Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Alvin A. Lee




This study examines the contributions of the Canadian literary theorist Northrop Frye (1912-1991) to the study and understanding of myth in the modem and postmodem periods. The specific mythographic context in which Frye's work is situated is not merely the study of the ancient religious narratives that conventionally structure literature, but the study of myth as phenomenological; which is to say, as a theory or mode of consciousness that informs the very perception of reality, and which, therefore, has profound existential, moral, and cultural implications. The study's introduction positions Frye in relation to three of his contemporaries, the most influential mythographers of the modem era, whose theories have tended to overshadow his, despite their questionable assumptions and conclusions about the phenomenological nature of myth. Chapter I examines the theories of the Romanian historian of religions Mircea Eliade (1907-1986), and demonstrates that their metaphysical basis abrogates an understanding of myth as phenomenological. Chapter Il surveys the work of Swiss psychologist C.G. Jung (1875-1961), whose theory of the collective unconscious is similarly problematic. Chapter III explores the ideas of popular American mythologist Joseph Campbell (1904-1987), which possess some phenomenological elements but settle ultimately upon a metaphysical ontology. Chapter IV is a detailed consideration of the apocalyptic potential of the phenomenology of myth which Frye develops out of the mythopoetics of William Blake and puts forth in his book Fearful Symmetry. Illuminated by the work of philosopher Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Frye's theories of archetype and anagogy are shown to involve the recreation of perceived reality. The study concludes with an examination of the revisions that Frye made to his phenomenology of myth for the context of postmodemism in his book Words with Power; there Frye introduces his theory of kerygma, an apocalyptic phenomenology of mythic language with extraordinary ethical and social ramifications.

McMaster University Library

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