Our inner myths…

I think about mythology a lot.  Even with only a few blog posts tacked up here so far onto the vast cyber-bulletin board that is the internet, that should be kind of obvious.  And very often when I say “mythology,” I’m talking about the widely-recognized legends and lore that have blossomed up alongside humanity as we make our way down the corridors of time: Greek myths, Norse myths, Egyptian myths, Vedic and Hindu tales, Aztec myths, Judeo-Christian Biblical stories, Native American narratives…the list could fill multiple blogs on its own.  We can maybe think of these kinds of accounts and fables as “outer myths.”  That is, these stories generally predate our own individual arrivals here on Earth, and exist outside of us as distinct persons, deemed by humankind as a whole to represent true “mythology.”

There are also, however, what I think of as our own “inner myths.”  These would be tales and characters that may not necessarily qualify as true mythology to our species as a collective, but due to whatever peculiarities and specific circumstances that prevailed when we first encountered them — often in early childhood — they have just as much impact on our individual psyches as might far more well-known and universally hailed outer myths.  For example, scores of luridly colored superhero and horror comic books from the ’70s are as vivid and meaningful to me as certain Bible parables might be to someone else.  I first encountered comic books as a very young child, and they had a massive impact on my then still-crystallizing persona.  Even now, when I look at comics from that period, my inner six-year old thrills and swoons to the visuals and concepts arrayed before me.  I’d say the same for a whole slew of cartoons, science-fiction movies, and various personae who populated rock album covers and breakfast cereal boxes back in that bell-bottomed era.  I can’t imagine anyone else currently walking the Earth couldn’t say something very similar…

Image by James Curcio - What's in *your* brain-pan...?
Image by James Curcio – What’s in *your* brain-pan…?

And I recently had occasion to ponder this whole principle more deeply: after a few years of halfhearted searching, I suddenly decided to make a concerted effort to find a certain picture book that had landed with exactly this kind of impact on the tender and impressionable landscape of my young mind back when I was still learning to navigate the world of post-kindergarten grade school.  The book was called Mythical Monsters, and it had been created by a writer-cartoonist named James Cornell in semi-humorous fashion, depicting a pretty varied cast of fantastical creatures, some commonly known (the Centaur, the Gryphon, the Unicorn), and some that would remain far more fringe until the Dungeons & Dragons crowd came along a few years later to collect up and compile pretty much every folktale creature ever imagined into one of their bestiary-type reference books (for instance, Mythical Monsters is where I first heard of such fabulous beings as the Catoblepas, the Leucrotta, and the Peryton).  The work’s distinctive drawings remained with me literally for decades, even though my copy of the book itself had been lost to the sands of time during one of my family’s not infrequent moves from one small town or suburb to the next.

And then lo and behold, at long, long last, through the wonders of Amazon.com, I finally managed to locate a used copy of the little volume!  Witness:

"Mythical Monsters," by James Cornell
“Mythical Monsters,” by James Cornell
"Mythical Monsters" - back cover
“Mythical Monsters” – back cover

The images and information contained within this slim little publication would likely mean almost nothing for you, reading this, but for me, they’re teeming with significance, and have taken on, beyond all shadows of all doubts, the stature of any hallowed tales drawn from any of our civilization’s various religious texts or widely-acclaimed cultural landmarks and masterpieces.

And here are two more works, similarly meaningful for me: a pair of volumes by a married couple named Ingri and Edgar d’Aulaire.  The d’Aulaires’ summations in picture book form of both Greek and Norse mythology actually served to lay down the foundations of understanding for both of these rich bodies of lore that still inform my entire viewpoints on each one to this very day (that is, what the d’Aulaires laid down, is how I still see it, decades later — their versions are, to me, The Gospel):

"d'Aulaires' Book of Greek Myths"
“d’Aulaires’ Book of Greek Myths”
"d'Aulaires' Book of Norse Myths"
“d’Aulaires’ Book of Norse Myths”

So the important thing to note here is that while both Greek and Norse myths in general would qualify as what I was defining up above as outer myths — i.e., virtually any citizen of Planet Earth would likely recognize them as legitimate examples of what we all mean when we say “mythology” — the d’Aulaires’ specific renderings of them serve me personally as extremely powerful inner myths of my own.

Which leads me to: “What’s the point of all this?”

Fair enough question!  I’d say that the point is that many of us may disregard or even forget our own inner myths as we mature, or even if we don’t lose track of them, we may not give them the weight and reverence that they honestly deserve.  For better or for worse, they’ve helped to shape us, sometimes mightily, and I feel that the older we get, and the further in time we get from that moment when they first introduced themselves to us and took up root in our consciousness, the more we might actually benefit from kind of meditating upon them, and drawing strength and meaning from them.  I believe our inner myths can serve as fuel-sources for our psyches in a sense, and can propel us onward in exceedingly powerful fashion if we let them.

So maybe dig out those old board games or childhood toys from their boxes in the attic, or track down that old pop-up book about dinosaurs that so enthralled you as a pre-adolescent, and reconnect with some of your own inner myths!

2 comments

  1. THANK YOU! I’ve been looking for Mythical Monsters for years! Couldn’t remember the name of it, only that it was a children’s book from Scholastic, had a red cover with “Monster” in the title, and had to have been around when I was a kid in the early 70s. Of course, being able to *find* a copy won’t be easy, but at least I know what I’m looking for now. Thanks! (PS: have already scored a copy of the book on Norse myths.)

    • Hi, Darren — thanks for writing in! I’m so tickled to know that there’s somebody else out there like me, who imprinted on this book back in the day. You’re right: the struggle to find a copy of this little gem is real, and it did take me a while. I’d say prepare yourself for ordering from multiple vendors on Amazon who will take your order, and then after a week or so, will tell you that they don’t have the book in stock after all…but eventually, if you keep plugging away at it, persistence *will* pay off! I wish you good luck with the hunt, and meanwhile, I hope you enjoy the D’Aulaires’ book on Norse Mythology!

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