Myth As Structure

January 20, 2009

There is a similar theme of traversing the great oceans in both the children’s animated feature film Finding Nemo and in Jules Verne’s 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea (Nemo was also the name of the captain in 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea). The original myth they stem from is Homer’s Odyssey and at one point in the Odyssey, Odysseus is asked his name by the Cyclops Polyphemus – to which he replies “Nemo” which, incidentally, translates to “nobody”. Another classic story which seems to serve a use for the plot is Herman Melville’s Moby Dick, from the fact that there is a sequence in Finding Nemo where two characters are swallowed by a whale.

The constant reappearance of mythology and folklore in popular culture is abundant. The Greek myth of Prometheus was modernised in both Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and Stanislaw Lem’s Solaris. And Homer’s Odyssey, in which Odysseus makes a long, arduous, heroic journey back from exile, seems to pervade many popular modern journey films like Finding Nemo, Lord Of The Rings and The Wizard Of Oz. The latter few are interesting because of their particular appeal to children. George Lucas based the language, symbols and metaphors in Star Wars almost entirely on the findings of Joseph Campbell’s book The Hero With A Thousand Faces. In the book, Campbell argued that myths from all over the world contain stories about a hero who embodies the most valued qualities of a society, and that hero almost always embarks on a journey, separated from family, on a quest for knowledge, a magical object or vision. They meet a mentor along the way and make friends with others who protect them, all of whom ultimately help them achieve their goal.

I read a lot about Jim Henson once; his rise to fame with Ralph (the piano playing puppet dog) and the subsequent creation of the rest of the Muppet cast. What isn’t written about very often is Henson’s brief foray into some ‘serious’ work in the 1960’s. The Cube is a made-for-TV drama written by Henson, which aired in 1969 on NBC. Seemingly influenced by existentialist ideas of loneliness and of reality versus illusion, a man trapped in a white box shaped room experiences strange phenomena. The Cube bears some similarity to Jean-Paul Sartre’s No Exit in its portrayal of a man in a kind of purgatory.

Henson’s serious streak away from the Muppets didn’t last long, but being a philanthropist, his inclusion of strong, positive, thematic elements in his work was continuous. Fraggle Rock, for example, was intended to portray different races of creatures all attempting to live in harmony. The Fraggles would occasionally make a perilous pilgrimage to a talking Trash Heap too, which now, as an adult, makes me think of the ancient Greeks making pilgrimages to the Oracle at Delphi for advice. Henson clearly had ideas about the complex web which holds a story together – something that Truman Capote described as “…the grand overall design, the great demanding arc of beginning-middle-end”. Perhaps he too was a fan of Joseph Campbell, and the roots that lie in myths, fairytales and the language they use.


One Response to “Myth As Structure”

  1. Ganesh Gifts Says:

    Finding Nemo is one of my favorite movie and i love it.

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