Ghosts between the Pages: The Devolution of Medb from Sovereignty Goddess to Comic Book Villainess and the Potential Dangers of the Transcription of Oral Tales

By Megan Amber Condis.

Published by The International Journal of the Book

Format Price
Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

What happens when a literary culture attempts to capture an oral culture on the page? The privileging of literacy as a feature of “superior” cultures can result in potentially devastating alterations to oral tales that have been preserved in written form. The elevation of literacy over orality can result in the twisting of transcriptions in order to make the philosophies of an oral culture more closely resemble those of the scribe. These written records then echo forward in history, causing each subsequent revision to deviate further and further from the original tale on which it is based. One example of such faulty translations can be found in a comic book series based on Celtic mythology entitled Sláine. The villain of the series is Medb, a usurper who uses her sexuality to gain illegitimate power. Medb is a target of derision for the hero, Sláine; however, there is a moment late in the series in which the text questions the conditions of its own creation, a moment which raises the possibility that this evil version of Medb is a parody of an ambitious woman created by myth makers to undermine feminine power. We discover that her story was tampered with, long before it hit the comic book stands. The myth upon which it is based was altered by the Christian monks who transcribed it. Their redactions transformed Medb from a sovereignty goddess into a power-hungry, sexually promiscuous mortal, yet even the redacted version of Medb found within the monks’ manuscripts is haunted by hints of the goddess, moments in which her former power shines through her mortal form. Medb’s power is always denied her, and yet her true self shines through her story’s re-tellings.

Keywords: Transcription, Redaction, Mythology, Orality, Race, Gender, Comics, Manuscripts

International Journal of the Book, Volume 7, Issue 2, pp.31-44. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 1.493MB).

Megan Amber Condis

Graduate Student and Teaching Assistant, English Department, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Urbana, IL, USA

Megan Condis is a graduate student and teaching assistant in the department of English Literature at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She focuses mainly on American literature of the 20th century, and she is particularly interested in the ways in which power operates on the bodies of women. Her current project is an analysis of the depictions of race and gender in American superhero comics in the Golden Age and the Silver Age as well as film adaptations of those texts.

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