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A myth by any other name 

The spring issue of The Montana Quarterly hits newsstands momentarily, with my article "Myths of the Mountain Man." As usual with this new magazine, the layout is splendid and the photo reproduction extraordinary. (Also check out Merv Coleman's gorgeous cover shot.)

As usual, the editor picked the title for the article, and I was particularly amused by this one, because I have a love/hate relationship with the word "myth." On the one hand, when you define "myth" as "a story that embodies a culture's most treasured values" it becomes a very powerful lever for investigating historical and anthropological issues. On the other hand, the more commonly-understood definition of "myth" is "stuff that isn't true."

The result: when you use the word "myth," you run the risk of 1) upsetting people invested in the culture, by inadvertently implying they're liars, and/or 2) relying too heavily on an anthropological crutch. I have a lot of deservedly-unpublished work that fails one or both of these tests.

So when I set out to write about Liver-Eatin' Johnston, I worked hard to avoid the word. I was quite proud that it appeared nowhere in the article. I hoped that I had successfully probed these issues without failing those tests.

So what happens? "Myth" becomes the lead word in the headline. (Sigh.) I'm going to assume that my editor got the idea of the article and -- lacking my baggage surrounding the word -- landed on an apparently unique way of expressing it in the title.

I'm always interested in feedback, via info at johnclaytonbooks dat cam

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