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View Full Version : Thesis idea: Comparative Mythology, The Hero's Journey and the Evolution of Narrative



maxmordon
07-08-2012, 06:22 AM
In my college, to work on a thesis one needs to develop it through three semesters, with the final semester being the dissertation. Next semester I'm going to start working on mine and just this week I have started to plan exactly what I wanted to do it about.

I wanted to work on something related the archetype theories of Jung, the intertextuality of Eco, the views of how media shapes people of McLuhan and or the monomyth or Hero's Journey by Campbell. Nonetheless, I wasn't sure how to apply them. Just analyzing one single narrative didn't seem satisfactory to me. But then I thought, why not analyze several narratives, crossing time periods, cultures, and media?

So far I have been thinking analyze from four to eight narratives, myths or legends. One from Asia, one from Africa, one from Europe and the US and one from Spain and Latin America. One from the Antiquity, another one from the Middle Ages, one from the Modern Era and another one from the Contemporary Time. Perhaps each one could be from a different media, but I'm still unsure.

Again, this is just bare bones. But what do you think of this idea? Is it factible? Which authors do you recommend me to look up? Is four enough or too much? And more importantly, which narrative works should I consider to analyze?

Medievalist
07-08-2012, 07:17 AM
But what do you think of this idea? Is it factible? Which authors do you recommend me to look up? Is four enough or too much? And more importantly, which narrative works should I consider to analyze?

I think it has possibilities, but I think you need to do some more background work first. Right now, it's a bit broad, and this is something that's been done quite a lot.

Have you talked to a faculty member who might be your tutor/adviser/mentor?

You might take a look at Jaan Puhval's Comparative Mythology. You might just as a point of reference look at some of the work of Jack Zipes on fairy tales.

maxmordon
07-08-2012, 09:05 AM
I have talked to my tutor, but still haven't proposed the idea of comparing different narratives. He likes the broad concept, and knew I would be going for something ambititous and brainy, but believes I need to bottled it down.

I think the problem is that I don't want it to make it all Campbell-centric or having a vision too narrow done with a single work, and checking out other thesis presented by my same faculty (Social Communications) reveal comparative mythology is not something done before so far, by the way, so perhaps I need to check out thesis in other universities to see how others have done it. Also, being to ample is not good, I need to be concrete on my topic.

Jaan Puhval seems worthy to check out. I was considering checking out some Lévi-Strauss. I haven't read Campbell, but I'm eager to read about The Hero's Journey. Also, while looking around about him I found a Russian scholar named Vladimir Propp, who also commented on the structure of narrative.

I need to first establish what I want, before setting myself to look for it, right?

Kitty Pryde
07-08-2012, 09:34 AM
Analyzing the structure, content, and or medium of popular culture through time. Like oral traditions to ancient myths to Shakespeare to Harry potter. Or something less anglocentric. You like pop culture so just throw in some history and you are good!

maxmordon
07-08-2012, 10:17 AM
Yes, exactly. KP.

Among others, I was considering The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Harry Potter, Avatar: The Last Airbender, The Godfather, A Clockwork Orange, and The Dark Knight Trilogy as probable contemporary elements to study.

For ancient myths, I was thinking probably The Odyssey, or The Book of Exodus in the Old Testament. As for medieval, perhaps sorting out something from The Arabian Nights or go for the Big One in Spanish Literature: Don Quixote. But I feel I wouldn't give it the attention it deserves.

I'm sadly lacking on Hindu and Far East sources, though. This bothers me.

RichardGarfinkle
07-08-2012, 01:20 PM
For Hindu sources, I would suggest the Mahabharata. It's probably the longest epic ever and a fascinating read. It's also been made into a movie and at least one tv series in India.

Given the intertextual ancient and modern interplay, I'd like to suggest the Chinese epic The Journey To The West which is a Buddhist allegory but also the basis of a number of different manga and anime, including Dragonball.

Don Quixote is itself an intertextual book given its relation to the stories of knighthood mentioned within the work.

League of Extraordinary Gentlemen is so intertextual there's little other text.

Mac H.
07-08-2012, 01:29 PM
It might be interesting to look at totally different cultures - like some Australian Aboriginal ones.

Most of the others have had a lot of interaction with each other - so some that are quite isolated would be quite interesting.

---

Something that always strikes me reading literature from the late 1800s (eg: Sherlock Holmes etc) is how often the style is about making the reader an observer of the hero instead of the hero himself. (eg: Telling the story through Watson's eyes).

I know it's a trite example, but it seems much more common now to make the reader feel like they are the hero, rather than a bystander watching the hero. (Yes - I know that both styles exist in both times ... you know what I mean!)

I often wonder if that's just a style change in the way that all styles change over time - or if it indicates something about how society changes.

Anyway, definitely read 'The Golden Bough' as well.

Good luck !

Mac

RichardGarfinkle
07-08-2012, 03:25 PM
It might be interesting to look at totally different cultures - like some Australian Aboriginal ones.


Australian Dreamtime Narrartives are fascinating. Those I've read seem to have a completely different underlying story structure from any others in any culture I know of. They incline me to think that a great deal of what we think is inherent in story-telling is really a very old dispersed tradition.

I'll see if I can find some reference books.

maxmordon
07-08-2012, 06:51 PM
Yes, Mac H. I saw about "The Golden Bough" and is denitively something worth to read for it.

RichardGarfinkle, do you think I shouldn't peruse so many intertextual narratives?

RichardGarfinkle
07-08-2012, 07:05 PM
Yes, Mac H. I saw about "The Golden Bough" and is denitively something worth to read for it.

RichardGarfinkle, do you think I shouldn't peruse so many intertextual narratives?

Not necessarily. It's more a question of how many meta-levels you want to mix in your thesis.

How much of your subject matter do you wish to be texts that you will examine intertextually and how much do you wish to be texts that are themselves intertextual.

There's a difference between discerning and/or challenging archetypes in texts and discussing how others have discerned and/or challenged those archetypes.

To my mind, League of Extraordinary Gentlemen is a challenge to the Archetype theory because it focuses on the individuality and idiosyncrasy of the characters.

Don Quixote can be seen as a parody of the mono myth (from before the mono myth was elucidated) because Don Quixote is trying to fit himself into an Archetype and failing with comedic effect.

To some extent the proper texts will be determined by the focus of your thesis. Can you sharpen your explication of it? It would make it easier to suggest books.

Medievalist
07-08-2012, 07:24 PM
You need to think smaller; myth kernals rather than epics like the Odyssey. For instance, a narrative pattern like the kernal of the Cinderella story, or the wise fool, etc.

Don't worry too much about Golden Bough; it's sort of National Enquirer of myth and folklore, and much of it is made up. Frazier was not really a scholar, and couldn't read the texts and references he discusses. And his interpretation is what you'd expect from a Victorian.

Propp was basically reducing myth to micro pieces wherein he thinks all story can be reduced to formulas. Campbell is essentially a cross of Propp and Levi-Strauss in terms of approach, but I am not a Campbell fan, so am biased. He is one of those who looks at myths from other cultures in a translation, often a bad one. This makes me cranky.

Puhval looks at cross-cultural myths, for instance, of islands that flood/disappear, in terms of Indo-European.

Another model would be Rhys and Rhys Celtic Heritage, which looks at Celtic myths/tales in the context of Indo-European. Rhys and Rhys, like Puhval, is drawing on the work of Georges Dumézil.

Don Quixote is seventeenth century; not medieval. For a medieval Spanish possibility, you might look at the Spanish Romancero ballads, narrative ballads similar in many ways to English and Scottish ballads collected by Child as the Child Ballads.

An undergraduate thesis is not a hundreds of pages kind of thing, so smaller is better than huge. You want a topic that is interesting, but that you can thoroughly explore in the space and time you have.

maxmordon
07-08-2012, 08:47 PM
Yes, something that Spanish medieval literature really flourishes is in chvalric stories, but Don Quixote interests me due to its meta vision of a hero's journey and touch the topic of a higher medium and narrative awareness (i.e. This is what a hero does, this is what a hero is meant to be) Nonetheless, I suspect I may be drawing two related but different goals in here: To compare different myths and narrative from different cultures and the evolution, and importance, of narrative in human civilization through time. But with the latter I'm asumming that the whole meta play is something new that has been evolving and disregarding civilization as one and as a whole, which is a very Western Civilization point of view.

I was thinking going perhaps for shorter narratives like the Japanese Momotaro and the Arabian Nights' Aladdin, but the idea of going on for the epic and the meta is still tempting, I must admit. I need to further discuss this with my tutor.

Richard, for me the interesting bit about The League is that, firstly, is a clear and modern example of how generations and cultures tend to reuse and adapt and playing up with the perception of how a certain character should be and how, even though it goes against how the monomyth develops by showing futility and defeat from the heroes' action when one sees the narrative arc as a whole of Allan and Mina's existence through the late XIX and XX Century, one can see some interesting personal development.

RichardGarfinkle
07-08-2012, 09:39 PM
Yes, something that Spanish medieval literature really flourishes is in chvalric stories, but Don Quixote interests me due to its meta vision of a hero's journey and touch the topic of a higher medium and narrative awareness (i.e. This is what a hero does, this is what a hero is meant to be) Nonetheless, I suspect I may be drawing two related but different goals in here: To compare different myths and narrative from different cultures and the evolution, and importance, of narrative in human civilization through time. But with the latter I'm asumming that the whole meta play is something new that has been evolving and disregarding civilization as one and as a whole, which is a very Western Civilization point of view.

I was thinking going perhaps for shorter narratives like the Japanese Momotaro and the Arabian Nights' Aladdin, but the idea of going on for the epic and the meta is still tempting, I must admit. I need to further discuss this with my tutor.

Richard, for me the interesting bit about The League is that, firstly, is a clear and modern example of how generations and cultures tend to reuse and adapt and playing up with the perception of how a certain character should be and how, even though it goes against how the monomyth develops by showing futility and defeat from the heroes' action when one sees the narrative arc as a whole of Allan and Mina's existence through the late XIX and XX Century, one can see some interesting personal development.

Medievalist is right about going smalller for the thesis. You're overarching discussion sounds like a serious book to write, so by all means start doing the research, but you should focus in on something sharper for now.

Your description of the League is interesting as well as your point about Don Quixote. It sounds like you could make something about change of perspective on particular works and ideas overtime.

Overly simple example:

Medieval exaltation of the concept of knighthood.
Ironic commentary on knighthood in Don Quixote.
Elevation of Don Quixote and Cervantes to knightly hero status in Man of La Mancha.
Bonus Points: GK Chesterton's referencing of Cervantes and Don Quixote in his paen to knighthood in the poem Lepanto.
Pushing it: The character of Gilbert in Sandman acting knightly.

One solidly threaded example can illuminate a broad idea in a thesis. You can and probably should save the big work for a larger scale piece of writing such as a book.

ColoradoGuy
07-08-2012, 10:09 PM
I think it's worth remembering, as Richard notes, that undergraduate theses tend toward the overexpansive (and grandiose). So keeping a unifying thread through the entire thing keeps a narrative in which it's easy to follow your arguments.

Just as an example, my own thesis of forty years ago was about a medieval monastic order, the Cistercians. The driving personality of the early days of the movement was Bernard of Clarvaux. I used his commentaries on The Song of Songs as my uniting thread about how the Cistercian view of the spiritual life was new and exciting for the people of the twelfth century.

Old Hack
07-09-2012, 09:35 PM
For Hindu sources, I would suggest the Mahabharata. It's probably the longest epic ever and a fascinating read. It's also been made into a movie and at least one tv series in India.


AW's longterm member aruna has self-published her version of the Mahabharata, I think. She's such a great writer it's bound to be good.

Yorkist
07-10-2012, 11:39 AM
In my college, to work on a thesis one needs to develop it through three semesters, with the final semester being the dissertation. Next semester I'm going to start working on mine and just this week I have started to plan exactly what I wanted to do it about.

I wanted to work on something related the archetype theories of Jung, the intertextuality of Eco, the views of how media shapes people of McLuhan and or the monomyth or Hero's Journey by Campbell. Nonetheless, I wasn't sure how to apply them. Just analyzing one single narrative didn't seem satisfactory to me. But then I thought, why not analyze several narratives, crossing time periods, cultures, and media?

So far I have been thinking analyze from four to eight narratives, myths or legends. One from Asia, one from Africa, one from Europe and the US and one from Spain and Latin America. One from the Antiquity, another one from the Middle Ages, one from the Modern Era and another one from the Contemporary Time. Perhaps each one could be from a different media, but I'm still unsure.

Again, this is just bare bones. But what do you think of this idea? Is it factible? Which authors do you recommend me to look up? Is four enough or too much? And more importantly, which narrative works should I consider to analyze?

I really like this (and the ideas presented thus far), but just to add a few random associated thoughts from your interests:

You may want to look at semiotics (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Semiotics). And I'd look at more recent scholarship on narrative studies, e.g. Owen Flanagan (http://fds.duke.edu/db/aas/Philosophy/ojf). His focus is on cognitive neuroscience, but you might find interesting cites in other fields. Read a few articles, see what's being done now, etc.

A small sampler platter for different cultures' narratives from the 20th century: Other Voices, Other Vistas (http://www.amazon.com/Other-Voices-Vistas-Stories-America/dp/0780709500). Really interesting stuff in there.

Jorge Luis Borges may have invented the hypertext novel (The Garden of Forking Paths), and he's from Argentina. Just something to think about. And Gabriel Garcia Marquez' Chronicle of a Death Foretold is a mystery not dissimilar to Christopher Nolan's Memento - it's told backwards.

If you're in need of an epic from Africa, I suggest checking out Sundiata: An Epic of Old Mali (http://www.google.com/search?q=sundiata&ie=utf-8&oe=utf-8&aq=t&rls=org.mozilla:en-US:official&client=firefox-a). It's a translation of an oral work from the 14th century, IIRC.

Note: not a literary theorist, but I spend some time with them.

RichardGarfinkle
07-10-2012, 04:44 PM
For Africa, I'd also recommend the Mwindo Epic. There's a UC Berkley edition.

maxmordon
07-15-2012, 06:33 AM
A bit of an update, I proposed the idea to my tutor and he liked but put me two important halts: Firstly, if I'm going to do religious and myths or narratives and legends it has one to be one or the other, not both. Secondly, it has to be short texts, so no Quixote to me. Now my question is, which ones to pick? Since we're on finals at my college, I haven't sit down and think through this.

Nonetheless, I do have managed to check upon the virtual library of The Andres Bello Catholic University (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Andr%C3%A9s_Bello_Catholic_University) and found many referential thesis that tangentally touch upon my topic. Since I'm required to have a number of thesis to support the background of mine. My college is rather small and new and the papers I have seen don't really dip so much on theory, though I have yet to visit the UCAB's and the Central University's library in Caracas.

Julie Ambrose
08-08-2012, 01:31 AM
Hi maxmordon,
if you were going to explore Aboriginal storytelling as RichardGarfinkle recommends, this one is a beauty:
http://www.roninfilms.com.au/feature/604/too-many-captain-cooks.html
It really comes at narrative from a different perspective to western and structuralist versions (and of course western historical narratives).
Just a thought.
cheers
Julie

maxmordon
08-08-2012, 01:33 AM
Thanks for the suggestion, Julie. :)

Teinz
08-08-2012, 08:43 PM
I haven't read Campbell....

First of all, please do. And then do it again. For me, it's the gift that keeps on giving.

For a different uptake. In my mind, what Campbell describes is all psychology. After the Hero with a Thousand Faces, I started reading Jung and that image was only strengthened. I started to notice certain psychological "paths" in my own life. There were dragons there, mentors and oracles. I had to face gruesome tests and found unlikely allies.

It might be a very personal deal, but looking for myth in your own life might be the journey that leads you to a successfull defense of your thesis.

Evan Henry
08-11-2012, 08:12 AM
Campbell did not write a guide to writing fiction. I think that's important for every writer who is interested in reading his works to realize. They're interesting, sure, and some people (well, George Lucas) have used them to construct dramatic narratives, but that is not their intended purpose. As Teinz said, THWATF is about psychology; specifically, the conjunction between psychology and mythology/religion. The whole thing is very Jungian in concept, and if you don't understand that going in, Campbell isn't going to improve your knowledge of how to structure a narrative.

For me, Campbell's works are interesting on an abstract level, but I would never try to implement the Monomyth as a formula. Mostly because I hate formulas, but also because it was never meant to be a formula. If you want to read a story guide, there are plenty of those out there, but Campbell isn't one any more than Bulfinch is.

CrastersBabies
08-27-2012, 08:58 AM
Sounds cool! My undergrad project was a study of the monomyth, Jungian archetypes and the alchemical individuation process in Babylon 5's hero, John Sheridan. Made for a solid 50 pages and could have gone further. Narrowing is good imho...

Also check out alchemy. Lots of material there for mythic studies.

RichardGarfinkle
08-27-2012, 02:32 PM
John Sheridan and alchemy. I like it.

Alternative possibility for B5 thesis. Correlate Sheridan, Sinclair or DeLenn to the famous zen ox paintings.
http://terebess.hu/english/oxpictures.html

CrastersBabies
08-27-2012, 06:20 PM
Oh my! I know what I'm spending the next hour or so doing, Richard G. :)

Sheridan was great to analyze. Delenn and Sinclair would be just as fun for different reasons. I've often thought about trying to come up with a solid "female" model using Delenn. I think her character broke so much ground in terms of gender. You just didn't see women in sci-fi/fantasy (or any genre for that matter) with that kind of archetypal meat in the story.

GOTHOS
11-27-2012, 04:02 AM
Campbell did not write a guide to writing fiction. I think that's important for every writer who is interested in reading his works to realize. They're interesting, sure, and some people (well, George Lucas) have used them to construct dramatic narratives, but that is not their intended purpose. As Teinz said, THWATF is about psychology; specifically, the conjunction between psychology and mythology/religion. The whole thing is very Jungian in concept, and if you don't understand that going in, Campbell isn't going to improve your knowledge of how to structure a narrative.

For me, Campbell's works are interesting on an abstract level, but I would never try to implement the Monomyth as a formula. Mostly because I hate formulas, but also because it was never meant to be a formula. If you want to read a story guide, there are plenty of those out there, but Campbell isn't one any more than Bulfinch is.

I enjoy formulas, but I distinguish between those that have at least a touch of "invention" amid their "conventions" and those that seem blandly conventional

maxmordon
12-01-2012, 11:52 PM
So, after many, many talks with my tutor and the professor guiding our class checking in our and our tutors' work, I can say it was all bottled down to The Dark Knight Trilogy and the Hero's Journey. I deeply suspect the guiding professor doesn't understand what my thesis is about except some very general points, but the tutor has told me not to feel bad about this.

GOTHOS
12-07-2012, 02:24 AM
So, after many, many talks with my tutor and the professor guiding our class checking in our and our tutors' work, I can say it was all bottled down to The Dark Knight Trilogy and the Hero's Journey. I deeply suspect the guiding professor doesn't understand what my thesis is about except some very general points, but the tutor has told me not to feel bad about this.

Well, at least there is a certain amount of psychological content in the trilogy that can justify a Campbellian approach (whether that's your sole approach or just one influence). As a viewer I have a lot of reservations about the way Christopher Nolan handles his characters and his plots-- to say nothing of the Batman mythos. However, an awful lot of Bat-comics fans love his work, so at the very least Nolan has something to say about the concept of the hero, seen through a somewhat Marxist lens perhaps. You may care to take into account that Nolan's version of the "hero's journey" is diametrically opposed to the mythos of the comic book, in that Nolan wants the story of his Batman to come to a pre-arranged end.