Prairie Wolves in Print

Reviewed by Aaron Oppliger (’98)

Millennial Mythmaking, Edited by David Whitt, NWU Professor

Millennial Mythmaking: Essays on the Power of Science Fiction and Fantasy Literature, Films and Games
edited by David Whitt and John Perlich

212 pages | McFarland, 2010 | $40

Harry Potter, questing grandmothers and cyborg women probably aren’t the first subjects that spring to mind when you think of Nebraska Wesleyan. However, Associate Professor of Communication David Whitt and Professor of Communication and Theatre Arts Jay Scott Chipman (’77) may be changing that perception, along with the way people interpret science fiction and fantasy. Their contributions appear in the new book, Millennial Mythmaking: Essays on the Power of Science Fiction and Fantasy Literature, Films and Games.

Co-edited by Whitt and Hastings College professor John Perlich, Millennial Mythmaking examines how contemporary culture and media impact interpretations of traditional mythology. Whether it’s seeing the Wicked Witch of the West as a heroine in the musical Wicked or the use of prosthetic limbs and high-tech swimsuits to create Olympic superheroes, the essays in Mythmaking show just how old myths take on new forms as we move into the 21st century.

The book is broken down into three sections: “Contrasting Colors,” which focuses on the ways we see the fight of good versus evil; “New Champions,” which discusses the emergence of women and girls as nontraditional heroes; and “No Boundaries,” which looks at how modern myths are part of our daily lives through television, games and technological advancements.

After watching the adventures of a 65-year-old Indiana Jones, it’s fair to ask whether we’re seeing a reinterpretation of the action hero.

Aside from editing, Whitt contributes as the writer of “The Odyssey of Madame Souza: A Heroine’s Quest in The Triplets of Bellville.” Although I’ve never seen the movie, Whitt’s colorful description of Madame Souza as a grandmother on an adventure to save her kidnapped grandson made me want to join her on her journey. Madame Souza, an old woman with one leg far longer than the other, is forced to rescue her Tour de France competitor grandson after he’s abducted by gangsters. It’s definitely not your typical action movie.

Whitt’s focus is on the use of an elderly protagonist in a role traditionally filled by a handsome young man. He shows how modern storytellers are increasingly using aging heroes in surprising ways. After watching the adventures of a 65-year-old Indiana Jones, it’s fair to ask whether we’re seeing a reinterpretation of the action hero.

Chipman takes a look at the modern cyborg (the combination of biological and technological parts to create a superhuman). He uses the Japanese anime and comic series Ghost in the Shell as a way to show how sci-fi writers take current advancements like prosthetics and the Internet to their furthest logical reaches.

In Ghost in the Shell, all humans have been equipped with “cyberbrains” that connect them to vast amounts of data. They can communicate without speaking. While we may not be there yet, our cultural shift towards texting and the Internet makes this vision seem close to reality. Furthermore, the use of Speedo’s high-tech LZR Racer swimsuits in the Beijing Olympics is surprisingly close to a melding of man and machine to do things that were physically impossible a generation ago.

Millennial Mythmaking is a fantastic follow up to Whitt and Perlich’s earlier Sith, Slayers, Stargates and Cyborgs, and shows how sci-fi and fantasy help shape our views of the world.