The Friendly Guide to Mythology by Nancy Hathaway

Read: 11 June, 2013

After I read and loved The Friendly Guide to the Universe, I found out that Hathaway had another book out – this time about mythology. Her discussions of mythology in the Universe (how some stars and constellations got their names, etc) was interesting, so I had high hopes.

And I wasn’t disappointed.

As in the Universe, Hathaway broadens her discussion. When talking about astronomy, it meant also talking about astronomical concepts in pop culture and mythology. In talking about mythology, in means presenting not only the myths themselves, but the story of their discovery (for example, the section about Marduk contains a timeline of the composition and discovery of the Enuma Elish text), and some of the criticisms and disagreements in the study of myths.

I mentioned in my review of the Universe that there were some additions that were presented a little too uncritically. In this book, the flaw is the omission of the Abrahamic myths. Though she discusses creation, flood myths, tricksters, and other mythic themes that have parallels in the Abrahamic religions, there is simply no mention of them. In fact, there is only the briefest of notes on Sheol and Hell in the discussion of the afterlife, and a note about the conceptualizations of Pan becoming associated with Satan. It’s a shame, because she’s missing a lot of opportunity to contextualize the myths she’s discussing within a frame that her audience is likely to be familiar with.

But, as with the Universe, her set up is such that her book can easily be used to launch a discussion about the missing elements, so the omission isn’t tragic. But it brings the book short of Pure Awesome.

The writing style is very accessible and could be used for any age group (adults included). It would also make for a fantastic textbook for a class on mythology for students aged 8+, since it introduces not only the myths themselves, but issues in the study of myth.

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