Micro-chat: Comparative Mythology

Comparative mythology is the practice of identifying, analyzing, and categorizing shared themes and traits in stories of different cultural backgrounds. It is derived from numerous academic fields and looks at how mythic storytelling reflects the cultures and histories of past civilizations and how that influences our contemporary world and modern mythmaking (mythopoeia). Yes, modern storytellers are still creating mythological stories! Unlike classical myths and folktales that were passed down through oral tradition or recorded by ancient writers, modern myths are found in many different mediums: literature and poetry, films and television shows, radio dramas, and even video games.

Today, I would like to go through a comparison that I have found within two different forms of storytelling – a film and a video game. In doing so, I plan to reveal the underlying myth that acts as the blueprint of these two stories to show how recurring mythic motifs can create similar yet distinct storytelling experiences.

 So, let us take a comparative look at Disney’s The Lion King (1993) and Final Fantasy XV (2016) from game developer Square Enix.

The Lion King – SimbaFinal Fantasy XV – Noctis Lucis Caelum
(I) A prince is born to a great king. He is presented to the realm by a shaman and is recognized as the new heir.(I) A prophesied prince is born to a great king in a prosperous realm and is recognized as the King of Kings.
(II) The young prince grows up alongside his betrothed.(II) The young prince meets his betrothed at a young age.
(III) The King’s brother and uncle to the young prince plots to usurp his brother’s throne and ravage the kingdom.(III) A usurper, a forgotten member of the royal family, plots to kill the King and overturn the kingdom.
(IV) The young prince, frustrated with his isolation, ventures out to see the world beyond his father’s realm.(IV) The King, having kept the son in isolation for his protection, sends the prince to learn about the outside world accompanied by his retainers.
(V) The King is murdered and the prince is forced to into exile, abandoning his kingdom.(V) The King is murdered while the prince and his retainers are away.
(VI) The King’s brother, having claimed the kingship, allows the realm to starve and become barren.(VI) The Usurper slowly pillages the realm, spreading destruction and slowly suffocating the world in darkness.
(VII) The exiled prince passes into an unknown realm and meets two individuals who help him mature. They eventually become his retainers.(VII) The prince begins to mature in the lands outside his kingdom, supported and guided by his retainers.
(VIII) The prince meets his betrothed after many years, who encourages him to return to his kingdom and claim his rightful throne by defeating his uncle. His betrothed joins his retinue.(VIII) Despite having spent years apart, the prince’s betrothed uses all of her power to support her beloved reclamation of the throne. She is killed in the attempt and the prince enters into a depression.
(IX) The shaman visits the prince and bestows upon him spiritual wisdom. Upon seeing a vision of his father, the prince is renewed and sets out to depose his uncle.(IX) The gods reveal their great prophecy to the prince and endow him with their spiritual powers and immense wisdom. The prince is revitalized and resolves to oust the Usurper.
(X) The prince and his retinue return to his kingdom at the zenith of its desolation.(X) The prince returns to his kingdom, accompanied by his retainers, and witnesses the ruin of the world.
(XI) With the support of his retainers and the royal court, the prince overthrows his uncle and ascends to his throne.(XI) With his retainers and the might of the gods, the prince defeats the Usurper and ascends the throne as King of Kings.
(XII) Life returns to the realm as the new King’s reign begins and a new heir is born.(XII) The new King sacrifices his life so that the world is cleansed and light returns.
Click here for version with respective images included

The prince is an archetypal figure in literature and mythology, often associated with goodness, strength, regality, heroism, and masculinity. Stories about a prince are usually concerned with proving that one is worthy of kingship and ready to ascend the throne – this results in what we might call a “good ending” (i.e., “happily ever after”). A princely tale with a “bad ending” depicts a prince who abandons his duties and kingdom, resisting his destiny and (presumably) leading a life of destitution. A princely tale, however, has more variations and subcategorizations than just a good or bad ending. 

As we see above, while the general framework of The Lion King and Final Fantasy XV are similar, they are not the same type of story. Yes, they are both mythological stories – stories influenced by or utilize mythic themes that have persisted throughout human history. Yes, they are dramas – stories of emotions, conflict, and resolves. Final Fantasy XV, however, is an apparent tragedy, while The Lion King is undoubtedly a comedy. That distinction is the critical storytelling difference between these two tales of princes – the other differences are, of course, essential and provide detail and context to each story. Those details may even help the story to flourish as a mythic story all on its own. Nevertheless, audiences could experience these two stories and recognize that they are both pulling from the same source, the exact mythological blueprint, and, thus, realize they, the audience, are participating in the creative and analytical process of modern mythic storytelling.

And so, I say to you, welcome to comparative mythology. I hope to do more of these soon, and I hope you, too, can take time and realize the mythological world we are still living in today.

Categories: Writings & Errata

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