable in any real way.
                  I mean that in more than the superficial sense that one of them couldn't have
                  written the other's books. I mean that for all of their very general
                  similarity (supernaturalist Christian novelist, etc.), a gulf of perception
                  and intent separates their work. Some pairs of authors don't have that gulf,
                  but you can't put down Tolkien and pick up Williams without taking a mental
                  breath and reshaping one's approach. Otherwise one is apt, however
                  unconsciously, to take LOTR as a contemporary occultist novel that happens to
                  be set in the past, or Williams's novels as secondary subcreations, and that
                  would be to seriously misread both.

                  > Lewis was blatant about the Christian content in his books, and Tolkien
                  > wrote as a Christian but created a world where there is no Christ (for
                  > including Christ is a major intrusion of the primary world into the
                  > secondary world, thus destroying the fairy tale) - but can't they thrive
                  > from such differences of opinions on important matters?

                  By all means they can, and did, and it was probably better for their
                  creativity than if they'd all been more alike. But that is a different point.

                  > My point is that surely THEY must have been aware of that. Surely they
                  > must have realized how important they were to each other, and how much they
                  > affected each other's literary vision and writing.

                  Yes, but as Diana Glyer has observed, that has nothing whatever to do with
                  similarity. They could have been entirely different in every way and still
                  influenced each other greatly.

                  > I suppose that in the end I will probably agree with David Bratman that the
                  > group is truly only remembered as a movement because we later critics have
                  > approved of what they did and can see what has grown out of that. But I
                  > must lament the fact that such a group could ever possibly be remembered or
                  > defined in any other way, should even later critics decide so.

                  It's exactly that sense of lamenting that I am trying to counteract. The
                  Inklings as a group is one way of looking at these authors, and it could
                  hardly not have been one way. But it's not the only way, and it's unlikely
                  that it ever could have been. Look at Tolkien in the context of the imaginary
                  world fantasists - Morris, Dunsany, Eddison - or in the context of the
                  Tolclones, or even in the context of Buchan and Haggard, or as sui generis in
                  no context at all, and you'll see a different picture as valid or in some
                  respects more so than the context of Lewis and Williams.

                  > I do think they would have seen the potential they had to be a movement
                  > (could such briliant literary minds NOT see it?).

                  They certainly did, and Lewis for one did try to use his shared positions with
                  the other Inklings as a basis for argumentative rhetoric.


                  David Bratman
                  - not responsible for the following advertisement -
                • WendellWag@xxx.xxx
                  In a message dated 8/19/99 2:16:06 AM Eastern Daylight Time, ... Diana has been evolving this theory of influence over the past few years to which I ve become
                  Message 8 of 16 , Aug 19, 1999
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                    In a message dated 8/19/99 2:16:06 AM Eastern Daylight Time,
                    d.bratman@... writes:

                    > Yes, but as Diana Glyer has observed, that has nothing whatever
                    > to do with similarity. They could have been entirely different in
                    > every way and still influenced each other greatly.

                    Diana has been evolving this theory of influence over the past few years to
                    which I've become such a convert that I'm probably going to exaggerate her
                    views in my attempt to explain them.

                    She thinks that we should consider the influence of all the important people
                    around a writer, not just those who influenced them in the normal literary
                    sense (and not just those who were philosophically in agreement with them).
                    In particular, we should consider the most important influences on C. S.
                    Lewis to be his brother Warren, Joy Davidman, and Mrs. Moore.

                    You can get the idea that Mrs. Moore was a drag on Lewis's writings from some
                    of the things that you read about her. This comes from people taking too
                    seriously Warren's complaints that Lewis spent too much time helping her
                    around the house. But this was because Warren never did like housework, and
                    he did as little of it himself as he could get by with. The fact is though
                    that Lewis would never have had the experiences necessary to write some of
                    his books (in particular, _The Screwtape Letters_) if he hadn't lived with
                    her. Without her, he would have been a classic eccentric bachelor, probably
                    living in college rooms without even the company of his brother. (Come to
                    think of it, his life would have probably been a whole lot like mine has
                    been.) The normal experience of having to adjust his life to accommodate
                    someone else was important to his development. Furthermore, Mrs. Moore did
                    do or arrange to have done the normal, everyday household things that both
                    the Lewis brothers were incapable of.

                    Diana has made a very good argument that Lewis could never have written _Till
                    We Have Faces_ without the help of Joy Davidman. He was having a writer's
                    block, and Joy talked him out of it. She talked him through a draft and a
                    revision of each of the chapters of that book. It was as close as you could
                    get to a co-authorship as you could get without her having to have her name
                    on the book, although she didn't in the usual sense write a word of it.

                    Warren served as Lewis's secretary during all of Lewis's most important
                    writing years. Without his help in holding back the vast tide of
                    correspondence, Lewis would never have had the time to write as much as he
                    did.

                    The impression that you get from some biographies of Lewis -- that Moore was
                    a harsh taskmaster, that Davidman was an evil harpy who butted into Lewis's
                    life, that Warren was a drunk who never accomplished anything --
                    misinterprets their role in Lewis's life. Even stranger is the question of
                    why someone looking at the life of a Christian writer should treat their
                    influences in such a negative way. It's understandable, I suppose, that
                    someone writing about the Romantic poets, say, should accept their theory of
                    the writer as an autonomous genius and a master of the universe. Why though
                    someone writing about a Christian writer (who according to their theories
                    live in a vast spiritual community) should want to treat the writer as if
                    they could have written their works without the help of many other people is
                    hard to understand.

                    This makes it sound like the acknowledgments page of every book should look
                    like Gwyneth Paltrow's Oscar acceptance speech, but at least movie people
                    understand that film is a collaborative art. People who discuss writers
                    should also understand that life is a collaborative art.

                    Wendell Wagner
                  • THEODORE SHERMAN
                    Has Diana published this in Mythlore or anywhere else??? Ted ... -- Dr. Theodore James Sherman Associate Professor of English Middle Tennessee State University
                    Message 9 of 16 , Aug 19, 1999
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                      Has Diana published this in Mythlore or anywhere else???

                      Ted

                      WendellWag@... wrote:

                      > From: WendellWag@...
                      >
                      > In a message dated 8/19/99 2:16:06 AM Eastern Daylight Time,
                      > d.bratman@... writes:
                      >
                      > > Yes, but as Diana Glyer has observed, that has nothing whatever
                      > > to do with similarity. They could have been entirely different in
                      > > every way and still influenced each other greatly.
                      >
                      > Diana has been evolving this theory of influence over the past few years to
                      > which I've become such a convert that I'm probably going to exaggerate her
                      > views in my attempt to explain them.
                      >
                      > She thinks that we should consider the influence of all the important people
                      > around a writer, not just those who influenced them in the normal literary
                      > sense (and not just those who were philosophically in agreement with them).
                      > In particular, we should consider the most important influences on C. S.
                      > Lewis to be his brother Warren, Joy Davidman, and Mrs. Moore.
                      >
                      > You can get the idea that Mrs. Moore was a drag on Lewis's writings from some
                      > of the things that you read about her. This comes from people taking too
                      > seriously Warren's complaints that Lewis spent too much time helping her
                      > around the house. But this was because Warren never did like housework, and
                      > he did as little of it himself as he could get by with. The fact is though
                      > that Lewis would never have had the experiences necessary to write some of
                      > his books (in particular, _The Screwtape Letters_) if he hadn't lived with
                      > her. Without her, he would have been a classic eccentric bachelor, probably
                      > living in college rooms without even the company of his brother. (Come to
                      > think of it, his life would have probably been a whole lot like mine has
                      > been.) The normal experience of having to adjust his life to accommodate
                      > someone else was important to his development. Furthermore, Mrs. Moore did
                      > do or arrange to have done the normal, everyday household things that both
                      > the Lewis brothers were incapable of.
                      >
                      > Diana has made a very good argument that Lewis could never have written _Till
                      > We Have Faces_ without the help of Joy Davidman. He was having a writer's
                      > block, and Joy talked him out of it. She talked him through a draft and a
                      > revision of each of the chapters of that book. It was as close as you could
                      > get to a co-authorship as you could get without her having to have her name
                      > on the book, although she didn't in the usual sense write a word of it.
                      >
                      > Warren served as Lewis's secretary during all of Lewis's most important
                      > writing years. Without his help in holding back the vast tide of
                      > correspondence, Lewis would never have had the time to write as much as he
                      > did.
                      >
                      > The impression that you get from some biographies of Lewis -- that Moore was
                      > a harsh taskmaster, that Davidman was an evil harpy who butted into Lewis's
                      > life, that Warren was a drunk who never accomplished anything --
                      > misinterprets their role in Lewis's life. Even stranger is the question of
                      > why someone looking at the life of a Christian writer should treat their
                      > influences in such a negative way. It's understandable, I suppose, that
                      > someone writing about the Romantic poets, say, should accept their theory of
                      > the writer as an autonomous genius and a master of the universe. Why though
                      > someone writing about a Christian writer (who according to their theories
                      > live in a vast spiritual community) should want to treat the writer as if
                      > they could have written their works without the help of many other people is
                      > hard to understand.
                      >
                      > This makes it sound like the acknowledgments page of every book should look
                      > like Gwyneth Paltrow's Oscar acceptance speech, but at least movie people
                      > understand that film is a collaborative art. People who discuss writers
                      > should also understand that life is a collaborative art.
                      >
                      > Wendell Wagner
                      >
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                      --
                      Dr. Theodore James Sherman
                      Associate Professor of English
                      Middle Tennessee State University
                      Murfreesboro, TN 37130
                      (615) 898-2678
                      tsherman@...
                    • WendellWag@aol.com
                      In a message dated 8/19/99 6:42:36 AM Eastern Daylight Time, ... At least two of her talks at Mythcon have been about this. She spoke about the overall theory
                      Message 10 of 16 , Aug 19, 1999
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                        In a message dated 8/19/99 6:42:36 AM Eastern Daylight Time,
                        tedsherman@... writes:

                        > Has Diana published this in Mythlore or anywhere else???

                        At least two of her talks at Mythcon have been about this. She spoke about
                        the overall theory and how it applied to Lewis at the 1992 Mythcon. It was a
                        summary of her Ph.D. thesis. She spoke at the 1998 Mythcon about Joy
                        Davidman's influence on _Till We Have Faces_. The 1992 talk is in the
                        Proceedings of the Tolkien Centenary. You'll have to ask her if she's
                        published anything else about this.

                        I suggested to her at the 1992 Mythcon that she should write a definitive
                        book on the subject of influence. This makes me, I guess, sort of the
                        co-author of the book when it comes out. Well, I've prepared my acceptance
                        speech for when the book wins the Mythopoeic Scholarship Award. Ahem, on
                        behalf of my co-author and myself, I'd like to thank the members of the
                        Academy . . . I mean, the Society . . .

                        Wendell Wagner
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