History Informs Mythology
Folklore doesn’t come from nowhere. The characters we create, the monsters they fight, the adventures they embark on–all are rooted in reality and history. Many old fairy tales are based on real life events (The Pied Piper of Hamelin being one chilling example). For a more modern example, simply look at how differently nuclear energy is portrayed in American and Japanese pop culture. In the US, where nuclear energy is mainly associated with the advancement of science and victory in war, radioactivity creates superheroes. In Japan, it creates monsters.
There is a real benefit in looking toward folklore to inform us about history. It can give us a more personal view of what life was like hundreds of years ago. Although the details can obviously become muddled through centuries of retelling, the core themes of the story often remain. It’s the interpretation that changes.
Fact and Fiction: Better Together
This perspective becomes especially useful in the case of cultures like the Celts. Our only written historical record of their society comes from classical writers such as Julius Caesar. These writers were almost always foreign conquerors, with little sympathy or understanding of the culture they studied. Their record may be more reliable in the eyes of history, but its bias is undeniable.
Some level of subjectivity is therefore inescapable, whether we use the written history of the Romans or the oral folklore of the Celts. But when we combine the two, we get a more complete picture than we could from either source on its own.