Many cultural analysts believe that a culture's myths are the stories that are told containing cultural archetypes, heroic figures, epic confrontations and/or magical occurrences. As represented by such scholars as Joseph Campbell, Mircea Eliade, and Marie-Louise von Franz, this approach to the study of myth assumes that the various aspects of mythology represent externalizations of internal, psychological processes in humans and by studying the content of myths as archetypal examples we can better understand the stories of our own lives and the assumptions we make about ourselves and our interactions with other people. For them, the archetypal content is the thing.
The term "myth" for French structural anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss has a different meaning. Myths are stories because, in an oral culture, storytelling is the means by which cultural information is transmitted from one person to another and across generations. The mythic heroes and monsters, magical activities, and impossible events are presented because they are memorable; they need to be to preserve the information being transmitted. But it isn't the content of these tales that's important, its the structure.
In his series "Mythologiques", Levi-Strauss has suggested that myths are not important because they present archetypal images; myths are important because they demonstrate an externalization of structure of human thought processes. Levi-Strauss assumes that since we are all members of the same species, that the thought processes of less technologically advanced peoples are the same as our own, just applied to different objects. With our modern sensibilities, we look at the absurdities and inconsistencies of fairy tales and myths and assume we have discovered evidence that "primitive" thought processes are illogical and immature when compared to modern thought. Levi-Strauss suggests that by interpreting the logic of myths, we can understand how the human mind works.
It is also assumed that individual myths that have been passed down to us may be incomplete. In order to understand the "message" we must contrast and compare multiple variants of the same tale. The true message of a myth is revealed when one is familiar with its place in the total cultural context that generated it. The overall structure reveals the true message, and by implication, gives us a window into the structure of our mental processes.