MYTH by David Leeming


A Biography of Belief
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A glib, superficial overview of the protean world of myth and its 21st-century transformations.

This slender volume is based on lectures Leeming (English and Comparative Literature/Univ. of Connecticut; Stephen Spender, 1999, etc.) delivered in the fall of 2000 at New York's Interfaith Center. After an introductory chapter on the relation between myth and religion, Leeming offers chapters on three mythological themes: creation, deity, and the hero. Each of these begins with a selection of brief mythological narratives (many drawn from Leeming's previous works), an analysis of the archetypal patterns the stories reveal, and an interpretation of the archetype, sometimes in the form of a ludicrous fictional gathering of “mythmakers.” Literary examples from writers like Virginia Woolf, Leslie Marmon Silko, and William Carlos Williams illustrate what Leeming takes to be the modern and postmodern remaking of the archetypes. Leeming's analyses rely heavily on Joseph Campbell, Carl Jung, and Mircea Eliade, and share their privileging of Gnostic, esoteric, and Eastern traditions over the Abrahamic exoteric traditions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. There is nary a mention here of any theologian whose idea of God is more robust than Paul Tillich’s; indeed, all such are dismissed repeatedly as fundamentalists. Instead, the Campbellian-Jungian broth is thickened with such trendy and marginally coherent writers as Matthew Fox, Brian Swimme, and Thomas Berry and spiced with murky reflections on the uncertainty principle, the New (actually by now rather old) Physics, and ritualistic obeisances to the virtues of inclusiveness and the wickedness of patriarchy. Very little if any of the serious scholarly work on myth and religion done in the past 50 years (Eliade excepted) seems to have come within Leeming's purview. The writers he is popularizing are mostly accessible, and have been written about extensively by others.

Those who want to sample the “new mythology” at its source might turn to the works of Helena Blavatsky.

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 2001
ISBN: 0-19-514288-8
Page count: 174pp
Publisher: Oxford Univ.
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1st, 2001


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