GOOD AND EVIL: Mythology and Folklore by Anthony S. Mercatante

GOOD AND EVIL: Mythology and Folklore

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Mercatante's stated purpose is ""to give a world view to the subject"" of good and evil without reference to philosophy or theology. The result of so vague an objective is that the summaries of myths and folktales of 19 cultures found here become nothing more than a superficial potpourri spiced with much irrelevant trivia; in chapter after chapter we are given fragmented and sketchy accounts of whole mythologies presented amorphously, as if in a state of ongoing digression. With regard to Jewish concepts of Satan, the discussion rambles so far as Baudelaire's Litanies to Satan, which is completely out of place unless we ignore, as Mercatante seems to have done, whatever differences--philosophical, theological, or otherwise--may be found between pre-Christian Israel and 19th century France. Indeed, it seems never to have occurred to the author that the literature inspired by a given tale does not necessarily reveal anything about the spiritual values of the society in which that tale originated. For example, the six-odd pages on Slavic myths introduce us in rapid order to such demons as Likho, Baba Yaga, Queen Thamar, and the Rusalka, and, as if we were not sufficiently edified, we are then given a plot summary of Giselle and the revelation that Puccini's first opera, based on similar folklore, ""was composed as an entry in a contest, but it failed to win."" The same chapter tells us that to neutralize the spell of the spirit known as the Leshy one must ""remove all clothes, and put them on backwards, remembering to put the left shoe on the right foot."" With advice like that, how could you go wrong?

Pub Date: March 29th, 1978
Publisher: Harper & Row