How shall we make Myth morally complex?
We have said that to make good myth we shall strive to make it morally complex. But what does morally complexity even mean? And how shall we go about achieving it?
An intrinsic part of anything complex is that it is hard to define. It is the simple things that are easy to define. The main thing that the morally complex myths have in common is that they are not simple. But morally simple myths have a lot in common. So to create morally complex myth, we will avoid duplicating those things that morally simple myths have in common.
This logic only has a hope of working if we correctly identify what makes some myths morally simple. A common pitfall is to say that a morally simple myth is where everything is black and white. The idea that follows from this is that if nothing in our story is black and white then our myth will be morally complex. This type of logic leads one to the erroneous opinion that a story that is morally nihilistic must be morally complex because there is no “black and white” morality in it.
A better approach to defining the morally simple is start from the premise that morality is an inherently complex subject. Starting from this premise we must ask what is it that myth creators do to make it a simple subject? The answer seems obvious. They disqualify the moral opposition. They make doing the “right thing” costless. And they construct straw targets to knock down. It is worth examining these things in greater detail so that we might avoid them.
How shall we endeavor to make good Myth?
We will strive to make it morally complex. Moral issues are a key part of myth. But they are also a reason why many people don’t like myth. All too often, the freedom to be unreal also means the freedom to be morally simple. But for many of us, moral simplicity can sharply degrade our appreciation of a work of art.
We will strive to respect established mythic archetypes while shaping them to suit our needs. Very little myth is made in a complete vacuum. Most of it is built on archetypes established long ago and it forms a language by which each successive myth creator might express himself. For example, an orphan baby raised by cruel or indifferent foster parents and yet destined by linage and prophecy to do great things is a archetype that has been used throughout the ages. It was used for King Author and it was used for Harry Potter.
In modern times it has become fashionable for certain authors to try to deliberately subvert and or make fun of mythical archetypes. Those authors who try to subvert or make fun of long standing archetypes do not have anything close to the success of those who make use of archetypes in ways that are true to their original use.
There are many reasons why this is the case, but for our purposes the “why” does not matter. It is sufficient to note that if we use an archetype we will try to use it in a way that is consistent with its historical use. We will not use an archetype with the purpose of demonstrating that we are cleverer or more advanced morally then their original creators.
We will make as detailed and believable world as possible so that our myth might seem real. It is questionable how much of even ancient myth was really believed. But all successful myth is written in such a way as to invite the reader/listener/watcher to believe. Myth creators who approach their worlds in a cavalier fashion because it was “just make believe” fail to have much impact. Those who put a lot of work into their worlds can sometimes have a lasting impact even though their writing skills are subpar.
Intro To Myth Making
What is a myth?
We shall define myth as a story about human like creatures who have supernatural powers, deal with strange and wonderful creatures, and deal with moral issues that are common to mere mortals. This definition covers stories about Greek and Norse Gods, Jedi Knights, X-Men, Harry Potter’s universe, and much more. In all such stories, a distinction is made between the special (gods, non-muggles, Jedi, mutants) and the normal mortals who lack the special powers. In all such stories, there are many races of beings, be they dryads, giants, elves, or aliens. In all such stories, moral issues lurk in the background of the fantastic tales.
Why is myth so popular?
Some people seem to think that the main part of myth’s appeal is wish fulfillment and certainly this is true in part. But wish fulfillment can be found in most fiction regardless of whether it be romance or adventure stories. What makes myth special is that in myth abstract feelings and vague longings/fears take on concrete form and interacts with reality. Good myth will combine the symbolism of poetry with the concreteness of prose. It will have an expressive range that is greater than “realistic” prose fiction and yet more comprehensible to the average mind then the symbolism of poetry (at least on the surface level).
What separate good myth from bad myth?
Myth is subject to the same types of judgment as any other form of art. But the very broadness of expression that myth allows presents an additional snare to myth creators. If a myth creator uses the freedom myth grants too freely, the result is often a meaningless mess. So one key question that must be asked about myth is why was the unreality in the myth necessary? What was gained by resorting to unreality? If we have a poem that can be translated into prose without losing anything, then it was a poor poem. If we have a mythic element that could be made realistic and not lose anything, then we have a very poor myth.