Depending upon source and context, the word "myth" can have a number of different yet related meanings. According to the primary and secondary definitions in various dictionaries, "myth" can mean a traditional story that explains a belief or world view of a people, a popular tradition or belief that has...
Depending upon source and context, the word "myth" can have a number of different yet related meanings. According to the primary and secondary definitions in various dictionaries, "myth" can mean a traditional story that explains a belief or world view of a people, a popular tradition or belief that has grown up around someone or something, an imaginary or unverifiable person or thing, or an idea that is commonly believed but untrue.
The famous short story "Rip Van Winkle" by Washington Irving is set in the eighteenth century. It tells of a villager in New York who is incessantly nagged by his wife. To find some peace, he wanders up into the Catskill Mountains. In a remote hollow, he finds a group of strangely-dressed bearded men, joins them in a game of ninepins, drinks their liquor, and falls asleep. When he wakes up twenty years later, he has become old, and America has become an independent country and is no longer under the rule of England.
Myth plays several roles in this classic story. First of all, there is the imaginary presence of strange people living high in the mountains who possess liquor that can put a man to sleep for decades. There is also the impossible plot point that Rip Van Winkle survives his decades-long sleep with no ill-effects other than natural aging. When the old man descends the mountains and returns to the village, a historian verifies his identity and tells a story that accounts for the strange men and the noise of the ninepins game:
He assured the company that it was a fact, handed down from his ancestor the historian, that the Catskill Mountains had always been haunted by strange beings. That it was affirmed that the great Hendrick Hudson, the first discoverer of the river and country, kept a kind of vigil there every twenty years, with his crew of the Half-Moon, being permitted in this way to revisit the scenes of his enterprise, and keep a guardian eye upon the river, and the great city called by his name. That his father had once seen them in their old Dutch dresses playing at ninepins in a hollow of the mountain; and that he himself had heard, one summer afternoon, the sound of their balls, like long peals of thunder.
This is a local myth about ghostly historical personages that explains who Rip Van Winkle met and what he went through. At the end of the story, Rip Van Winkle himself is added to the myth.
Even to this day they never hear a thunderstorm of a summer afternoon, about the Catskills, but they say Hendrick Hudson and his crew are at their game of ninepins; and it is a common wish of all hen-pecked husbands in the neighborhood, when life hangs heavy on their hands, that they might have a quieting drought out of Rip Van Winkle's flagon.