In The Oxford Companion to World Mythology, David Leeming explores the role of mythology in history, revealing how the dreams of specific cultures add up to the larger collective story of humanity.
Appealingly illustrated with nearly one hundred black-and-white halftones, the Companion provides thousands of alphabetically arranged entries covering all aspects of mythology including areas traditionally ignored by mythologists such as Polynesia, Africa, Native North America, Australia, and more. Leeming includes substantial essays on the worlds major mythological traditions, on mythological types and motifs, on mythological figures, and on numerous related subjects such as fairly tales and legends. The Companion also locates myth in our lives today, relating it to psychology, religion, science, politics, art, and much more.
From King Arthur and the Round Table to Jonah and the Whale, from the wicked and destructive Norse trickster Loki to the great mother goddess of Chinese mythology Nuwa, here is a comprehensive and thoughtful look at mythology around the world.
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David Leeming is Emeritus Professor of English and Comparative Literature at the University of Connecticut. His many books include Myths, Legends, and Folktales of America, with Jake Page, A Dictionary of Asian Mythology and Myth: A Biography of Belief. He lives in Riverdale, New York.
In the introduction to this work, Leeming, an emeritus professor of English and comparative literature who has written extensively on mythology, defines myths as "religious narratives that transcend the possibilities of common experience and that express any given culture's literal or metaphorical understanding of various aspects of reality." Covering a broad range of belief systems dating from prehistoric times to the twenty-first century, this compendium not only traces the myths of various cultures but also shows how a number of common elements thread through many sacred stories from disparate geographic areas.
Ranging in length from a single sentence to multiple pages, the approximately 1,500 entries cover deities and other mythological figures (Artemis, Job, Thor); heroic epics and other stories (Iliad, Volsunga Saga); motifs (Afterlife, Flood); mythologists (Campbell, Joseph; Frazer, Sir James); sacred books (Qur'an, Upanishads); and the mythologies of particular regions, religions, or cultures. Only a small percentage of the entries include references to sources for further information. Access is facilitated by a section that categorizes entries by cultural groups or broad topics, a network of cross-references, and an index. Adding visual appeal are a number of black-and-white illustrations and color plates, most of which reproduce artworks that depict mythological themes. Additional features include a lengthy bibliography, family trees for five major pantheons, and charts identifying Greek-Roman and Sumerian-Babylonian equivalent deities.
With more than twice as many entries, the two-volume Facts On File Encyclopedia of World Mythology and Legend (2004) identifies many more mythological figures than does Leeming's work. In addition, specialized sources such as The Oxford Dictionary of Classical Myth and Religion (2004) and Dictionary of Celtic Mythology (Oxford, 1998) offer more in-depth coverage of specific mythological cultures. The strength of The Oxford Companion to World Mythology lies in its overview articles on mythologies of particular eras and cultures and in its thematic entries that bring together mythological concepts from a variety of traditions.
Scholarly but rarely abstruse, this reasonably priced volume is particularly suitable for academic and larger public libraries. Marie Ellis
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