It's all a myth that legends are clear;Subject of the week;Reference books

1st May 1998 at 01:00
MYTHS AND LEGENDS OF THE WORLD. By Kenneth McLeish. Bloomsbury pound;18.99.

This is a book which should really be a CD-Rom. Its cross-referencing is excellent, its entries short and snappy and its scope satisfyingly global.

As a quick source for a GCSE essay it will be very useful. Deeper musings on the import of myth, on its roots and interconnections, its cross-cultural links and itsomni-presence in human society, are confined to paragraphs in bold italic tagged on the end of most entries. Thus information is accessed in digestible bites.

What is lacking is any sense of authorship or indeed authority. In literary criticism, anthropology, history and politics, myths are hotly contested: their interpretations have been used to bolster up fascist regimes, justify wars, impose moralities, heal divisions.

They are not factual narratives or even simply fictions; they are ways in which people understand their culture's origins and place in the world, and as such their meanings constantly shift and have shifted.

McLeish is a poet and a classicist and it would have been nice to have read some text which included more of his responses in with the potted versions of "received versions". Robert Graves' idiosyncratic Greek Myths is a good exemplar.

Still, the volume will be a useful addition to the school library and represents good value for money. Pity there are no illustrations.

Victoria Neumark

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