The Role of Mythology Within English Literature

By Soha Mahapatra


Books are the gateway between our world and a completely alternate one. A world with magic, or superpowers, or something else outlandish and unimaginable. But how many of your favorite storybooks are connected to the mythology of different cultures and groups? Traditionally, myths are stories created to give a logical explanation for a certain event or occurrence. These myths usually utilize magical or fantasy elements in order to convey a certain message or meaning to the listener. They are passed down through cultures and generations, evolving as they go. Eventually, authors use these myths within their own writing to add another fantastical dimension. The big question surrounding this idea is how does this ancient story or concept fit in with a modern story that may not even connect with the original meaning?


Instead of looking at mythology as a part, or element of literature, it’s better to view the relationship as a partnership. Neither can exist without the other. Myths are kept alive through their incorporation within literature. At the same time, literature depends on mythology to inspire and evolve. Infact, the word myth comes from the Greek word Mythos, meaning story, while literature comes from the Latin word littera, a word which is roughly translated to book. The clear difference between the two is that myths are spoken stories, while literature is the recording or writing down of these stories. Ancient Egyptian Hieroglyphics are considered by some to be the first literature pieces in the history of humanity.



Some examples of mythology within literature can be found throughout popular pieces. For example, author Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson, Heroes of Olympus, and Kane Chronicles book series are based entirely off of Ancient Greek, Ancient Roman, and Ancient Egyptian mythological figures and stories respectively. However, Riordan doesn’t necessarily just record certain myths within his books. He utilizes these myths and weaves them into a story alongside original characters, storylines, and elements in order to create an entirely new world. This incorporation of forgotten cultures being put into young adult literature keeps the stories of the ancient world alive, along with bringing an engaging and fresh story to modern times.


Another well known group that uses mythology within their works is Marvel Comics. The comic company introduced “The Mighty Thor” into mainstream media in 1962 through including him in a comic issue. This Thor character was directly influenced by a god from Norse mythology who shared a similar background and abilities. Marvel Comics' introduction of Thor allowed them to bring Norse mythology, another forgotten category of stories, back to modern times. In addition to this, their decision to add Thor to the Marvel superheroes roster opened an opportunity to incorporate more figures from Norse mythology into the comics, such as Thor’s brother Loki, and a foe of Thor’s, Surtur. Apart from Thor, other characters influenced by different mythological stories were incorporated into the Marvel Comics. Some examples of this are the eternal known as Icarus and the Olympians, both from Greek mythology.


No matter what you are reading, chances are it has some sort of mythological element to it. The passing down of myths has become so common within today’s world, it is possible an author may have even written something from a myth without realizing it’s true origin. Paying close attention to your literature, and understanding its origin is key to fully consuming the intent of the piece. If the author uses an allusion to an event from a certain myth, it is possible that the rest of the story has something to do with the message of that particular myth. The connection between mythology and modern literature is often not truly understood or appreciated, but when you really take your time to understand the history behind a certain fictional story, it makes the story that much more significant and worth reading.

14 views0 comments

Related Posts

See All