Monday, August 24, 2015

A myth is nothing without context, and context lies in culture. A culture defines what sort of creatures, magic, antagonists, and setting exist in a myth. Take, for example, the djinn of middle-eastern myth. In this culture, the djinn is a fire elemental creature with free-will. This flame-creature is mentioned in the Quran and makes its way into popular stories and myth-- particularly One Thousand and One (Arabian) Nights. The djinn, popularly known as the genie in western cultures, would not be known at all without its Arabic background.

With this sort of example in mind, think about Middle-earth. Tolkien's mythology also has context/culture even though his mythology lies mostly within his imagination. He takes legends of old Europe and weaves a world that is easy to get lost in. This world, though rooted in European Mythology, has its own set of values, morals, peoples, and culture. The culture of Middle-earth is what holds the rest of the story and setting together. Yes, the people may exist (the hobbits, the elves, the orcs, and of course man), but how would they act? What drives them? Why do they do what they do?

Hobbits act the way they do because Tolkien has established a culture for them-- eating, lazing about, a life of indulgence, and general quietude; this is all context Tolkien creates with his background on Hobbit Culture.

What would background be without context? Background doesn't exist without context. And think, what better way to give context to a people, explain their values, and touch on the reasons they act in the manners they do? Give them culture and everything else falls into place.

1 comment:

Manwë said...

I agree with your idea that context and culture are essential in mythmaking- though I would expand on your idea by stating that Tolkien’s cultures can often be taken as a reflection of the world during his time of writing. I have seen many people compare the races in Middle-earth with modern day religious cultures- the Elves are commonly linked to Christianity, by of course being the most awesome, and the Dwarfs linked to Jewish people- gold loving and bearded. Though Tolkien himself may not have made such comparisons on purpose, associations have indeed been made and the thought process cannot be completely reversed. Even if these comparisons were accidental, the link to modern culture would still help people to relate themselves to such cultures and to the people that comprise them, giving context to their motivations and aspirations.