Alexei Panshin's The Abyss of Wonder


    The practice of mythmaking is so universal among mankind that it might be called a characteristic human activity.  Mythmaking is the presentation in story and song, ceremony and drama, of accounts of the origin and destiny of things, cast in terms of encounters with transcendence in another world not our own. 

    The pattern of mythmaking is so much the same in all places and at all times that a contemporary student, Joseph Campbell, has analyzed many different examples of myth in his useful and suggestive book The Hero with a Thousand Faces and found "always the one, shapeshifting yet marvelously constant story."  Campbell calls this underlying structure "the monomyth," borrowing his term from a literary antecedent, James Joyce's massive dreamwork Finnegans Wake.  Campbell writes: "The standard path of the mythological adventure of the hero is a magnification of the formula represented in the rites of passage: separation--initiation--return: which might be named the nuclear unit of the monomyth."  And he summarizes the monomyth:  "A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow men." 

    The "region of supernatural wonder" which Campbell distinguishes from "the world of common day" is the dimension of myth, the realm of the creative imagination.  This place has many names.  As a name of convenience, let us call it the "World Beyond the Hill." 

    The World Beyond the Hill is the realm of infinite possibility.  All things, known and unknown, are to be found in the World Beyond the Hill before they are to be found in our world.  According to myth, the things of our world are "created" only when venturing heroes bring them back from the World Beyond the Hill as boons for their fellow men. 

    In myth, the World Beyond the Hill is close at hand -- but distant.  You cannot easily get to it.  There are barriers and distances intervening, like the deadly deserts that surround and protect Oz.  But this other world does have an essential connection with our own, so that with an effort of will, like the astral projection that carries John Carter to Mars, it is possible to make the transition. 

    We can catch a glimpse of the location and the paradoxical nature of the World Beyond the Hill in the broadest imaginings of science fiction.  In Robert Heinlein's novella "Waldo" (Astounding, Aug 1942), a Pennsylvania hex doctor alerts the title character to the existence of "another, different, but accessible, world."  Waldo describes this world: 

    "Think of another continuum much like our own and superposed on it the way you might lay one sheet of paper on another.  The two spaces aren't identical, but they are separated from each other by the smallest interval you can imagine -- coextensive but not touching -- usually.  There is an absolute one-to-one, point-for-point correspondence, as I conceive it, between the two shapes, but they are not necessarily the same size or shape. . . .  I think of it as about the size and shape of an ostrich egg, but nevertheless a whole universe, existing side by side with our own, from here to the farthest star." 

    In some ways, the World Beyond the Hill is very like the world of common day.  Everything that we know to exist here, exists there, "one-to-one, point-for-point."  But the World Beyond the Hill is also marvelously different from anything we know.  Things that are impossible here are possible there.  The World Beyond the Hill contains wonders on end: magical abilities, fabulous creatures, strange beings, places that are alive.  In the World Beyond the Hill all things are possible. 

    There is an indication of this in another classic science fiction story, Fredric Brown's What Mad Universe (Startling, Sept 1948).  In this story, the main character, a science fiction pulp magazine editor, is transported by the explosion of a failed moon rocket into another universe -- which proves to be his image of the bizarre world that a callow science fiction fan might dream up.  At the climax of the story, Mekky, a transcendent intelligence, tells the protagonist of the number of rooms that are to be found in the mansion of the World Beyond the Hill.  Mekky says: 

    ". . .Out of infinity, all conceivable universes exist.  There is, for instance, a universe in which this exact scene is being repeated except that you -- or the equivalent of you -- are wearing brown shoes instead of black ones.  There are an infinite number of permutations of that variation, such as one in which you have a slight scratch on your left forefinger and one in which you have purple horns. . . .  And there are an infinite number of universes, of course, in which we don't exist at all -- that is, no creatures similar to us exist at all.  In which the human race doesn't exist at all.  There are an infinite number of universes, for instance, in which flowers are the predominant form of life -- or in which no form of life has ever developed or will develop.  And infinite universes in which the states of existence are such that we would have no words or thoughts to describe them or to imagine them." 

    Fascinating as these science fiction descriptions are, they do not do complete justice to the World Beyond the Hill.  A fuller and more complete portrait -- the most suggestive that I know -- is to be found in The Meccan Revelations, a great synthesis of ancient knowledge by Ibn Arabi, the thirteenth-century Sufi poet and writer.  This book, so far untranslated in full into any Western language, was banned in Egypt as heretical as recently as 1979.  Ibn Arabi's description of the World Beyond the Hill -- the mythic dimension -- is cast as myth. He says that when God had created Adam as the origin and archetype of all humanity, there was a surplus of the leaven of the clay.  From this, God created the palm tree.  After the palm tree was created, there still remained a portion of the creative clay equivalent to a sesame seed.  "And it was in this remainder," Ibn Arabi says, "that God laid out an immense Earth."  He writes: 

    "Since he arranged in it the Throne and what it contains, the Firmament, the Heavens and the Earths, the worlds underground, all the paradises and hells, this means that the whole of our universe is to be found there in that Earth in its entirety, and yet the whole of it together is like a ring lost in one of our deserts in comparison with the immensity of that Earth.  And that same Earth has hidden in it so many marvels and strange things that their number cannot be counted and our intelligence remains dazed before them. . . .  A multitude of things exist there which are rationally impossible, that is, a multitude of things about which reason has established decisive proof that they are incompatible with real being.  And yet! -- all these things do indeed exist in that Earth. . . .  In the whole of all the universes that make up that Earth, God has especially created one universe in our image (a universe corresponding to each one of us). . . .  In that Earth there are gardens, paradises, animals, minerals -- God alone can know how many.  Now, everything that is to be found on that Earth, absolutely everything, is alive and speaks, has a life analogous to that of every living being endowed with thought and speech." 

    Behind the old and special language, aimed at a thirteenth-century Islamic audience, we can perceive that what is being described is the same Other World invoked by Heinlein and Brown, and more.  Instead of being the size of an ostrich egg, as in Heinlein, the vast universes of the World Beyond the Hill are compressed into the size of a sesame seed. Notwithstanding this, our familiar universe, in its entirety, next to the World Beyond the Hill is like a ring lost in the desert.  The World Beyond the Hill is so multiplex and infinite that it contains within itself a universe corresponding to each one of us and a multitude of things which are rationally impossible. 

    In the course of his chapter on the World Beyond the Hill, Ibn Arabi continues on to describe the penetration of the Earth of Sesame by human beings, and what they discover there.  Again, the language is not of our own time.  But the experience that is being described is clearly the same as Joseph Campbell's monomyth.  Ibn Arabi says: 

    "A marvelous race of forms and figures exist on that Earth, of an extraordinary nature.  They keep watch over the entrances of the ways of approach lying above this world in which we are. . . .  Whenever one of us is searching for the way of access to that Earth . . . the first condition to be fulfilled is the practice of mystical gnosis and withdrawal from the material body.  Then he meets those Forms who stand and keep watch at the entrances to the ways of approach, God having especially assigned them to this task.  One of them hastens toward the newcomer, clothes him in a robe suitable to his rank, takes him by the hand, and walks with him over that Earth and they do in it as they will.  He lingers to look at the divine works of art; every stone, every tree, every village, every single thing he comes across, he may speak with, if he wishes, as a man converses with a companion.  Certainly they speak different languages, but this Earth has the gift, peculiar to it, of conferring on whomsoever enters the ability to understand all the tongues that are spoken there.  When he has attained his object and thinks of returning to his dwelling place, his companion goes with him and takes him back to the place at which he entered.  There she says goodbye to him; she takes off the robe in which she had clothed him and departs from him.  But by then he has gathered a mass of knowledge and indications and his knowledge of God has increased by something he had not previously envisioned.  I do not think that understanding ever penetrates in depth with a speed compared to that with which it proceeds when it comes about in that Earth of which I am speaking." 

    The sojourn in the World Beyond the Hill is more tranquil in Ibn Arabi than in Joseph Campbell.  In Campbell's version of the monomyth, transcendence must be faced and conquered.  A victory is won.  In Ibn Arabi's account, the wayfarer meets transcendence in a less aggressive and more cooperative guise.  But the result is the same.  We can equate the creative boons brought back by Campbell's mythic freebooters with the not-previously-envisioned increase of knowledge gained in the World Beyond the Hill by Ibn Arabi's mystic travelers. 

    A fascinating account of a trip into the World Beyond the Hill -- and how it might appear to an outside observer -- is given by the contemporary anthropologist Peter Furst, who accompanied a group of Huichol Indians in Mexico on their sacred peyote hunt.  Furst says that before they begin, the Huichols undergo a rite of purification which is intended to reverse "the pilgrim's passage through life to adulthood and return him or her symbolically to infancy and a state akin to that of spirit.  The Huichols say:  'We have become new, we are clean, we are newly born.' " 

    Furst continues:  "Having symbolically shed their adulthood and human identity the pilgrims can now truly assume the identity of spirits, for just as their leader is Tatewarí, the Fire God and First Shaman, so they become the ancestral deities who followed him on the primordial hunt for the Deer-Peyote.  In fact, it is only when one has become spirit that one is able to 'cross over' -- that is, pass safely through the dangerous passage, the gateway of Clashing Clouds that divides the ordinary from the nonordinary world.  This is one of several Huichol versions of a near-universal theme in funerary, heroic, and shamanistic mythology." 

    This near-universal theme, of course, is the monomythic passage into the region of supernatural wonder.  And we may notice that the Huichol method of transition from this world to the World Beyond the Hill is exactly that stated by Ibn Arabi in the thirteenth century:  "Whenever one of us is searching for the way of access to that Earth . . . the first condition to be fulfilled is the practice of mystical gnosis and withdrawal from the material body." 

    Once the Huichols have become spirit, they proceed to make the transition into the Other World under the eye of their anthropologist companions.  Furst marvels: 

    "That this extraordinary symbolic passage is today located only a few yards from a heavily traveled highway on the outskirts of the city of Zacatecas seemed to matter not at all to the Huichols, who in any case acted throughout the sacred journey as though the twentieth century and all its technological wonders had never happened, even when they themselves were traveling by motor vehicle rather than on foot!  Indeed, to us nothing illustrated more dramatically the time-out-of-life quality of the whole peyote experience than this ritual of passing through a perilous gateway that existed only in the emotions of the participants, but that was to them no less real for its physical invisibility." 

    The novices in the party are blindfolded by the shaman leading the pilgrimage, amid weeping and joking, and then taken a few hundred yards to "the mystical divide, the threshold to the divine peyote country."  Furst continues: 

    "Visually, the passage through the Gateway of Clashing Clouds was undramatic.  Ramón stepped forward, lifted the bow and, placing one end against the mouth while rhythmically beating the taut string with a composite wooden-tipped hunting arrow, walked straight ahead. He stopped once, gestured (to Kauyumarie, we were later told, to thank him for holding the cloud gates back with his powerful antlers), and set out again at a more rapid pace, all the while beating his bow.  The others followed close behind in single file.  Some of the blindfolded neophytes held fearfully on to those in front, others made it by themselves. 

    "There are two stages to the crossing of the critical threshold.  The first is called Gateway to the Clouds; the second, Where the Clouds Open.  They are only a few steps apart, but the emotional impact on the participants as they passed from one to the other was unmistakable. Once safely 'on the other side,' they knew they would travel through a series of ancestral stopping places to the sacred maternal water holes, where one asks for fertility and fecundity and from where the novices, their blindfolds removed, are allowed to have their first glimpse of Wirikúta.  Of course, one would search in vain on any official map for places that bear such names as Where the Clouds Open, the Vagina, Where Our Mothers Dwell, or even Wirikúta itself, either in Huichol or Spanish. Like other sacred spots on the peyote itinerary, these are landmarks only in the geography of the mind. 

    "It was in the afternoon of the following day that we reached the sacred water holes of Our Mother, the novices having remained blindfolded all the while.  The physical setting again was hardly inspiring: an impoverished mestizo pueblo and beyond it a small cluster of obviously polluted springs surrounded by marsh -- all that remained of a former lake long since gone dry.  Cattle and a pig or two browsing amid the sacred water holes hardly helped inspire confidence in the physical -- as opposed to spiritual -- purity of the water the Huichols considered the very wellspring of fertility and fecundity.  On the peyote quest, however, it is not what we would consider the real world that matters but only the reality of the mind's eye.  'It is beautiful here,' say the Huichols, 'because this is where Our Mothers dwell, this is the water of life.' " 

    As this account so often reminds us, it is difficult if not impossible for those of us bound to the world of common day to perceive the realities of the World Beyond the Hill.  The imperfections of our world veil and obscure the perfections that abound in the Other World.  It brings to mind the traditional story of the would-be seeker who asks a mythic traveler to be shown something of the World Beyond the Hill.  The venturer hands his inquirer an apple.  The local person looks at it and protests, "This apple has a worm in it. Shouldn't an apple from the World Beyond the Hill be perfect?"  And the traveler replies, "True, an apple from the World Beyond the Hill should be perfect.  However, with your present state of mind, and seated as we are in this abode of corruption -- this is as close to an apple from the World Beyond the Hill as you can get."  In the same way, polluted mud holes are as close as we, with our present state of mind and seated as we are in this abode of corruption, are ever going to get to the sparkling waters Where Our Mothers Dwell in the World Beyond the Hill. 

    But which place is more real?  Perhaps because the World Beyond the Hill is the realm of infinite possibility and the source of all our creativity, Ibn Arabi, in a chapter title in The Meccan Revelations, calls it "The Earth of True Reality."  And it is not Ibn Arabi alone who considers the Other World to have a greater degree of reality than the world of common day.  The character with the highest degree of knowledge in Heinlein's "Waldo," the Pennsylvania hex doctor, Gramps Schneider, says, "We live in the Other World. . . .  The mind -- not the brain, but the mind -- is in the Other World, and reaches this world through the body.  That is one true way of looking at it, though there are others."  Similarly, when the Huichols journey as spirits into the World Beyond the Hill, it is "the place of origin" that they seek. 

    Let us look at one more short and provocative account of an excursion into the World Beyond the Hill and its result, from the viewpoint of the world of common day.  This was written in the eighth century by the early British historian, the Venerable Bede, recounting the moment of inspiration of Caedmon, the first Christian poet in Britain.  It has much in common with the testimony of science fiction writers of today like A.E. van Vogt and Philip K. Dick, who have found inspiration for their stories in dreams.  Bede tells us that Caedmon was a cowherd.  He was uneducated and knew no songs.  When the harp was passed to him, he left the hall in humiliation, went to the stable and lay down to sleep: 

    "While he slept, someone stood by him in a dream, greeted him, calling him by name, saying to him, 'Caedmon, sing me something.' 
    "He replied, 'I know not how to sing -- that's the reason I left the feast.  I am here because I cannot sing.' 
    "The one who spoke said:  'No matter. You must sing to me.' 
    " 'Well,' he answered, 'what shall I sing?' 
    "The other responded: 'Sing the beginning of created things.' 
    "At that, straight away Caedmon sang in praise of the Creator verses he had never heard." 

    Again, what happens in this world, the world of common day, is drab and of no consequence to the worldly eye.  Caedmon the cowherd goes off to sleep in the stable.  He dreams.  And when he awakens, he is suddenly and miraculously able to sing original verses to his fellows about the beginning of created things.  This is his boon.  We are not told what happens to Caedmon in the course of his dream, or what he sees -- only a snatch of conversation.  But we can recognize in the someone who greets him one of those transcendent Forms, described by Ibn Arabi, whose job it is to stand and keep watch at the entrances to the World Beyond the Hill and assist newcomers. 

    One point that emerges from all these accounts and deserves special note is the high degree of reflectivity of the World Beyond the Hill.  Since it contains within it everything that exists in this world, the Other World is able to serve as a perfect mirror of the persons who enter it and their cultures.  What one has in mind in entering the World Beyond the Hill absolutely determines what one sees, what happens to one, and what one carries away again.  Entered aggressively, the World Beyond the Hill responds with aggression.  Boons must be wrested from it.  Entered peaceably, the World Beyond the Hill offers robing maidens and strolling conversation. 

    The reflectivity of the World Beyond the Hill and the selectivity of those who enter it are alluded to in Ibn Arabi's depiction of the monomyth. This is what he means in saying that in the World Beyond the Hill there is a universe corresponding to each one of us. 

    There are further phrases in his description that suggest the selectivity and limitation of those who enter the World Beyond the Hill:  The transcendent companion who waits at the entrance clothes him in a robe suitable to his rank.  She walks with him over that Earth and they do in it as they will.  Every single thing the newcomer encounters, he may speak with, if he wishes. 

    All this seems to indicate that what you see and do in the World Beyond the Hill is what you are prepared to see and do.  There are an infinite number of places in the World Beyond the Hill.  You, the mythic wayfarer, will enter those rooms and hold those conversations that are suitable to your nature and state of development, that are a mirror of you.  The places that the Huichol choose to go in the Other World -- like Where the Clouds Open and Where Our Mothers Dwell -- are distinctly Huichol in character. 

    And the boons, the new knowledge brought back from the Other World, are also always in keeping with the culture and state of the traveler.  As Ibn Arabi says, when the visitor has attained his object and gets the urge to return to his own dwelling place, he departs the World Beyond the Hill by the same door at which he entered.  When Caedmon returns from his dream visit to the World Beyond the Hill to find himself waking in his bed of straw in the stable, the new gift that he has is the ability to sing to his fellow men of the beginning of created things -- in seventh century British Christian terms.  Even Ibn Arabi's description of the limitless world of the imagination invokes palm trees, sesame seeds, deserts, gardens, paradises and hells, and other images appropriate to the understanding of a thirteenth-century Islamic audience. 

    The imaginative reflectivity of the World Beyond the Hill is recognized in both of the science fiction stories we have used by way of example.  And in the choices the protagonists each make out of the infinitude of options offered them, we can recognize the nature and limits of our own culture. 

    In Heinlein's "Waldo," the main character comes to the conclusion that he can imagine the World Beyond the Hill to be the way he wants it to be, impress his concept on his fellows, and the Other World will be that way.  Heinlein writes:  "The world varied according to the way one looked at it.  In that case, thought Waldo, he knew how he wanted to look at it.  He cast his vote for order and predictability!"  Waldo chooses to imagine the Other World as a repository of power and no more than that:  "To its inhabitants, if any, it might seem to be hundreds of millions of light years around; to him it was an ostrich egg, turgid to bursting with power."  And Waldo draws on that power to heal his own physical weakness, and to become a tap dancer, surgeon and popular personality. 

    At the conclusion of Fredric Brown's What Mad Universe, the science fiction editor protagonist is given the opportunity to repeat the experience that first carried him into the World Beyond the Hill.  He can travel to any variant universe that he is able to imagine.  It is possible for him to go to a universe beyond description -- if he is able to think of it.  Or he can go to a universe where the style is brown shoes instead of black.  The one he picks out of all infinitude is one that is exactly like the one he left except that he gets the girl, and that he owns his own chain of pulp magazines instead of working as an editor.  Ah, such dreams! 

    From the viewpoint of the common day world, the mythmaking enterprise has two recognizable functions.  In Primitive Mythology, the first book in The Masks of God, a four-volume study of myth, Joseph Campbell writes: 

    "Functioning as a 'way,' mythology and ritual conduce to a transformation of the individual, disengaging him from his local, historical conditions and leading him toward some kind of ineffable experience.  Functioning as an 'ethnic idea,' on the other hand, the image binds the individual to his family's system of historically conditioned sentiments, activities, and beliefs, as a functioning member of a sociological organism.  This antinomy is fundamental to our subject, and every failure to recognize it leads not only to unnecessary argument, but also to a misunderstanding -- one way or the other -- of the force of the mythological symbol itself, which is, precisely, to render an experience of the ineffable through the local and concrete, and thus, paradoxically, to amplify the force and appeal of the local forms even while carrying the mind beyond them." 

    The duality which Campbell describes is represented in the pilgrims of the Huichol peyote hunt.  The ordinary Huichol seeks to find his life and to discover what it means to be Huichol.  The mara'akáme or shaman like Ramón has a very different experience in mind. 

    Peter Furst writes: "A mara'akáme embarks on the pilgrimage and the drug experience itself with a somewhat different set of expectations than the ordinary Huichol.  He seeks to experience a catharsis that allows him to enter upon a personal encounter with Tatewarí and travel to 'the fifth level' to meet the supreme spirits at the ends of the world.  And so he does.  Ordinary Huichols also 'experience' the supernaturals, but they do so essentially through the medium of their shaman.  In any event, I have met no one who was not convinced of this essential difference or who laid claim to the same kinds of exalted and illuminating confrontations with the Otherworld as the mara'akáme.

    We can also see the two functions of mythmaking -- the support and confirmation of culture on the one hand, and the venture beyond cultural limitation on the other -- in the hopeful intentions of Hugo Gernsback for his new magazine, Amazing Stories, in 1926.  Gernsback, from his very first editorial, hoped that "scientifiction" stories would be an inspiration that would lead cold-blooded scientists to envision and bring into reality new wonders.  And Gernsback also hoped that where this new form of myth did not inspire, it would at least teach and inform:  "Not only do these amazing tales make tremendously interesting reading -- they are also always instructive.  They supply knowledge that we might not otherwise obtain -- and they supply it in a very palatable form.  For the best of these modern writers of scientifiction have the knack of imparting knowledge, and even inspiration, without once making us aware that we are being taught." 

    In short, from the viewpoint of the common day world, myth exists to serve culture.  Myth teaches us to be Roman, or Huichol, or twentieth-century American.  It reinforces societal belief.  It confirms.  It tutors painlessly.  And in those cases where the imaginative voyager travels far into the World Beyond the Hill to regions unknown to him, or to his people, or to anyone, he will still exit by the same door through which he entered.  Whatever boon he returns with will be accepted as an increment to the culture. 

    But the viewpoint of the common day world is not the viewpoint of the World Beyond the Hill.  From that standpoint -- one of greater reality, we should remember -- culture is not primary, but secondary.  Culture is solidified imagination, the sum total of boons and gifts, inventions and inspirations brought back from the place of origin by countless dreamers.  Culture is a Moses basket keeping us safe as we float in the great waters of infinite possibility.  Culture is higher reality's way of keeping us from harm, as a baby's playpen defines an area of knownness and separates the child from more possibility than he can handle. 

    The mythic dimension is the higher reality.  It underlies culture, validates it and gives it substance.  Mythic imagination is the means of return to the World Beyond the Hill.  Some humans return to the place of origin in order to discover how to repair and maintain their cultural ship.  Others seek to add to it and alter it, and keep it on course. 

    Mythmaking is a constant, on-going, self-amending process.  Myth -- in our abode of corruption -- does not exist outside the activity of mythmaking.  There is no single, perfect and final Myth that all men should recognize and assent to.  There is only the particular expression of myth in a certain time and a certain place for a certain audience. 

    If we are used to thinking of myth as given and final and perfect, it is because what we are most usually offered these days under the name of myth is not mythmaking as a present act, but the fossil remains of former mythmaking activity.  Hawthorne's The Wonder Book, Bulfinch's Mythology, or Graves' The Greek Myths are not actual Greek myth in any meaningful sense -- no more than a stone footprint or a coprolite are a dinosaur, particularly a dinosaur in its own proper context.  Myth is for the moment, fully valid and meaningful only for the instant, the surroundings and the persons for whom it is being made.  After that, a husk. 

    As an indication of the ephemerality of mythmaking, we might look at the moment that Isaac Asimov has identified as the highpoint in his enjoyment of science fiction: 

    "It came in the month of August 1937, when I was spending the summer waiting for my junior year at Columbia to begin.  In that month, the September 1937 issue of Astounding Stories arrived, and I remember the precise feelings that swept over me as I sat in the living room of our apartment and read the first installment of Edward E. Smith's new four-part serial, Galactic Patrol.   Never, I think, did I enjoy any piece of writing more, any piece of any kind.  Never did I savor every word so.  Never did I feel so keen a sense of loss when I came to the end of the first installment and knew that I would have to wait a full month for the second.  Never anything like it before.  Never anything like it after." 

    This is myth at the right time and place and with the right person.  And Asimov underlines the point by writing further concerning Galactic Patrol:   "Years later, I got a copy of the hardback version and sat down to relive past glories -- but they weren't there.  I found the book unreadable." 

    Myth in practice is not neat, tidy, rational and enduring. Myth is sloppy, contradictory, irrational and ephemeral.  It is of the moment and for a purpose.  It will be superseded.  If the purpose of myth and the human culture that depends on myth is to carry the human psyche out of the abode of corruption and limitation toward the higher realities of the World Beyond the Hill, then myth will always supersede itself until the final object is attained. 

    It is now possible for us to recognize that Hugo Gernsback's requirements for contributions to Amazing Stories, as enumerated in an early editorial, were nothing less than the requirements of all mythmaking in any culture at any time.  Gernsback wrote:  "The formula in all cases is that first the story must be frankly amazing; second, it must contain a scientific background; third, it must possess originality." 

    The amazing quality is, of course, transcendence, the evidence or proof of the World Beyond the Hill.  The fabulous forces and forms, the stones and villages that speak, the spirit forces that hold back the cloud gates with their antlers, who speak to us in dreams, who recognize and robe us -- all these are transcendent.  They amaze us; they are higher than we are; they may be learned from. 

    What Gernsback calls "a scientific background" we may equate with the best knowledge of the culture.  This will be different knowledges and sciences in different cultures.  This best knowledge is the measure by which transcendence reveals itself.  Transcendence, the infinite power of creativity, is always beyond the best knowledge of the culture.  It leads best knowledge.  The boons that are won from transcendence in the World Beyond the Hill answer the problems of the culture and are added to the science of the culture as new best knowledge. 

    Finally, the third quality, originality, is the evidence and demonstration that the mythmaker has ventured into the World Beyond the Hill, there contacted transcendence and returned from the place of origins with something never seen before in our world.  Originality is the demonstration of authenticity.  And it is also the means by which the mythic/cultural enterprise extends and amends itself. 

Originally published as "Science Fiction and the Dimension of Myth" in Extrapolation, Summer 1981. 



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For related observations on the nature of myth, see the entry "Myth Space" at Cory Panshin's blog.

Written 1979/80.  Posted April 2002.
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