Forget the Horse Girls, embrace the monster of mythology
We live in a world governed by the compulsion to taxonomize ourselves. Are you Virgo or Leo? Introvert or extrovert? Type A or type B? A gifted child or a … non-gifted? But there is one classification which I believe has not received its fair share of attention in the rush to identify themselves publicly as different “types”: people who were obsessed with myths, legends and stories. other types of traditional traditions as children and young adults.
Whether you know this guy as a “mythical child” or “monster of lore” or “that girl who loves Anubis too much,” a certain resemblance probably comes to mind when you think of this kind of person. Maybe he was the kind of 11-year-old who always read fantastic books, or kept making ancient Egyptian evil eyes with pipe cleaners in art class, or watched too much. Xena: warrior princess alongside their parents in their childhood. They studied the classics in college, or maybe they majored in comparative literature. They love to talk about Joseph Campbell and the hero’s journey, even though they never made it through The hero with a thousand faces. One of their favorite contemporary novels is probably Circe by Madeline Miller. Now they write texts, press releases, or small news blogs for a living, but would like to throw it all away and work on a book someday. It’s true, I have more or less just described me.
But how many of this guy as I imagine him actually exists, outside the limits of my own self-image and the caricatures sketched by strangers on the internet? What traits do we share? Were we captivated by the same heroes and gods? In our most impressionable years, what were we looking for in these primordial stories of creation and transformation and the supernatural?
In order to find out more, I took a poll on Google Forms and posted it on Twitter, where I know a lot of the Mythos are hanging out. I received 34 responses, of which only 33 were relevant (the 34th was from someone claiming to be a 63-year-old man from Indiana who “never really went into that sort of thing to be honest” but wished me good luck). I processed the data and came up with these highlights based on the extremely statistically significant sample size:
- Among the relevant respondents, they share a median age of 28, and they first became interested in myths and traditions and the like at the age of 8, on average.
- Most are from the United States
- The tradition of the “gateway” for the vast majority was Greek mythology; five mentioned ancient Egyptian, two Arthurians, two Romans, one Hindu and one native.
- From there, they tended to move on to other lineages of traditions: Nordic, Mayan, Aztec, Mesopotamian, Japanese, Chinese, Celtic, Welsh, Slavic, etc.
- Several cities Book of Greek Myths of Aulars and the novels of Rick Riordan.
- For some, a passion for tradition persists to this day; for others, interest waned after childhood.
But the numbers couldn’t tell me the same; I needed to know more about these soul mates and the bonds that may or may not unite us arbitrarily. I spoke in more depth to a handful of survey respondents, asking them the question: is there a “mythical child” or a “traditional leader”, and if so, what is it? defines this figure?
Maybe the guy’s baseline is bookish, but not all bookish children are mythical children. Just those who were in the Lord of the Rings and young adult novels “about girl knights and stuff like that,” according to magazine employee Nawal Arjini, 26.
Or the kind of person drawn to fandom culture, said Sophia Lo, 21, a university student, who loved Greek and Roman myths in part because of their connections to the Percy Jackson series, which spawned a vast online fandom full of fanfiction, fan art, role-playing games, and TikToks about the deity who would’ve been your parent. “It was really cool to be able to participate in a fantasy world that a lot of other people were also engaged and excited about,” she said. (Lo said she mainly went from Percy Jackson now; her current fandom of choice is Marvel, with a favorite character being, and rightly so, Loki.)
Or very cheerful, suggested Nick Augustine, 26, who works in public relations. The fact that “Greek stories are super gay” meant a lot to him growing up, as he discovered his own identity and his own sexuality. He joked: “I think the children of myth and children of tradition all ended up becoming gay and working in the media.”
Or maybe neurodivergent? “I’m ADHD, and I feel like it’s the kind of thing that it’s really easy to focus on and get lost on – that kind of escape world,” writer Jennifer Barton said. , 39 years old. “It’s a never-ending obsession: you can keep untangling more and more layers, no matter what type of folklore you dive into. There is something about it that is able to capture my constantly chaotic mind. movement.
But perhaps my attempt to lump the lore lovers into an established “type” based on a few characteristics is a doomed exercise. “You love these stories, I love these stories, so we would like to say that loving these stories when you were a child is a marker of being sensitive and creative,” said Carolyne Larrington, professor of medieval European literature at the University. . from St John’s College in Oxford. But she wasn’t entirely convinced that there is only one specific type of person who gets enthusiastic about myths, legends and the like (what she usefully calls “traditional tales”). “They come in all shapes and sizes,” she said.
The most interesting questions might be: What attracts young people to traditional tales? What do they get from scrutinizing a mythical and fantastic past?
Run away, I guess? I spent most of my childhood in the suburbs, where I felt like nothing had happened. A placidity permeated the miles of cookie-cutter houses, the mowed lawns and the impassable roads around me. Wishing myself a princess – or a time traveler, a witch, a ninja – I dragged my friends into pretend games and disappeared into stories of intrigue and enchantment, still reading , to always imagine, to always dream of a different life from the one I had. I would trace the contours of an alternate reality in my mind and imagine where I could fit in, the new roles and myself that I could inhabit.
“There’s something about this age when these new lands are opening up to you,” Larrington agreed. The call is in the drama of these unknown realms, so completely different from the mundane things of the reality we actually live in.
But while these new worlds may not be familiar, the behavior and outcomes of their inhabitants are, said Larrington: “You know what you get with a prince or a peasant, or with Thor or Heracles. You have an idea of how they are going to behave… You are kind of reassured that you know how the story is going to play out. Children are reassured as they watch these mythical patterns unfold, knowing that any twists and turns that occur along the way will be resolved by the end of the tale. For more mature readers, it is interesting to see how these models can, on occasion, be derailed or, as in many modern narratives, complicated or subverted.
Nonetheless, although Larrington was hesitant to adhere to my ‘type’ theory, it did bring a possible trait for fans of mainstream tales: ‘I think maybe this is the kind of person who is necessarily particularly witty, but who is really interested in expanding her imaginative possibilities and also think symbolically. Take, for example, the story of a hero who meets a hungry hedgehog and must decide whether or not to share his last piece of bread with the creature. As a reader, Larrington said, it’s obvious that if you help the hedgehog, you will get his help back later. The take-home message from a tale like this – without having to be spelled out by some sort of moralistic preacher in the end – isn’t just that you have to be nice to hedgehogs (basic, literal , obvious), but that being open and friendly can be its own reward (grounded, deeper, allegorical).
It is these elements of metaphor, symbolism and thematic resonance that make the leaders of the tradition like the scenographer and supplier of pins inspired by the classics Julia Carusillo (who, disclaimer, is my colleague Claire’s sister) gravitate towards traditional tales even now. “They can be done so poetically,” said Carusillo, 33, recalling the “tender period” of her young adulthood when she felt her world open up with Virgil’s. Aeneid and its themes of family, honor, duty and virtue.
Others speculate that what drew them to the stories of divine beings and enchantment were the inherent threads of power and metamorphosis – “the gods and things that can change with the snap of a finger,” in Arjini’s words – which are so beyond the pages of a story.
“There is this central theme of transformation: transformation as escape, or transformation as different facets of the personality,” Barton said, citing examples like Charybdis and Scylla in Greek mythology, or Baba Yaga in Russian and Slavic folklore. There might be a type of person who is drawn to this transformative power, she suggested: people who yearn to shed their skin and slip into a new identity, or strangers on the periphery who wish they could turn into something awesome or terrifying.
In a way, isn’t that the anxiety of puberty? Undergoing immense changes, yearning for the constant comfort of childhood while simultaneously scrutinizing the fog of the unknown – trembling with fear and excitement, both wary and hopeful of the self emerging from it. other side ?
But often there is no existence altering transformation, no magical change of skin and bones, mind and soul; you discover that it is simply yourself who is watching you from the fold. Going from a knowledge child to a knowledge adult is an overwhelming and endless process to realize the banality of most lives. But still, I’d rather stay a fucking nerd about it than lose any taste for the fantastic altogether. There are still moments – in the pages of a book, in the darkness of a cinema, in the stillness of the ruins invaded by cicadas at dusk – when the spark of myth and legend is rekindled and I feel like a kid looking for heroes and gods. . Small comfort, but enough to help make the rest of the life we’re stuck in worth living.