Our myths change and the myths that still circulate and are popular are those that change the most. A story or idea gets a life when somehow it captures the imagination of the times. It might be that there is some aspect to it that hits a particular nerve in the consciousness of society.
For instance, vampires. Vampires have been very much in vogue off and on for a very long time. Anne Rice wrote “Interview With a Vampire” in 1973 and it was published in 1976. Her vampires were not so much evil monsters but souls who had had vampirism inflicted on them. Louis was positively tortured by his need to kill and eat. Lestat wanted to be seen and drink deep of the world and his torture was to have to hide his newly acquired nature. Claudia could not live with never growing up. Maybe Rice’s vampires were a reflection on the hedonism of the late 1960’s through the mid 1970’s. A creative time in society when boundaries stretched. Perhaps her books and their popularity were an early sign that values would shift and views would become more conservative again.
Prior to Anne Rice’s vampires, there were the vampires of Hollywood and before them came Bram Stoker’s Dracula and before them a creature of folk lore that was pure monster and most people would not recognise them as what we call “vampires”.
And then there is Stephanie Meyer’s Edward Cullen who cannot go in sunlight. But not because he will burn. Because he will sparkle. And he is a protector of a young woman. In many ways Meyer’s hero/vampire is an inversion of the traditional vampire. By his nature he is dangerous, but his natural instincts can be over-ridden and he can choose to be something less threatening. But is he? Keep in mind Edward watches Bella at night in her room without her knowledge. Is he as harmless as he appears? She does keep getting hurt because of her involvements with the Cullens. Perhaps, the underlayment of the Twilight series is an admonishment to look closer at things and discern their nature. The Cullens are still vampires.
So how did we get from a creature who rises from the grave, eats people, might be a shape shifter, and is obsessed with counting to Meyer’s pretty boy girl fantasy?
The myth changed. The trope rotated and mutated on one of its points through several progressions until the logic of the starting point to where things are now makes little sense. The only common characteristic is that the vampire still needs blood to survive.
But the vampire trope is not the only trope to change. Consider magic users. I don’t think in the past the thought of magic was anything short of a terrifying notion. Merlin had incredible power to sway who would be king. Witches and warlocks were burned. Magic was nothing to be taken lightly. But now we have Harry Potter. A story of a boy wizard who defeats the greatest evil wizard of all time. The books hit on some weighty points, but how dangerous magic really is is never fully explored. Despite the introduction of the Unforgivable Curses. The idea of magic as being the infliction of one person’s will on the rest of reality is not really delved into. Perhaps, we feel in our modern age as though we have more complete control over things? Perhaps what was so frightening in the past about magic was that there was so little control over circumstance and the thought that someone could control things ran counter to how the universe was thought of?
What other tropes/myths have changed?
Mermaids no longer sing sailors to their death, they swim in aquariums while people eat seafood in the posh restaurant.
Fairies no longer steal small children to be their attendants or food, they are pixies that help children fly and grant wishes through their special talents.
Werewolves no longer terrorize the rest of the tribe with the threat of attack, they are love interests in romance novels.
But why have all of these changed? None of these are seen as threats. Imagine Pandora’s box, but update the story. What would Pandora be forbidden from opening? A million quantum bit processor with a solar activator and if the box opens, the computer begins to fire? What changes might be sent out into the world? Perhaps fairy dust is aluminum being spread throughout the atmosphere to geoengineer a cooler world and it is the cause of autism?
How might the myths change?