Myth(ic) criticism: A type of literary criticism that analyzes mythic structures and themes as they are recurrently manifested in literary genres and individual works. A myth critic writing on John Milton’s Paradise Lost (1667) and Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness (1899), for instance, might see both in terms of the “night journey” common to any number of myths, epics, and heroic tales. Myth critics argue that certain basic mythic figures and situations both permeate and transcend individual cultures; they find universal patterns in works from cultures throughout the world. Canadian critic Northrop Frye was perhaps the best-known myth critic.
Myth criticism has much in common with archetypal criticism, but the two approaches to literature are not identical. Myth critics focus specifically on identifying and analyzing recurrent mythic structures and themes in literary works, whereas archetypal critics approach works from a broader perspective, identifying archetypes, those cross-cultural images, figures, and story patterns manifested in a wide variety of literary works. Archetypes are often expressed in myths and in literary works using mythic structures and themes, hence the overlap between mythic and archetypal criticism.