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This review is taken from PN Review 95, Volume 20 Number 3, January - February 1994.

Origins of the Sacred: the Ecstasies of Love and War (Little Brown and Company) £16.95 (Abacus) 8.99 pb.

Meta-mythology has occupied a dominant position in twentieth-century cultural discourse. Recovering the mythical vision enjoyed by our primitive forebears has been seen as the road to self-knowledge, as a means of renewing art and, perhaps, of healing the deep spiritual wounds that have led to so much private angst, public emptiness and collective bloodshed. The burgeoning and interacting disciplines of anthropology (armchair, functional and structural), of classical scholarship (which has found Dionysiac darkness at the heart of Appolline light), and of psychoanalysis, have persuaded thinkers and chatterers alike that primitive forces are still active within us and that knowledge of them will instruct us as to our true nature and origins and show how we, and society, have gone off the rails. The influence of scholars and scientists has been amplified by that of creative writers: there was hardly a major literary figure in the first half of the twentieth century who did not at least dip into 'the myth kitty' (to use Larkin's lethally precise phrase), and the work of many writers - Eliot, Yeats, Lawrence - has been myth-eaten to the core.

Origins of the Sacred is a notable contribution to meta-mythology. The familiarity of its terrain gives a sense of dejà-vu and yet the ideas are expounded so clearly and connected with so much else that they seem new again. For Dudley Young's prodigious learning and gift of exposition have enabled him to write a mighty work of synthesis, encompassing a vast body of ...

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