Mythic Memoir – October 2014

The problem with autobiography is that it is asymptotic: the writer may come as close as possible to telling a complete story, but the truth itself is untouchable simply because the living writer knows neither the end, nor the themes that will become apparent once the end has transpired. One person’s full autobiography may only be finished by somebody else.

All autobiography struggles with the fact that as time moves, the past self constantly slides away from the present self. One way of attempting to close this gap between the actual life and the telling is to write conversion narratives in which the writer tells the complete story of a past self (now “dead”) from which the present self has emerged. Another solution is to write a memoir of a highly specific time in one’s life, a possibly therapeutic exercise. Veiled autobiographies take many forms, but one of the most extreme involves the employment of fairy tales—an ultimate form of “unreal” fiction.

Fairy tales, in contrast to autobiography, always have an ending. Whether that ending is happy or merely didactic varies with the tale, but the ending allows an illusion of rest after the tale has finished, in contrast to the personal narrative which can never be complete until the “I” dies. Therefore fairy tales offer microcosms of completion, tidy endings for unfinished lives. Every one of us lives a life that takes place in cycles of myth and fairy tale, with heroes and heroines setting forth into danger and returning home with triumph or wisdom.


Try this: Free-write the final chapter in the autobiography of your life so far. Then take it one step further by adding a made-up ending from a myth or fairy tale that interests you. In other words, tell your story as it should end.