Making Mythology

March 25, 2013—An interdisciplinary studies major in mythology, James Boyman (C’13) built his major “from the ground up” three years ago with the help of faculty members and College deans. Now, he is writing an original myth for his senior thesis.

Boyman first became interested in mythology in high school, when he took a class about world religions, including Christianity, Judaism, Islam, and Hinduism, as well as lesser-known ones, such as Zoroastrianism.

His interest continued to grow at Georgetown, where in his first semester he enrolled in the Ignatius Seminar Myth and Realization taught by Rev. G. Ronald Murphy, S.J. The class opened his eyes to the influence of ancient mythology on Western culture.

To explain this extensive influence, Boyman often uses examples from popular culture. “Many of the movies that Disney does are based on religious narratives. One of the big ones is The Lion King,” Boyman said.

“The basic plot of The Lion King is that there is a young prince who has an evil uncle that wants to take power. So the uncle kills the king, takes power for himself, and sends the prince into exile—where he hangs out until his deceased father calls on him. Then, the prince goes back and takes power from his uncle.”

According to Boyman, the plot of the film mirrors the thousands-year-old tale of Osiris, the Egyptian god of the dead. In the myth, Osiris is king of Egypt but is killed by his treacherous brother, Seth. Osiris’s son Horus is exiled by his uncle until his father appears to him in a vision. Horus returns to his homeland and defeats his uncle, Seth, reclaiming the kingdom.

“People often compare The Lion King to Hamlet, but I’d say that Hamlet is just another interpretation of that same archetype,” said Boyman, who cites the myth of Osiris as one of his favorites. “You can see the myth in the movie with the imagery of the rising sun. Horus is the god of the rising sun.”

Boyman was inspired to create his own mythological tale during his junior year, when he became more interested in creative writing while studying abroad in Florence, Italy. Rather than write a typical academic paper as his capstone project, he chose to infuse his knowledge of symbolism and tradition into an original story.

The Scepter and the Orb, which Boyman describes as an “epic framed within a fairytale,” is about a young prince who is raised in seclusion in an ice castle and discovers that his father rules the kingdom in tyranny. Appalled by the oppression of innocent townspeople, the prince escapes, receives training from a society of outcasts, and joins their forces to restore balance and justice to the kingdom.

“I use a lot of imagery from a lot of different stories I’ve read. I counted it up, and there are at least four major world traditions that I weave throughout the story: Buddhism, Christianity, Greco-Romanism, and German paganism,” Boyman said.

“All of the characters are named after Norse gods, and the prince has this big [transformative] experience—which is the centerpiece of the story—that is straight from the myth of Odin with my own additions.”

Boyman plans to turn his love and knowledge of mythology into a career as an author of children’s stories, which often incorporate lessons and archetypes from religions around the world. He is already working on his first book, The Well of Gemstones, which tells “the story of a young girl who tries to relive her past, but in the process gives up her present and her future,” he explained.

“The big theme that you can find in all of my works is, ‘Don’t cling to things that you can’t hold onto. Be flexible and allow time to run its course,’” Boyman said. “I think that the concept of not clinging to the past and being able to flow with what life gives you is a major aspect of mythology.

“Mythology also gives a sense of hope,” he continued. “These are stories that people have found significant for thousands of years. I think there is genuine wisdom in them if we study them and think about them. I am always trying to figure out what that wisdom might be.”

—Brittany Coombs