Mythology: An Illustrated Journey Into Our Imagined Worlds by Christopher Dell
|Mythology: An Illustrated Journey Into Our Imagined Worlds by Christopher Dell|
|Category: Spirituality and Religion|
|Reviewer: John Lloyd|
|Summary: Take on board that this is not a history of beliefs, or a retelling of mythology, and this pictorially erudite look at the history of mankind's musings will overwhelm with details and delights.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 352||Date: August 2015|
|Publisher: Thames and Hudson Ltd|
|External links: Author's website|
What does a rainbow mean to you? How would you explain the creation of the world if you had no science as such, or the changing of the seasons? What other kinds of natures – chaotic trickery, evil personae or even the characteristics of goats – people your world? And why is it that the answers man and woman have collectively formed to such questions have been so similar across the oceans and across the centuries? This highly pictorial volume looks at the mythologies that formed those answers, and locks on to a multitude of subjects – blood, music, godly activity – to show us what has followed.
In accepting this book from the reviewing gods I actually checked other reviews about it online – I know, it's not an action I often bother with, and don't encourage it at all – and many were picky about the definitive nature of the prior subtitle it had, when it was a hardback volume. Nothing has changed except the packaging since then, it seems, and to my mind very little had to. This is a primer into mythology in nature – it doesn't give you a deep understanding, as such, more a complete and global look at what it results in. The fact it is a large book with a pretty small word-count means some bluntness comes to focus quite vividly – Gods procreate in curious ways, and some instances just leave you seeking understanding elsewhere. Why did Helios more or less merge into Apollo, and Selene into Artemis – is there more to this story we're not being told, or is it down to this book's quite sniffy dismissal of Roman mythology as a rewrite of Grecian? And what is this Enuma Elish – we've only just recovered from finding the Epic of Gilgamesh was predating everything we'd been taught at school.
You can't possibly turn to these pages for a Gravesian look at the stories of old from A to B, as we don't get the narrative. We get glimpses of mythologies from the world over, from Africa to New Zealand, from Midgard to Mount Meru. Those glimpses are incredibly vivid on the page, due to the book's real raison d'etre – that of presenting the imagery mythology has led to. So we get fabulous reproductions of altar pieces, temple carvings, statuary, ceramics, paintings and more – everything relevant, whether contemporary or not, in allowing us to see what the end product of myth looks like. My favourites – the gore on page 287, and a piddly little Ark from the fifteenth century – complete with padlock… on the outside. In this aspect, then, Christopher Dell is not specifically presenting mythology, but being its archaeologist – getting through the layers to that which is most relevant, putting the bones in order and presenting the clearest picture of what has come before, regardless of where or when his topics became most relevant.
There is a skeleton introduction about what myth means – is it religion, was it religion, or neither – and then we're into the flow. Just a couple of hundred words precede four- or six-page pictorial essays regarding anything you like, from the demons we feared due to myth, to the crops we planted due to myth, to the animals we worshipped and feared due to myth. It's a small word, myth, but it has given us so much over the millennia, and something as all-encompassing, encyclopaedic and relevant as this is needed to give us any semblance of its global meaning and import, its impact, its connections, commonalities and diversions. This will leave you itching to see a lot of ancient stories fleshed out, but these bones have never looked as good.
I must thank the publishers (and the reviewing gods, who of course aren't actually mentioned herein) for my review copy.
You probably only have to look at one non-European religion to find stories you don't know – Brahma Dreaming: Legends from Hindu Mythology by John Jackson and Daniela Jaglenka Terrazzini being a case in point.
You can read more book reviews or buy Mythology: An Illustrated Journey Into Our Imagined Worlds by Christopher Dell at Amazon.co.uk
You can read more book reviews or buy Mythology: An Illustrated Journey Into Our Imagined Worlds by Christopher Dell at Amazon.com.
Like to comment on this review?
Just send us an email and we'll put the best up on the site.