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A Little Book on the Human Shadow Paperback – June 22, 1988

4.5 out of 5 stars 51 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

About the Author

Robert Bly's books of poetry include The Night Abraham Called to the Stars and My Sentence Was a Thousand Years of Joy. His awards include the National Book Award for poetry and two Guggenheims. He lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 81 pages
  • Publisher: HarperOne; Reissue edition (June 22, 1988)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0062548476
  • ISBN-13: 978-0062548474
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.2 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (51 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #58,580 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
I highly recommend the book and will explain my review with a few personal illustrations.
It is a wonderful, digestible, brief introduction to psychological concepts that are new to me for understanding my motivations, anxieties and frustrations in such a way that I can begin to create positive, conscious change in my life.
His premise is that we are born with "360-degree radiance." Our spirits shine in all directions, good, bad, indifferent. Over the first 20 years or so of our lives we learn to stuff the "bad" parts into a bag so that we become well behaved, more polite, and able to manage our anger etc. We also stuff other things in there too, like our "feminine" or "masculine" sides and our "witch" or "giant" archetypes, among others. And to explain why these parts are missing, we learn to say things like "oh, I'm not really a creative-type person."
This process continues up to about age 35 wherein we begin to "rattle" a little, we begin to miss parts of ourselves. This often surfaces as resentment of others or depression. Basically, the masks we project onto ourselves and others don't seem to fit as well and this spooks us as the slipping masks reveal things that don't fit with our world view. We begin to lose tons of energy putting masks back on, dragging our shadow bags behind us and emotionally struggling to deal with the changes we feel. At this point we have a choice, we can either eat our shadows and reintegrate them with our personality/psyche or we can devote increasing amounts of energy to our rigidity, becoming more controlling toward and intolerant of others.
This is exactly the point I find myself at ...
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By A Customer on September 13, 1997
Format: Paperback
While this is an older book, it is one of the very best you will ever find about the human shadow. Robert Bly is a poet, teacher, philosopher and astute writer. His observations in this "little book" (only 81 pages) are potent, penetrating and profound. While Bly explores the Universal shadow as well as the "lone bag we drag behind us" (personal shadow material), it is retrieving the shadow which is the main focus of this work.

Bly notes that "when one 'projects,' one is really giving away an energy or power that rightfully belongs to one's own treasury." From a young age, we learn to project outward, ridding ourselves of the inner tyrants, giants, and witches of the psyche. We may project onto individuals (parents as well as husbands and wives receive a lot of projections), onto any number of "them's" (the government is a favorite "them" in
America) or onto other cultures and races. While there is always an initial gain (by projecting the witch outward, we don't have to deal with her), unowned shadow material eventually comes back to haunt us. The more parts of the inner world we give away, the more diminished we become.

At a certain point in life, however, when we are no longer interested in blaming or projecting onto others, we begin the long, lone journey of searching for our shadow. Bly speaks of
"eating the shadow," retrieving its power from its projected place and reclaiming its energy. No small feat, but a damn worthy endeavor. By honoring the shadow, we honor ourselves.
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Format: Paperback
If you're participating in the Mankind Project New Warrior Training, it is likely that this book was recommended to you. I found the basic premise of the book (i.e. Bly's introduction of the concept of the human shadow and the long bag we drag behind us) to be very solid and prescient. However, I felt that overall the book tended to be rather rambling and sometimes even incoherent, as if Bly was trying to identify a close relationship between subjects and concepts that had little or nothing to do with each other. I especially felt that the poetry discussed in the book failed to contribute anything to the subject matter. Now it could very well be that I simply missed the point; I do not proclaim to be an expert on poetry or the concept of the human shadow. But overall I did not feel like I gained a great deal from reading this book. I think Bly would have written a better and more helpful book had he concentrated more on the issue of the shadow and the "long bag," subjects that intrigued me greatly when I read about them here for the first time. It's a short book and doesn't take long to read, so even if you don't get as much out of it as other people might, it's still worth reading simply because, if nothing else, you won't need to devote a lot of time to it.

As for the reviewer who dismissed it as a "self-help" book, I'm not sure what to make of that comment. Some of the subjects discussed in this book entail deep, thoughtful reflection on one's own personality and being. Serious introspection and self-analysis is necessary to do the kind of work Bly talks about. I suppose anything we do to make ourselves better people can be described as "self-help," but I don't know why in the world that would be considered a bad thing.
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