Greedy for Mythology

Activity Being Procrastinated: class prep
Music In My Head: All My Little Words – Magnetic Fields
Tea: none (gasp!)
Books Being Read: Sputnik Diner – Rick Maddocks, American Gods – Neil Gaiman

Last weekend, a friend and I took Girls’ Day to the extreme and did an overnight. There’s a particularly awesome tea room in Peterborough (The Magic Rolling Pin, for those of you who live close enough to indulge) which I had visited with my parents the last time I was there. I told my friend about it, and she decided it was worthy of the trip. So Saturday morning we trundled off to Peterborough, child-free and anticipating 24 hours without washing dishes.

Despite torrential rain, lunch at The Magic Rolling Pin lived up to our persnickety expectations of a tea room, and she waited patiently while I got my second-hand bookstore fix. (She reads but does not devour books. I allow all my friends to have one fault.) I found a copy of Jane Rule’s Desert of the Heart for $2.50, to replace the copy my daughter has squirreled away in her room and refuses to return, and a couple of Magic School Bus books for my Chinese students, who I am encouraging to “take chances, make mistakes and get messy”. We took our books to the bed&breakfast we’d booked (Angel’s Rest, by the way, was clean, and the beds were comfortable, and breakfast was very good, but the décor is… well, ****ing tacky. The bathroom had a “whimsical angel mosaic” around the bathtub; the angel’s eyes and mouth were fashioned from angular shards of dark, patterned pottery, giving it a particularly demonic expression. When I lounged in the bath, I had to face away from the angel and tried not to think about it glaring over my shoulder. In the main room, the lamp shades had angels pinned to them. And the pen on the writing desk was one of those bobble-end-with-downy-feathers deals. Outdoors, there were Christmas wreaths nailed to the trees. But I seriously digress) and we arranged ourselves in lady-like positions on the sofas, tea and books at the ready. It was a wonderfully slothy weekend.

But you know me well by now: there’s always something that gets trapped in my brain and rattles around there. When we woke up from our naps, we decided to go see a movie. I don’t tend to do that: I’ll make a trip to see a movie that sounds interesting but I don’t arrive at the theatre and see what sounds good. We did it anyway. X-Men: First Class. Having raised a boy who needed superheroes, I am intimate with the X-Men so I didn’t mind all that much. The movie turned out to be not-half-bad, because mythology is mythology even when Hollywood gets its hands on it. Prof. X’s background story was relatively interesting. Magneto’s background was completely unimaginative but that’s what sells it to the masses, I guess. (Will Hollywood ever find a bad guy that isn’t a Nazi? Now that we’ve foresworn religion, I suppose they’re the closest things to The Devil. Regardless, I’d like something a little more interesting.)

So I’ve been thinking about mythology – and legends and superheroes and what-have-you – and how much of my world revolves around it, or is immersed in it (perspective is physics, and physics are mathematical, and you know my thoughts on math). I teach a lot of mythology to my students, because it’s something that everyone likes. While they may be expiring under the unfair quantity of homework I’ve assigned (say, 10 minutes-worth or so), reading about Heracles or Loki isn’t considered homework. The child who cannot possibly describe a single thing can describe Iktomi’s clothing (particularly, if the child is a boy, the hatchet). The student who doesn’t know how to tell a story can spend a long time telling me how Pixiu’s ass is all sealed up because the Jade Emperor slapped it shut when Pixiu stole all the good food. Little boys dream of being Odd and outsmarting the Norse gods.

Mythology is strongly related to the subject of my last post. When the world is falling apart – figuratively or literally (Northrop Frye calls it a universal event) – it’s comforting to take refuge in a story about someone who had to answers to the problem they were facing. My son used to sleep in Superman pyjamas with a plastic sword beside his bed so he could take on any robbers who “burst in through the window”; he said he knew that a plastic sword wouldn’t stop a real bad guy but it made him feel more hopeful about the potential situation. And I don’t know one person who, at some point in their life, hasn’t wished that Aphrodite and/or Cupid would just pop in and work their magic.

X-Men is modern mythology: in a time when birth defects don’t necessarily kill us and people survive after their body parts have been chopped or blown off, we need to feel good about being different. Two hundred years ago, most “mutants’ would have died fairly quickly; nowadays, we have integrated classrooms and accessibility rules. We need the X-Men to justify our own differences. We need to know that if something terrible happens (say, our mothers being executed by the Nazis), we can continue living and we also have a choice as to how we let it affect us.

Superheroes and mythology used to be thought of as barbaric, savage things which would corrupt the innocent minds of children. If one wanted to find inspiration, one only had to accept Jesus into one’s heart or pray fervently to God; the answers would be made known to us. Very few people now look to Jesus et al. for anything, and it would be interesting to find out how many atheists were spending more time reading myths.

Personally, I’ll take ‘em all. Give me Allah, Vishnu, Odin, Kali, Batman, Magneto – it doesn’t matter. Not only do I need all the inspiration I can get, but I’m a sucker for a good story. Even if the narrator is Hollywood.

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