Star Wars, The Matrix and Lord of the Rings illustrate classic mythological patterns
RELEASED: January 10, 2008
This year, Patterson is taking a unique approach to the study of classic storytelling motifs in his course "Myth and Science Fiction." Rather than focusing solely on epic storytelling geniuses such as Homer and Virgil, Patterson looks to contemporary authors and screenwriters such as George Lucas, the Wachowski brothers and J.R.R. Tolkien to offer insight into mythological narrative patterns.
"The myth tradition can occur in any genre--western, horror, mystery--but its kinship with sci-fi and fantasy is largely due to the otherworldliness and use of supernatural devices," Patterson says. "For instance, mythological motifs such as 'the call to adventure' occur in Luke Skywalker's journey when he stumbles on the distress message from Princess Leia; his light saber serves as a supernatural object much like Jason's golden fleece. And his journey begins on Tatooine, the periphery of the galaxy, very similar to Perseus' origin on the outlying island of Seriphos. And these are just to mention a few of the many correlations."
Though many of these narrative devices and patterns are inherited from myths conceived centuries ago, they resonate for audiences across the globe in ways not unlike they did when employed by the ancients.
In the course, Patterson investigates other narrative lines as well, including Star Trek , Stargate , Dr. Who , The X-Files and Babylon 5 . For him, as a professor of classics, the opportunity to wed these contemporary stories to the myths he has cherished for so long was too good to pass up. And his students agree.
Looking forward to the section on "The Lord of the Rings," Hannah Brooks '11 says, "I've always loved reading, but I've mostly read classics and not much science fiction or fantasy besides Tolkien and Lewis. I figured that this class would give me more insight into this area of literature."
Patterson intends to explore Tolkien's world beyond the epic trilogy and prequel, venturing into the mythology of Middle-Earth itself as presented in Tolkien's posthumously published "The Silmarillion."
"I've always seen the connections. Creatures and ideas inhabit many different fictional universes: elves, dragons, trolls, orcs and other fantastical creatures," Patterson says. "But this is the first time I've had the opportunity to systematically explore the congruency among modern sci-fi and fantasy narratives in depth."And Patterson warns his students: "You'll either credit me or blame me for never being able to watch science fiction the same way again."
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