A new article by Dr Valdi Astvaldsson examines how Latin American literature ‘reclaims’ mythology as a means of rewriting the past, constructing the present, and imagining a different future. Unlike anthropologists and sociologists, creative writers often use myth to represent an alternative and more just future for subaltern peoples.

The article analyses El Q’anil: El hombre rayo (El Q’Anil: Man of Lightning),  by the Guatemalan writer and anthropologist Víctor Montejo, and the poem ‘Canto a Huistalucxilt’ (Song to Huistalucxilt) by the Salvadoran writer Manlio Argueta.

El Q’anil is a version of the Jakaltek Maya legend, where a common man becomes a god through defending his people against foreign threats – in this case, by bringing them lightning.

Manlio Argueta, ed. Astvaldur AstvaldssonThe inspiration for Argueta’s poem comes from a myth of the Lenca, the indigenous people who lived in what is now Eastern El Salvador at the time of the Conquest. The Lenca cacique Huistalucxilt, in order to avoid being captured by the Spanish, threw himself into the volcano Chaparrastique, just outside Argueta’s native city of San Miguel. The poem calls on Huistalucxilt to inspire the Salvadorean people to rise up against their oppressors in the twentieth century.

Chaparrastique volcano

Chaparrastique volcano, San Miguel

Dr Valdi Astvaldsson is currently working on Post-Civil War Central American Literature.

Astvaldur Astvaldsson, ‘Mitos, paisaje y modernidad en la literatura latinoamericana’ in Magdalena Chocano, William Rowe and Helena Usandizaga (eds.) Huellas del mito prehispánico en la literatura latinoamericana (2011).