Sophie's World | Study Guide

Jostein Gaarder

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Sophie's World | Chapter 3 : The Myths | Summary



Sophie receives another letter the next day after school. This time the writer explains myths to her. He begins by introducing some of the basic Nordic myths about the God Thor and details the plot of the Eddic poem "The Lay of Thrym," a myth the ancient Norwegians may have created to explain the changing of seasons. He also speaks briefly about Greek myths and how in about 570 BCE the philosopher Xenophanes dismissed myths as "nothing but human notions." Sophie ponders this and creates her own myth about snow thawing and flowers blooming because a princess is imprisoned and then set free. She realizes if she did not know about science, she might have believed her own story.


In this chapter Gaarder reveals how philosophy was born by separating itself from religious mythology. Before the natural philosophers (Chapter 4), people had supernatural explanations for how the world worked. All questions could be answered through religion. Early mankind knew that there had to be something controlling the "precarious balance between the forces of good and evil," so they invented gods in their own cultural image. But if each culture made gods in their own image, then it stands to reason such gods could not be trusted as truth.

The key moment comes when Sophie creates her own myth and likes it so much, she imagines herself believing it. This illustrates how important it is to study and gain knowledge, harkening back to the epigraph of the novel and Goethe's quote. If she did not have the wealth of 3,000 years of prior thought to draw on, she might accept anything as truth.

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