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Guest Blog: Geoffrey Ashe (excerpt)

I've had the good fortune, since my first trip to England in 2000, to have stayed in contact with Arthurian scholar Geoffrey Ashe and his wife (a scholar in her own right, and former professor) Pat. When I first began working at Gale, I was given the project that I now manage as a freelancer: coordinating the autobiographical essays to be featured in volumes of Contemporary Authors and Something about the Author. (As an assistant editor, I wasn't given charge of the whole project: I only worked on one end of the content spectrum, while another editor and mentor of mine, Motoko Huthwaite, did the actual solicitation; I took that work over after her retirement. Still another editor handled all of the image work.) I want to say that it was only three or four volumes into this work that I had the privilege of editing the autobiographical essay by Geoffrey Ashe. When my sister and I traveled to England together in 2003, we returned to Glastonbury and met the Ashes for church and Sunday roast. It was a great joy to get to spend time with them again this year.

Geoffrey's work spans mythology, history, literature, and fiction. He has written a biography of Gandhi, The Encyclopedia of Prophecy, and the occult novel The Finger and the Moon, as well as numerous other titles, the majority of which delve into the history and legend behind King Arthur. On the study tour, our most used text book was The Mythology of the British Isles, the preface of which provides today's excerpt.

P.S. I'm trying something new by linking to an assortment of booksellers rather than falling back on B&N (where I do the majority of my shopping). Any thoughts on that?


(Here, Geoffrey addresses use of the word "mythology" in the title:)

Is "mythology" justified here? Much of the material is unlike myth in the classical sense, being more miscellaneous and often closer to history of literature. Yet when all these things are assembled and considered together, it seems clear to me that they have an interrelatedness which is seldom realised, and that their significance goes beyond entertainment or weaving of individual yarns. Whatever their precise nature, they have mythic dimension. They express ideas about a certain territory and how it came to be as it is: about is place in the world, its landscape, its inhabitants, their society and government.

The time-span of the survey extends from prehistory to the ninth century AD. It ends where it does, not because there are no myths applicable to later times, but because, with the movement into better-recorded history, their character alters. We get tales that simply embroider the lives of well-known persons, such as the heroes of Scottish independence, and Francis Drake. We get conscious fictions, such as Frankenstein and Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. The difference is sometimes one of degree rather than kind, and with Robin Hood, for example, the older type of myth-making is still at work. But a line must be drawn somewhere, and I hope the ninth-century ending will be seen as a logical conclusion, beyond which it would be difficult to go without a loss of consistency.

It may be objected that most of the matter is retrospective. It is what has been believed or imagined long afterwards, not what was believed or imagined at the time or anywhere near it. But the same is true of the Greek myths as well, or any other. Mythology is long-term creation.

Geoffrey Ashe with the Myth in Stone tour, 2000, at the site of Arthur's Grave at Glastonbury Abbey.

Geoffrey and the Myth in Stone tour, 2009, at the same site.


( 6 comments — Leave a comment )
Jun. 19th, 2009 04:55 pm (UTC)
i like this, facebook-style.

cody and i had a discussion when we were doing our art projects about what constitutes myth; he declared that one of the mabinogian myths didn't count, in a way only cody can. but anyway, i do think the 9th century cut-off to be interesting. are the stories of camelot and such included in his book? because i really don't think those count as myth. they're not so heavily divorced that you can't find the archetypes, but they have far too strong a connection to chronological time, which for me is what separates myth from legends and fairy tales and whatnot.

the picture is hilarious, mostly because of several distinct groupings going on.
Jun. 19th, 2009 06:13 pm (UTC)
You should go back in my guest blog tag and check out Mark Vecchio's definitions, which he kindly allowed me to post. Mark talks about Arthurian "myth" as being in the "legends" category, rather than mythology. I think it comes down to where your definitions break up: I tend to build an order of degradation (if you will):

Religion -> Mythology -> Folk-tales/Fairy-tales

Most folk stories start off in mythology, and one could argue that mythology comes out of an old religion. (Although you could also argue that religion, with all its formal rules, comes out of mythology -- the reason I put it between religion and fairy-tales is based on where I see it falling in the academic spectrum: religion is a field of study, mythology (as in classics) is respectable, and fairy-tales are for lit departments.) Legends seem to be primarily concerned with the realm/domain of men, so Arthur would be legendary, and Odysseus might even fit better in legends than in myths. But they're all so interrelated, it's hard to tell.

I haven't yet read all of the Maginogian, so I can't speak to that, but I think the last of the three Irish Myth cycles is firmly fairy-tale territory. (I think this ought to elevate fairy-tales, rather than degrade the cycle, but I suspect that wouldn't hold up in an academic paper. *g*)
Jun. 20th, 2009 12:22 am (UTC)
Oh, hey, it's us! Thank you for your postcard. I was so excited to get it.

(Is Mark still using his same SR e-mail address he always had? I haven't talked to him in way too long...)
Jun. 20th, 2009 01:32 am (UTC)
We were so cute back then... ;) I'm so glad you liked the post card! I was thinking about our old gang quite a lot over there.

Yep, Mark still has his OCaptain e-mail. Fire away!
Jun. 20th, 2009 06:53 am (UTC)
P.S. I'm trying something new by linking to an assortment of booksellers rather than falling back on B&N (where I do the majority of my shopping). Any thoughts on that?

I shop at Amazon.
Jun. 23rd, 2009 07:52 pm (UTC)
Good on you for staying in such close touch with people you've met on travels. That's really hard for me.

On the broader topic of myth -- have you read Karen Armstrong's A Brief History of Mythology yet? I was given a used copy a few weeks ago & read it yesterday; I don't know how much of the stuff that's there you've seen before, but it's a good, short refresher on the history of the mythos-logos divide.
( 6 comments — Leave a comment )

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