This volume develops recent critical work on myth, as well as alluding to seminal works in the field. The collection explores ways in which this dynamic mythmaking process has taken place - and continues to take place - in contemporary art and thought. The critic and theorist Robert Segal offers a useful working definition of myth as 'a story about something significant' of which 'the function is weighty - in contrast to the lighter functions of legend and folk tale'. Myths are stories we tell ourselves about who we are and, in their telling and re-telling, myths in their turn shape and define us in a process in which the main constant is malleability as cultures, and consequently aspects of mythic narratives to which these cultures respond, are changed through time. Myth has been opposed to history, and conversely seen as an aspect of history; individual chapters herein treat aspects of this historicizing effect of myth. This may sometimes be a very localized and specific construction of identity, as in appropriation of Tregeagle, and at other times the nation is constructed through archetypal figures, as in the case of the American hobo.
Other figures, such as Cuchulain, may be contested at both national and individual levels. The book is framed by two pieces in which the idea of myth as fiction is refuted. In other words, 'myth' is here read as a structure that is believed in by its proponents, rather than a conscious fiction. The opening chapter explains dragons in a modern myth of origins which reduces myth to biology but, in doing so, considers biology itself to have mythic qualities, as a narrative that imposes meaning on chaos. The latter point is considered in the final chapter, which explores conspiracy theory as another such paradigm. In all of these approaches, the world we currently live in is the theme, although how this is negotiated varies considerably.