cover image When They Severed Earth from Sky: How the Human Mind Shapes Myth

When They Severed Earth from Sky: How the Human Mind Shapes Myth

Elizabeth Wayland Barber, Paul T. Barber. Princeton University Press, $46 (290pp) ISBN 978-0-691-09986-6

To the contemporary reader, Medusa-along with numerous other mythological beings-is simply an amusing creature created by our ancestors that has little grounding in actual history or science. But why do Promethean stories abound, even among peoples who lived on opposite sides of the earth and had no contact with each other? Why are dragons so common in myth, and why do all dragons have scales? In this accessible and entertaining book, Barber and Barber answer these questions by showing that the creation of mythology is deeply connected to cognition and the development of language in humans. They also reveal ways in which mythology cannot be taken for granted in providing important clues to historical events. Citing examples as varied as Abbot and Costello's infamous ""Who's on First"" skit, Klamath tribal legends, UFO phenomena and Austro-Hungarian vampirism, the authors develop a veritable underworld of Myth Principles, giving them energetic and memorable titles such as the Baby-with-the-Bathwater Reflex, the Rainbow Corollary and the Goldilocks Principle. By applying these principles to myths from around the world, the authors reveal that volcanoes were the basis of numerous myths, that flood myths have more to do with celestial events than earthly ones and that the reason that people around the world tell similar stories is because all humans have the same mental structures. The authors, who work in archaeology and linguistics and in comparative literature and folklore, respectively, are able to make connections that will ensure that both general readers and scholars take a deeper look at both old and new legends. In other words, theirs is a great choice for fans of The Hero with a Thousand Faces.