As some readers of this blog may know, I am writing a book about epic. I’m going to have to look for a publisher, so I’m trying to put some words together that will entice an editor and reasonably characterize its content. So any suggestions would be gratefully received. Thanks to John MacE for his editing on this version.
Human culture can be surprisingly unpredictable in its search for new creative outlets and ideas. If need be it will reach back to its ancient roots in search of the next big thing: epic, for instance.
“Epic” is now a cult term among fantasy gamers and anime and comic book enthusiasts, and the epic themes, characters and plots are consciously and unconsciously reprised in science fiction, superhero movies, fantasy graphics, Gothic lifestyles, Renaissance Faires, battle reenactments, summer blockbusters, and music video. Evidently some kind of youth rebellion is going on against the now rather
antiquated slayers of the Grand Narratives. Perhaps ancient human needs are resurfacing, expressing themselves through popular culture because the high-culture venues of the academy and the highbrow press and art world are closed to them.
The story that epic tells is the story of human evolution as seen from the inside; it anticipates, sometimes by thousands of years, the findings of modern neuroscience, evolutionary psychology, and anthropology. Our ancestors were not naive about our nature.
Dozens of major epic poems, oral and written, have been surfacing across the planet among “non-Western” cultures such as the Malinese, the Mayans,the Polynesians, the Kurds, the Serbs, the
Armenians, and the Mongols, and in regions as diverse as ancient India, China, Japan, Persia, Argentina, Korea, and East Africa, proving that the grand narratives are not a “Western” but a human
invention. They are invention of peoples who have stepped beyond myth into the making of civilization, with all its tearing strains against our nature and all its dangerous promise. Uncannily, these epics repeat the same stories again and again–the beast-man and his fall, the wise woman, tragic in-law conflict, the journey to the land of the dead, the sacrificial founding of the city, the creation of the world through the creation of language, and many others.
The new generation that has rediscovered epic is well aware of the ambiguities of this gift they have appropriated from under the noses of its cultured censors. The book will explore this new-old phenomenon and begin to outline its meaning.