Mythopoeia is a genre of modern literature (and film) that refers to the creation of artificial mythology.
Mythopoeia is created by the writer of prose, drama, or verse, in addition to film and television productions. When an author chooses to create artificial mythology, they often engage with present mythologies, dating back to Greek and Egyptian religions. It is by utilizing already present ideas of what gods can be that these mythologies feel real and like possible religious belief systems. The archetypes of mythology are always present.
Definition and Explanation of Mythopoeia
Mythopoeia comes from the greek “μυθοποιία” meaning “myth-making.” The term was used in ancient times similar to how it is used today. It came into modern use after J.R.R. Tolkien used it in the title of one of his poems, published in Tree and Leaf in 1931. It has since come into common use as a literary genre, in addition to a broadly artistic pursuit.
While mythopoeia is a genre of its own, it is also categorized along with fantasy and science fiction. This is due to the fact that both of these genres often include elements of mythopoeia within their exposition. Some of the best examples of this are Star Trek and The Lord of the Rings. Mythopoeia is also connected to the creation of artificial language, and should, some scholars say, be considered as an integral part of that process.
Examples of Mythopoeia
The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis
The Chronicles of Narnia is a fantasy series written by British novelist C.S. Lewis. The novels were published between 1950 and 1956 and are set in the fictional world of Narnia. Throughout the series, readers learn more about the setting and the base mythology—that the world was created by the great lion, Aslan.
The Dark Tower by Stephen King
The Dark Tower is a series of fantasy novels written by the well-known horror writer Stephen King. The series can is often referred to as part fantasy, part horror, and part western in which a gunslinger goes in search of a tower. The series consists of eight novels.
The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien
The Lord of the Rings is another great example of what is possible with mythopoeia. In Tolkien’s multifaceted world, men, elves, hobbits, orcs, dwarves, and more have to live together, each with their own belief systems which are alluded to throughout the three novels. Tolkien also incorporated mythopoeia into his poems and shorter novels, those that help to depict fringe elements of The Lord of the Rings series. In fact, it was in one of his poems that the term “mythopoeia” was reintroduced to the public.
The Gods of Pengana by Lord Dunsany
The Gods of Pengana was the first book by Lord Dunsany and one of the best examples of mythopoeia. It’s a series of short stories that connect Dunsany’s pantheon of deities, all of whom live in Pegana. When speaking about his book, Dunsany said that he tried to “account for the ocean and moon.”
The Four Zoas by William Blake
The Four Zoa is a prophetic book by William Blake that includes characters such as Urizen, Luvah and Tharmas, created by the fall of Albion. Blake intended this book to be a collection of his mythic universe but it went unfinished.
Examples of Mythopoeia in Film
Star Trek (Television series and films)
In the Star Trek films and televisions series, viewers learn about a variety of cultures, each of which has its own religious background. For example, Klingons, a alien species that features prominently in the series and their religious text the paq’batlh, or Book of Honor. Kuvah’magh is often alluded to as an important part of Klingon religious culture.
Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin
While well-loved as a long series of novel, the televisions show Game of Thrones has an immense following, one that’s allowed its mythology to develop and be studied by a huge audience. The series has a complex and integrating background that reaches back thousands of years. This includes the Faith of the Seven, the dominant religion in Westeros.
Why Do Writers Write Mythopoeia?
Myth-making is nothing new and depending on how one understands it, this literary genre can be found incorporated in novels dating back to Ancient Greece. It’s a way of creating a broader, well-rounded and more interesting world. One in which readers can get deeply involved in and want to return to. Mythopoeia is only possible with the suspension of disbelief and reader’s willingness to accept the world the writer is laying out for them.
In novels that depend on mythopoeia, writers spend time create a web o religious beliefs that influence the actions of the present characters. In understanding a character’s religious or spiritual background, readers can better understand their actions. It also always the writer to create new and original plot lines that wouldn’t be possible if they were operating in the contemporary world of the reader.
- Artificial mythology
Related Literary Terms
- Myth: a genre of folklore that usually includes a hero and sometimes fanatical elements.
- Allusion: an indirect reference to, including but not limited to, an idea, event, or person. It is used within both prose and verse writing
- Anachronism: an error in the timeline or chronology of a piece of literature. This can be a purposeful or accidental error.
- Archetype: universal symbols. They are characters, themes, and settings that appear throughout literary works.
- Conflict: a plot device used by writers when two opposing sides come up against each other.
- Folklore: stories that people tell. These include folk stores, fairy tales, urban legends, and more.
- Audience: the group for which an artist or writer makes a piece of art or writes.
- Characterization: a literary device that is used to detail and explains the aspects of a specifically crafted character in a novel, play, or poem.