AskDefine | Define mythopoeia

User Contributed Dictionary



From “myth” + “-poeia”, since 1951, after Hellenistic Greek μυθοποιία.


  1. the creation of myth.


Extensive Definition

Mythopoeia (also mythopoesis, after Hellenistic Greek "myth-making") is a narrative genre in modern literature and film where a fictional mythology was created by the author or screenwriter. The word mythopoeia and description was coined and developed by J. R. R. Tolkien in the 1930s. The authors in this genre integrate traditional mythological themes and archetypes into fiction. Mythopoeia is also the act of making (creating) such mythologies. Notable mythopoeic authors include J. R. R. Tolkien, C. S. Lewis, Robert W. Chambers, H. P. Lovecraft, and George MacDonald, among others. While many literary works carry mythic themes, only a few approach the dense self-referentiality and purpose of mythopoeia. It is invented mythology that, rather than arising out of centuries of oral tradition, are penned over a short period of time by a single author or small group of collaborators.
As opposed to fantasy worlds or fictional universe aimed at the evocation of detailed worlds with well-ordered histories, geographies, and laws of nature, mythopoeia aims at imitating and including real-world mythology, specifically created to bring mythology to modern readers, and/or to add credibility and literary depth to fictional worlds in fantasy or science fiction books and movies.
Mythopoeia can be created entirely by an individual, like the world of Middle-earth, or can be formed as a result of an amalgam of writings, like the Cthulhu Mythos.


The term mythopoeia (virtually Greek "myth-making") was adopted and used by Tolkien as a title of one of his poems, written about 1931 and published in Tree and Leaf. The poem essentially defined and popularized the word mythopoeia as a literary and artistic endeavor and genre.

The place in society

Works of mythopoeia are often categorized with fantasy or science fiction but fill a niche for mythology in the modern world, according to Joseph Campbell, a famous student of world mythology. Campbell spoke of a Nietzschean world which has today outlived much of the mythology of the past. He claimed that new myths must be created, but he believed that present culture is changing too rapidly for society to be completely described by any such mythological framework until a later age. He did, however, use Star Wars as an example of the creation of such fantasy worlds by which civilization will one day describe itself. Without relevant mythology, Campbell claimed, society cannot function.

Critics of the genre

Mythopoeia is sometimes called artificial mythology which emphasizes that it did not evolve naturally and artifice comparable with artificial language, and should not be taken seriously as mythology. For example the noted folklorist Alan Dundes argues that "any novel cannot meet the cultural criteria of myth. A work or art, or artifice, cannot be said to be the narrative of a culture’s sacred tradition...(it is) at most, artificial myth."
Students of myth-making and comparative religion have also been accused of weaving their own myths rather than honestly interpreting the ones they purport to study, including Claude Lévi-Strauss, Carl Jung, Joseph Campbell, Georges Dumézil, Jane Ellen Harrison, James Frazer and Barbara Walker.

In literature


Perhaps the first attempt to construct mythology was the book of Pherecydes of Syros, written in Greek Southern Italy in the 6th century BC. Pherecydes transformed the Greek pantheon beyond recognition, with Zas ("he who lives") rather than Zeus as the king of the gods, and Chronos ("time") rather than Kronos as Zas's father. Pherecydes's book was a key turning-point in the Greek movement towards scientific and philosophical thought.

Tolkien's concept of mythopoeia

Mythopoeia the poem

Tolkien wrote Mythopoeia (the poem) following a discussion on the night of 19 September 1931 at Magdalen College, Oxford with C. S. Lewis and Hugo Dyson in order to explain and defend creative myth-making. The discussion was recorded in the book The Inklings by Humphrey Carpenter. The poem begins by addressing C. S. Lewis as the Misomythos, who at the time was sceptical of any truth in mythology:
"To one who said that myths were lies and therefore worthless, even though 'breathed through silver'".
C. S. Lewis also created a mythopoeia in his neo-medieval representation of extra-planetary travel and planetary "bodies" in the Cosmic or Space Trilogy.

William Blake

William Blake's "prophetic works" (e.g. Vala, or the Four Zoas) contain a rich panoply of original gods, such as Urizen, Orc, Los, Albion, Rintrah, Ahania and Enitharmon. Blake was an important influence on Aleister Crowley's Thelemic writings, whose dazzling pantheon of invented deities and radically re-cast figures from Egyptian mythology and the Book of Revelation constitute an invented mythology of their own.

Collaborative efforts

The Rosicrucian literature since the 17th century arose out of a collective effort at "mythology", as multiple anonymous authors wove an innovative hagiography and founding myth of the brotherhood in their tracts.
The Cthulhu Mythos of H. P. Lovecraft was likewise taken up by numerous collaborators and admirers.

Other modern literature

In this category are the Cthulhu Mythos of H. P. Lovecraft and literature by Rider Haggard and George MacDonald, the latter two C. S. Lewis praised for their "mythopoeic" gifts.
The repetitious themes of Jorge Luis Borges's fictional works (mirrors, labyrinths, tigers, etc.) tantalizingly hint at a deeper underlying mythos and yet stealthily hold back from any definitive canonicity.
The pulp works of Edgar Rice Burroughs and Robert Howard contain imagined worlds vast enough to be universes in themselves, as does the science fiction of Frank Herbert, E. E. "Doc" Smith and Michael Moorcock.
T. S. Eliot's The Waste Land was a deliberate attempt to model a 20th century mythology patterned after the birth-rebirth motif described by Frazer.

In film

Frank McConnell, author of Storytelling and Mythmaking and professor of English, University of California, stated film is another "mythmaking" art, stating: "Film and literature matter as much as they do because they are versions of mythmaking." He also thinks film is a perfect vehicle for mythmaking: "FILM...strives toward the fulfillment of its own projected reality in an ideally associative, personal world." In a broad analysis, McConnell associate the American western movies and romance movies to the Arthurian mythology, adventure and action movies to the "epic world" mythologies of founding societies, and many romance movies where the hero is allegorically playing role of a knight, to "quest" mythologies like Sir Gawain and the Quest for the Holy Grail.

George Lucas and Star Wars Series

Filmmaker George Lucas speaks of the cinematic storyline of Star Wars as an example of modern myth-making. He claims: "With 'Star Wars' I consciously set about to re-create myths and the classic mythological motifs." The idea of Star Wars as "mythological" has been met with mixed reviews by some reviewers and critics: Frank McConnell says "it has passed, quicker than anyone could have imagined, from the status of film to that of legitimate and deeply embedded popular mythology." John Lyden, the Professor and Chair of the Religion Department at Dana College, argues that Star Wars does indeed reproduce religious and mythical themes: specifically, he argues that the work is apocalyptic in concept and scope. The Decent Film Guides Steven D. Greydanus agrees, calling Star Wars a "work of epic mythopoeia". In fact, Greydanus argues that Star Wars is the primary example of American mythopoeia: "The Force, the Jedi knights, Darth Vader, Obi-Wan, Princess Leia, Yoda, lightsabers, and the Death Star hold a place in the collective imagination of countless Americans that can only be described as mythic. In my review of A New Hope I called Star Wars 'the quintessential American mythology,' an American take on King Arthur, Tolkien, and the samurai/wuxia epics of the East...").
George Lucas claims to have been consciously influenced by Joseph Campbell's theories in making the Star Wars movies.

In music

In classical music, Richard Wagner's operas were a deliberate attempt to create a new kind of Gesamtkunstwerk ("total work of art"), transforming the legends of the Teutonic past into a new, nearly unrecognizable monument to the Romantic project.
In popular music, George Clinton's Parliament-Funkadelic collective produced numerous concept albums which tied together in what is referred to as P-Funk mythology.
The band Rhapsody Of Fire have created and tell the stories of a well developed fantasy world with tales of epic wars between good and evil.

In popular culture

Comic books have been seen as the twentieth century's answer to epic . Perhaps the most ambitious and deliberate effort at mythopoeia in the comic field was Jack Kirby's"Fourth World" series, with the cosmic struggle between Darkseid's Apokolips and the gods of New Genesis and Mister Miracle and Orion as messiah-figures. Neil Gaiman's Sandman series created a mythology around the Endless, a family of god-like embodiments of natural forces like death and dreaming.
Role-playing games often include invented mythologies for their players to interact with. Examples include the Forgotten Realms setting of Dungeons & Dragons or the world of White Wolf's Exalted. Their computer counterparts, computer role-playing games, sometimes have elaborate fictional universes that continue to be explored over many sequels, such as the best selling Final Fantasy X which along with its sequel Final Fantasy X-2 sold 10 million copies and boasts a legion of enthusiasts of its Fictional Universe.
Penny Arcade attempted to create an "artificial artificial mythology" in the "The Elemenstor Saga", a fictitious series of books that parodied generic fantasy fiction. The project is now maintained by a loyal fan base who have continued to make contributions several times a week over the span of several years.
In the TV show Battlestar Galactica, the invented mythology is an important foundation of the plot. A vast majority of the humans, or Colonials, are polytheists and believe in the gods of Kobol, whose names and attributes are very similar to those of the Classical gods of Greece and Rome, such as Zeus, Athena, Apollo, Ares or Hera. One of the religious books of the Colonial canon was written by or named for the prophet Pythia. The Book of Pythia tells the story of the fall of the planet Kobol (where according to legend Humanity had first arisen), the exodus of the Twelve Tribes to their new planets (the Colonies), and the journey of a Thirteenth Tribe to a planet called Earth. The Cylons, a robot race, believe in one sole god and it's been suggested that the origins of their religion may be in the Temple of Five, a sacred place which appears in Pythia's prophecy and was found by the Colonial and Cylon fleets.


The Mythopoeic Society exists to promote mythopoeic literature, partly by way of the Mythopoeic Awards.



C. S. Lewis, George MacDonald:
  • Lobdell, Jared, The Scientifiction Novels of C. S. Lewis: Space and Time in the Ransom Stories, chapter "Is there Really Something called Mythopoeia?", 2004, p. 162-165. (Available Online.) ISBN 0-7864-1824-9.
  • McConnell, Frank. Storytelling and Mythmaking. New York, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1979 ISBN 0-19-503210-1.

External links

  • Pegasus- A wiki for Constructed Mythology and Fantasy Worldbuilding
mythopoeia in German: Populärmythologie
mythopoeia in Italian: Mitopoiesi
Privacy Policy, About Us, Terms and Conditions, Contact Us
Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2
Material from Wikipedia, Wiktionary, Dict
Valid HTML 4.01 Strict, Valid CSS Level 2.1