Education,  Fairy Tales,  Show Notes

Episode 60: Why Read Pagan Myths

Today on The Literary Life Podcast, Angelina Stanford and Cindy Rollins are having a conversation about why everyone ought to read myths. Angelina begins by explaining what a myth is in terms of literary genre. She talks about the characteristics that run through myths, such as explanations of origins and natural phenomena, common characters, and a universe that hangs together. Cindy poses a question about why we have come to interpret the word myth to mean something untrue since the time of the Enlightenment.

Angelina helps parents feel more confident about their children’s ability to know the difference between reality and fantasy. Cindy talks about how knowing mythology is a key to understanding other stories and literature. Unfolding a portion of church history, Angelina explains how early Christians wrestled with pagan stories and Old Testament stories at the same time. When we go looking only for morality tales in the Bible, Cindy points out, then we miss the main idea. Getting a bit more practical, Angelina gives some examples of the role of pre-Christian storytellers who pointed to the Truth.

Be sure to be back next week for the beginning of our series on Til We Have Faces by C. S. Lewis, in which we will be covering chapters 1 and 2.

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Commonplace Quotes:

The imagination of man is made in the image of the imagination of God. Everything of man must have been of God first; and it will help much towards our understanding of the imagination and its functions in man if we first succeed in regarding aright the imagination of God, in which the imagination of man lives and moves and has its being.

George MacDonald

Those who do not know that this great myth became fact when the Virgin conceived are, indeed, to be pitied. But Christians also need to be reminded–we may thank Corineus for reminding us–that what became fact was a myth, that it carries with it into the world of fact all the properties of a myth. God is more than a god, not less; Christ is more than Balder, not less. We must not be ashamed of the mythical radiance resting on our theology. We must not be nervous about “parallels” and “pagan Christs”: they ought to be there–it would be a stumbling block if they weren’t. We must not, in false spirituality, withhold our imaginative welcome. If God chooses to be mythopoeic–and is not the sky itself a myth–shall we refuse to be mythopathic? For this is the marriage of heaven and earth: perfect myth and perfect fact: claiming not only our love and our obedience, but also our wonder and delight, addressed to the savage, the child, and the poet in each one of us no less than to the moralist, the scholar, and the philosopher.

C. S. Lewis

from “Mythopoeia”

by J. R. R. Tolkien

The heart of Man is not compound of lies,
but draws some wisdom from the only Wise,
and still recalls him. Though now long estranged,
Man is not wholly lost nor wholly changed.
Dis-graced he may be, yet is not dethroned,
and keeps the rags of lordship once he owned,
his world-dominion by creative act:
not his to worship the great Artefact,
Man, Sub-creator, the refracted light
through whom is splintered from a single White
to many hues, and endlessly combined
in living shapes that move from mind to mind.
Though all the crannies of the world we filled
with Elves and Goblins, though we dared to build
Gods and their houses out of dark and light,
and sowed the seed of dragons, ’twas our right
(used or misused). The right has not decayed.
We make still by the law in which we’re made.

Book List:

A Dish of Orts by George MacDonald

“Myth Became Fact” by C. S. Lewis

The Faerie Queene by Edmund Spenser

The Chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis

Wings and the Child by Edith Nesbit

Paradise Lost by John Milton

The Aeneid by Virgil

The Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri

50 Famous Stories by James Baldwin

English Literature for Boys and Girls by H. E. Marshall

D’Aulaires’ Book of Greek Myths

D’Aulaires’ Book of Norse Myths

Tanglewood Tales and A Wonder Book by Nathaniel Hawthorn

Til We Have Faces by C. S. Lewis

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You can find Angelina and Thomas at HouseofHumaneLetters.com, on Instagram @angelinastanford, and on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/ANGStanford/

Find Cindy at https://cindyrollins.net, on Instagram @cindyordoamoris and on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/cindyrollins.net/. Check out Cindy’s own Patreon page also!

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2 Comments

  • Monica

    Thank you for a great episode! I had to go back and find the name of this book title because it wasn’t in the book list show notes. How the Irish Saved Civilization by Thomas Cahill. I will be adding this to my reading list!

    • Ellen Keyes

      Thank you for the episode on reading pagan myths and fantastical stories. I wish I’d had these episodes when I was homeschooling my own children. On to the grandchildren, now!

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