Mythos: An Interview With Robert Lambert Jones III

RobertRobert Lambert Jones III is a college biology professor who earned his Ph. D. in Molecular Biology from Indiana University. He is married and has three grown daughters, a granddaughter, and a dog named Buckley. He enjoys hiking, cycling, reading, watching movies, playing his electric bass, and (of course) writing. Robert Jones blogs weekly at Pneumythology.

  • When and how did you first become interested in mythology? Tell us something about your early love for this grand subject

iliadodysseyIt might have started with a childhood love of monsters, especially dinosaurs. I also remember my parents owning an encyclopedia called The Book of Knowledge. That little tidbit of information might date me, but in that book I read an abridged account of Beowulf’s battle with Grendel. In high school English class, we read excerpts from The Iliad and The Odyssey which also fascinated me. These were intrinsic processes, and I can’t really explain them other than to say I have been drawn to spiritual concepts since I was a boy. Ironically, this did not translate into an interest in Christianity until later.

  • When did you embrace the Christian faith-religion?

I have heard that “the eleven-year-old atheist” is a term used by professional counselors. This is evidently the age at which children start figuring out that there are contradictions between what they experience and what they are told. Essentially, when many children were moving away from a belief in God, I was moving the other direction. I never really doubted Christianity before that since I was raised by Christian parents, but I just wasn’t interested. The idea that I should actually do something about it reached critical mass about a month before I turned twelve. I was always an introspective kid with a desire for intellectual honesty, and I made an actual decision to become a Christian at that time. At the age of seventeen, I re-evaluated what this actually meant in more mature terms with the result that I became more committed.

  • What cultural mythology (or mythologies) enamor you the most, and why?

First and foremost, I am interested in Christianity for the simple reason that I decided it was true. Biblical stories have the elements common to great myths: deity, monsters (spiritual and/or physical), and fallible human beings who must respond honorably and with courage. My earlier interests mentioned in my answer to your first question resulted in me reading The IliadThe Odyssey, and Beowulf in their entirety as an adult. I especially became engrossed in The Odyssey. Some have referred to it as the first modern novel though it is actually a narrative poem. I was also impressed by The Divine Comedy. As for more modern works, I must mention The Chronicles of Narnia and The Lord of the Rings. Collectively, these works (especially the last two) have influenced the stories I have written.

  • What is the favorite story you’ve written? Why? And can you share with us a synopsis of this story?

I’m not sure I can adequately answer that question. It’s like asking a parent to choose their favorite child. So far, I have self-published a trilogy of stories titled The Dogwood Legacy (available on Amazon for those interested). The stories are (in order): Jacob Leviathan, Nathan Turner, and Obadiah Holt. Collectively, they represent a progression from a folk tale set in the Ozark Mountains, an invented urban legend set in an unspecified Midwestern city, and a re-imagined North American myth. These are all allegorical monster stories in which the monsters serve as foils for the main characters, and the story arc of the series takes place over multiple generations. My adult daughters have told me that they consider Jacob Leviathan to be the best-crafted of the three, so I guess I’d pick that if you held a gun to my head. I don’t know if I agree with their assessment, however. I like all three stories for different reasons. In addition I have written two fairly lengthy story poems (also allegorical) which won’t be published until I figure out how to get them illustrated.

  • If, say, a junior or senior in high school, or someone early in their college career, came to you with an desire to learn more about mythology in general, what book(s) and/or videos (or audio tapes, I suppose) would you recommend for them to “get their feet wet,” so to speak?

BeowulfI think my answers to your previous question would be most applicable. I must add, however, that reading the classical works takes patience and discipline for a modern reader, but the payoff is definitely worth it.

  • I’ve personally been intrigued in how you have, from time to time, integrated your Christian faith with your analysis of certain mythological studies. Do you often see Christian themes in mythology? Tell us something about that?

Maybe the best way to answer this is to say that I see parallels between Christianity and pre-Christian mythology. There are some major differences, of course, but there are also similarities. A Native American who is also a fourth generation Christian pastor from one of the Civilized Tribes of Oklahoma visited our church not long ago. He said some very interesting things about the parallels between the culture of his pre-Christian ancestry and that of Christianity. To be honest, it gave me an idea for a story I might want to develop in the future. Without going into tedious details, I might best conclude this answer with some questions. Do spiritual beings exist? If so, what are their natures? Do they communicate or otherwise interact with human beings? If they have done so in the distant past, might generations of distortion, unfamiliarity, or removal from these experiences have resulted in our current smorgasbord of religious beliefs? Might this also account for certain similarities between systems of faith? Answers to these questions can lead us into the area of comparative religion, most particularly in thinking critically about which religion is actually true or closest to the truth.

  • Just out of curiosity, what ‘brand’ of Christian of Christian are you? In other words, what is the denomination and/or tradition to which you belong?

I could probably best be described as a nondenominational Christian, but I was raised a Methodist. My maternal grandfather and three of his brothers were all Methodist ministers. And I don’t know if I could properly call them theologians, but G. K. Chesterton and C. S. Lewis stand out in my mind. I love their practical yet imaginative reasoning, and they are a delight to read.

  • As a Christian, do you perceive mythos as being part and parcel of the Hebraic/Christian stories contained in the sacred Scriptures? If so, which stories in particular?

Icon-Last-Judgment-1In my second post after starting my blog about a year ago, I included a quote by C. S. Lewis. If I may paraphrase, it said something about Christianity being a myth with the characteristics of all great myths but with the exception that it really happened. All of the prophetic visions written in the Old and New Testaments are mythic. The books of Isaiah and Ezekiel contain some interesting descriptions of how God appeared to men of limited sensory perception. The books of Daniel and Revelation describe visions with symbolic and monstrous images which are incorporated into predictions of future events. All of the stories which describe encounters between God, Satan, angels, demons, and humans fulfill the definition of a great myth. The Christian faith is founded on the cosmic struggle carried out through the fall of humanity, the virgin birth, the crucifixion, the resurrection, the ascension, and the ultimate return of Jesus Christ. Our culture has become so familiar with these accounts on a surface level that it has lost an appreciation of their drama and their grandeur.

Thank you so very much for your time and very insightful, provocative answers. I’m sure many of my readers will be quite interested in visiting your wonderfully intriguing blog and learning more about you. All the best to you with blessings!

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