Making Myth

April 18, 2016

Respecting Mythic Archetypes Part 3

Filed under: Intro to Myth Making,Theory — Tags: — Myth Maker @ 8:59 pm

Respecting Mythic Archetypes Part 1

Respecting Mythic Archetypes Part 2

Using the appropriate Archetypes

Many myth creators have a problem. They look around and see that everyone around them is creating myth using archetypes founded in European culture and so they think something along the lines of “I will be different, I will use archetypes found in Chinese culture instead.” And so they go on to tell the same basic type of stories that everyone else is telling except they are using “Chinese’s” archetypes instead. What generally happens is that a few critics rave about what a breath a fresh air “not being in the standard late medieval European setting is” and few people read the book. Meanwhile, someone who uses all the standard European mythical archetypes but sets the myth in a modern day school setting is making publishing history.

The thing that a lot of myth creators don’t seem to understand is that the archetypes are the language, not the story. Changing the archetypes to tell the same old story is like a white man putting on black face and trying to pass himself off as African American so that he can tell his story from a “different perspective”. You can’t disguise the fact that you are telling your culture’s story just by changing the archetypes you use. If you want to look to a foreign culture for inspiration you would be better served trying to reproduce a foreign myth into familiar archetypes rather than trying to tell a familiar myth using foreign archetypes.

An example of cross culture pollination done right would be the making of the Magnificent Seven based off of The Seven Samurai. Neither movie was really myth as we have defined it. Nonetheless, it is a good example of how familiar archetypes are necessary to make what is basically the same story more accessible.

You could argue that The Seven Samurai was the better movie, but even had it been cast in English few in America would have watched it because of the unfamiliar archetypes. By contrast The Magnificent Seven was very popular in spite of being largely the same story retold. Substituting cowboys for samurai and changing the setting enabled a story from a different culture to be accessible to an English speaking audience. In other words, the thing that enabled the same story to find new life in a different culture is the use of an archetypical language suited to the audience that it was trying to reach.

To be sure, it took a lot of skill to get the “translation” right. The Magnificent Seven could easily have been a bad movie if the director and script writers had lacked talent. But the key point that the Seven Samurai/Magnificent Seven illustrates is that the story is separate from the archetypes. The key challenge for a myth creator is to use archetypes that will best communicate the story they want to tell. And that will almost invariably mean using archetypes that are already familiar to audiences that they want to reach.

A quick look at the popular myth of our day will bear this out. Harry Potter became successful because it took a lot of old European mythical archetypes and set them in an environment that children all over the world were familiar with (school). The original Star Wars trilogy broke new ground by combining magic with star ships. But it did so by making reference thematically and visually to everything from the Roman Emperor/Senate, knights and princesses, Cowboy movies, Nazis, and countless other culturally relevant archetypes.

In other words, the pros innovate by making the old more familiar to modern audiences while at the same time making them feel like they are going someplace new. The less talented make it so that you have to wade through an thicket of alien imagery only for you to find out that you are in the same old story that has been told a thousand times.

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