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Understanding, Analyzing and Writing Myths

Myth = a made-up story that is written to explain, in a creative manner, how something in nature came to be.  

Characteristics of a Myth

  • A myth is a made-up story  - a myth is not a factual story explaining in a sicentific way the creation of something. Rather it is a creative, made-up story that is told for enjoyment and also to teach a lesson (theme).
  • A myth is a story - just like other types of stories, a myth has a conflict or problem that is resolved (resolution) before the end. It also has other characters, a setting, a plot (a series of related events) and a theme. 
  • As part of the theme, the natural phenomenon or the character/people/animal in the story may learn a precious lesson from the change that is often forced upon it
  • A myth explains how something in nature came to be - This could a be a natural phenomenon or how a group of people or a kind of animal developed a particular quality, physical feature or a behavior.
    • a natural phenomenon - How earthquakes came to be; Why lightning strikes; Why volcanoes erupt. 
    • an animal quality - Why the sloth is slow; Why cheetahs can only run at top speed for a short time.
    • an animal's physical feature - Why a donkey's ears  are pointy; Why a frog croaks.
    • an animal's behaviorWhy cows moo; Why an ostrich hides his head in a hole; Why bats only come out at night.
  • The Before and The After - A myth will show how in earlier times (The Before), the natural phenomenon or a people group or a kind of animal used to be different. Then it will explain whom or what caused the change to what it is now (The After) and why it happened. (see the Analyzing Two Myths chart below) 
  • A myth, like any good story, has ongoing dialogue between characters. Make sure to use proper punctuation for the dialogue: 
Then all the other animals of the jungle came together by the northern shores of the lake to share their frustrations over the talkative monkey, and to come up with a bold, new plan. "Can't something be done to quiet down this chattering baboon?" said the tiger? Others chimed in, "Perhaps he just needs to be taught a valuable lesson!" Soon everyone began demanding a harsh punishment for monkey's wrongdoing. The lion, king of the jungle, asserted his final decision by saying, "Monkey has been proven to have absolutely no self-control over his mouth. He must be either banished from the jungle or his voice must be taken away." 
     The eagle, having surveyed faraway lands as a scout for the king of the jungle, interjected,"There is a way to take away monkey's voice, Oh mighty King. A wise hermit who lives at the top of the lone hill outside our jungle knows magical potions which would do the job. If we can only convince him that it is for a worthy cause," for he himself was not positive the constant talking would be an acceptable crime to the hermit, "he would surely satisfy our demands for justice."       
  • A myth may sometimes (but not always) have a character with some kind of superhuman powers which is able to bring forced change to a situation or to another character. But it could also be another ordinary animal or character who is just a little wiser, stronger or with more authority to bring about change. Some examples of a character with superhuman qualities are:
    • a wizard
    • a goddess or god (goddess of speech, the moon goddess)
    • witch
    • fairy
    • cupid

Myths to Read & Analyze

  Analyzing Two Myths   
 Before Why the Change? By whom or by what? After 
 Bear had a tail  Bear, tricked by the fox, put his tail for many hours in freezing water to catch fish. Unfortunately, when he took it out he lost his tail.   Bear has a short tail
Humans were calm and peaceful, but there was one person who had cruel and wicked intentions.   The cruel man was disturbing the peace which was over the earth. The Manito, a god, was disturbed by the evil in the cruel man's heart. He decided to turn him into a deer.  That evil man was turned into a deer, and his knife which fell and stabbed his own foot, split his hoofs into two. And that's why deer have hoofs. 

Myths on Video

How the Sun and Stars Came to Be - a Chinese myth

How Tiger Got its Stripes - a Vietnamese myth

Why Bat Flies at Night

Why Zebras Have Stripes

Why Koala has a Stumpy Tail

How the Camel Got its Hump