Under the Sun: Myth and Realism in Western American Literature

Under the Sun: Myth and Realism in Western American Literature

Under the Sun: Myth and Realism in Western American Literature

Under the Sun: Myth and Realism in Western American Literature

Synopsis

"The scholarly standard of the contributions is uniformly high. Professor Meldrum has put forth a stimulating book on a central theme in Western literary studies."¿Western American Literature

Excerpt

Barbara Howard Meldrum, University of Idaho

. . . but the loveliest myth of all America was the far West . . . a lost impossible province . . . where men were not dwarfs and where adventure truly was. For a brief season, consider, the myth so generously begotten became fact. For a few years Odysseus Jed Smith and Siegfried Carson and the wingshod Fitzpatrick actually drew breath in this province of fable. Then suddenly it was all myth again. Wagons were moving down the trails, and nowhere remained any trace of the demigods who had passed this way.

--Bernard DeVoto

The myths and symbols with which I deal . . . [are] collective representations rather than the work of a single mind. I do not mean to raise the question whether such products of the imagination accurately reflect empirical fact. They exist on a different plane.

--Henry Nash Smith

If there is one topic which has consistently attracted the attention of critics working with western American literature, it is the role of myth and realism. Important in any literary studies, myth and realism have special relevance to western literature because the realistic status of the myth is so persistently and provocatively before us. Was the myth once real, but now enveloped in history, as DeVoto asserts? Or did "the myth" never exist in fact, but rather emerge from popular fantasies fed partially by seemingly corroborative facts and primarily by the demands of an eastern audience? Does it matter whether or not myth "accurately reflects empirical fact"? Is a writer who works with western subjects hindered or aided by considerations of authenticity? Can myth emerge from a realistic . . .

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