Karl Marlantes on How Mythology Infuses His Writing
The Deep River Author on The Literary Life
with Mitchell Kaplan
This week on The Literary Life with Mitchell Kaplan, Karl Marlantes, author of Deep River, shares fascinating stories about his grandmother, “an ardent communist,” growing up in an Oregon logging town, fishing with his grandfather, serving as a Marine in Vietnam, and much more. Marlantes’s acclaimed first novel, Matterhorn, was written over the course of 30 years.
From the episode:
Mitchell Kaplan: You use Finnish mythology very masterfully in this novel, just as you used mythology in Matterhorn as well. Why do you find mythology such a useful tool?
Karl Marlantes: My view of mythology is not original to me: a myth is like a culture’s dream, and dreams are important to explaining and understanding what’s going on in your individual psyche or an individual culture. These myths and stories are what stuck with us; the others have been pruned away. There is a reason why this symbolism is important and stays with us. We may not know the reason but we still keep it. It reverberates, in my opinion, in the unconscious of everybody associated with it, including all the readers.
I’m very much interested—if I’m using a symbol in my literature—that it reaches a person at as deep a level as possible. Using mythology does that. It triggers similar feelings and imagery because it’s all part of a larger psyche … For that reason, I like to use mythology because I have a story to tell but I want it to reverberate at a deep level so there is a kind of feeling when you walk away from it. Religious ceremonies, whether it’s a synagogue or mass, if you do the words it’s whatever, but when you walk away from it, if you had been paying attention, you have a feeling that reverberates in you. That is right-brain stuff; you can’t verbalize that. You can’t write it in a novel, but the use of mythology allows you to reach a reader at that level. It’s beyond words.