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Published online by Cambridge University Press: 06 June 2017
Northrop Frye, perhaps the twentieth-century's most influential writer on the topic of mythology and literature, remarked: ‘The word myth is used today in such a bewildering variety of contexts that anyone talking about it has to say first what his context is’ (3). More recently Eric Gould has suggested that the concept of myth has become a new omnibus term for our times, a term that may mean both everything and nothing. He writes of myth as ‘a synthesis of value which uniquely manages to mean most things to most people. It is allegory and tautology, reason and unreason, logic and fantasy, waking thought and dream, origin and end’ (5). Establishing a guiding context for this collection of critical essays on contemporary American literature and its relationship to mythology must also consider the notion that myth is essentially a reliquary of stories and tales bearing no proximate connection to imaginative literature or literary criticism, or even that the articulation of myth has been entirely replaced by such literature (Segal 2).
Yet contemporary American writing is clearly engaged with mythologies, however varied their origins or applications, and is aware of the seeming paradox and difficult resolutions inherent in combining modern-day events and social circumstances with the kinds of universal associations and cultural depth usually associated with myth. Also, especially since the second half of the twentieth-century, literary theorists and critics have frequently attempted to reconcile modern literary production and its largely secular subject matter with mythological symbols, patterns and structures – Northrop Frye, Richard Chase and Roland Barthes being but some of the most prominent examples.