by Katrina VanTassel-Skinner, Lakewood High School

Introduction

 

Why are we here?

Where did we come from?

Where does the sun go at night?

Why should we follow the rules of our parents?

"Myth has two main functions.  The first is to answer the sort of awkward questions that children ask, such as:  'Who made the world?  How will it end?  Who was the first man?  Where do souls go after death?'. . . . The second function of myth is to justify an existing social system and account for traditional rites and customs."

--Robert Graves, "Introduction," New Larousse Encyclopedia of Mythology (v)

How are myths, legends and folktales different?  What do they have in common? What do they tell us about the shared nature of man's desire to make the unknown a little less fearsome? How do they reflect the individuality of our cultures?