June 20, 2018–I have a confession: I never absorbed mythology.
Lord, I tried. I really did. I read about the travels of Ulysses, and the Minotaur in the labyrinth. And as a curious kid, I started to learn about the pantheon of gods, mainly through comic books. They were all there–Thor and Odin and Loki and… well… I’m sure there were others.
But it was hard to keep track of who was related to whom. It was like the family reunions our parents dragged us to, as they patiently tried to explain Aunt Annie was related to Grandma Anna, only through marriage, once removed.
The grownups all sat around enthusiastically discussing cousin Keith and Uncle John (so many Uncle Johns). It was too much for a 12-year-old, even though I could effortlessly memorize the roster of the University of Iowa Hawkeye basketball team, along with their nicknames, vital stats, and origin stories.
One problem with the gods is they didn’t seem to live in a world that had any rules. Thor could throw a hammer no one else could lift. Then it returned to him. Odin was all powerful. Except when his wife Freya didn’t want him to be.
For a kid, a game has to have rules, and boundaries, and accepted behavior in between the goal lines. If there are no out of bounds and you can do anything to stop the runner or advance the ball, it’s no longer a sport. It’s rugby or croquet.
Still, I made an effort to figure out the mythological family trees, if only because it seemed to be a field that serious people took seriously. Like classical music or the stock market, or something you needed to be versant in at cocktail parties.
I was making progress, too. Until I discovered there was more than one universe of gods. Ack! You mean there were also Greek gods and Roman gods! To add to my bewilderment, they were sort of the same, but not exactly. Although each team had people in roughly the same positions, they had different names and different powers. It was like the cast of Addams Family versus The Munsters. Morticia Addams was parallel to Lily Munster, except Lily had highlights in her hair. Gomez was Herman (who was Frankenstein who was Fred Gwynn), Fester was Grandpa, and Pugsley was Eddie, but each had unique quirks. It always took you a few episodes to get into the flow of each series.
When the world of mythology began inserting itself into real life, things really became bewildering. Dungeons and Dragons came out of the dungeons when I was in college. One day on the way back from class I spent 5 minutes looking on at a game in the student lounge. Twelve-sided dice? That was enough to convince me to take a different route back to my dorm room.
Even Star Wars strayed to a galaxy too far. The first ones were straightforward, with a swashbuckling lad who navigated a dangerous universe to save the maiden. Sure there was always a mysterious backstory hovering in the wings, but not three prequels’ worth. Any movie whose plot hinges on debate in a senate of alien life forms is too exhausting for me.
Don’t get me started on X-Men and The Avengers. I still can’t tell who belongs on which team and is stronger, The Hulk or Thing.
Real life is complex enough. Actual interactions and personal relationships remain enough of a challenge. Who needs the soap opera of duplicitous Greek gods.
I’m sure my paucity of knowledge in these mythological worlds is making many readers itch to correct and convince me. But don’t bother.
Not only is it unattainably complicated–I simply cannot care about stuff I can’t control that doesn’t affect me.