on April 27, 1998
Joseph Campbell was one of the great souls of our age. I've read this book twice, first on my own and the second for a class in "Myth, Religion & the Mythic Imagination." I read the paperack to tatters, literally, marking each illuminating, exhilirating insight. "Dry"? "Not a fun read"? What book did YOU read? Campbell is unlike other writers on myth; he looks not at an entire myth but at its parts. By the end of the book, he has essentially created the Ultimate Hero Myth, which takes bits of every hero myth from virtually every culture (heavy on Native Americans). Campbell was not a dispassionate academic--this was his gospel, and he lived by it. This book is alive and inspiring like no other book I know. One unique aspect of it at the time it was published was its approach to Christianity. For Campbell, Christ's life had to be seen as a myth. Before him, most Western scholars wouldn't have dare to say such a thing. Others had written on that, but in a skeptical manner. Campbell's view is that the Virgin Birth, miracles, Resurrection, etc have meaning only because they ARE myths. Look, there'd be no "Star Wars" without this. No "Sandman" comics from Neil Gaiman. No "Watership Down." This book is for the intellectual who wants to LIVE, not just to sit sterile at the desk. Recommended like mad.
First of all, I feel inadequate and unworthy to review this book, but since Amazon has given me the chance, all I can say is that this is one of the greatest Books (with a capital "B") of my experience. I suspect that it shall be recognised as one of the single greatest products to come out of 20th century American letters.
No, I'm not setting Campbell up as a prophet or anything like that, indeed, I suspect that this book's greatness lies in the eternal truths that transcend Campbell's individual personality. He just managed to tap into them- thank God.
The entire book deals with the hero's journey. This is the Monomyth shared by all cultures- and indeed seems to be a direct inspiration from the cosmos itself by way of the collective unconscious. Here we have the eternal cycle of 1) the call to adventure; 2) the crossing of the threshold; 3) the tests, trials, and helpers; 4) the sacred marriage, apotheosis (becoming one with god), or elixir theft; 5)the flight 6) recrossing/ressurection; and 7) the return to society with hard won gifts. He examines all of these elements in depth with a wealth of cross-cultural examples. The first half of the book deals with this cycle on a more individual and personal level (the microcosm), while the second half deals with the greater cosmogonic importance (the macrocosm.)
Now, the really amazing part of all this is that virtually all of it comes across as meaningful, interesting, and totally nonacademic. That's why academic types hate Campbell, and his mentor Jung,- they know that Campbell's and Jung's works will endure and be read a thousand years from now, while their own monographs will be justly forgotten. There are a lot of mediocre Ph.D's out there that can never forget that Campbell never bothered to get a doctorate, because he considered such degrees to be a worthless and meaningless waste of time....
I've read this particular edition three times now- it is well designed and manufactured and has resonable sized print. I've also listened to the entire audio version at least twice- it is well edited and it is very difficult to figure out where exactly it is abridged.
All may roads may lead to Rome, but for me, this year, all books seemed to lead to Joseph Campbell's Hero With 1000 Faces.
I have discovered that this book is probably one of the most influential, widely read books of the 20th century. It's no wonder the author, Joseph Campbell, was featured in a Bill Moyers special on The Power of Myth (with an accompanying book, as usual for Bill Moyer's specials.)
I was reading books on writing-- on story structure-- Particularly, Christopher Vogler's excellent Writer's Journey, and it was based on this book. Ironically, I was already reading another of Campbell's series of books on myth. But then I started looking deeper into this realm-- the idea of the Hero's journey, -- the call to adventure, refusing the call, finding a mentor, encountering threshold guardians, crossing the threshold, facing the worst evil, winning the elixir--- and I discovered that dozens of books have been written about the concepts Joseph Campbell first broached.
It's such a powerful idea, and so useful in conceptualizing life's changes. I used it as an element in a presentation I just gave this past weekend on how the art and science of story can be applied to healing and helping people grow. 80% of the people attending the lecture were familiar with the concept.
This is such powerful material, you might consider essential for helping you understand the way movies are made, and how the contemporary world has been affected by advertising and the loss of sacred rituals in everyday life.
One way I gauge a book is by how many marks I make in the margins, to indicate wise ideas or quotable material ( I collect quotes, and quotation books big-time, owning over 400 quotation books) and this book's margins are just packed. The depth of knowledge in mythology and anthropology is awesome, providing a wealth of examples, metaphors, ancient stories and myths which deepen your understanding of human nature. The only problem with this book is how often, in conversations, I've found it to be relevant, whether talking about a friend who is going through some tough times, or someone who is making some changes in his business.
on July 8, 2002
Joseph Campbell is a "love him or hate him" type of guy. The other reviews of his works that I have found on Amazon bear this out. The criticisms seem to be that his examples do not bear out his theories, that he relies on Freudian and Jungian psychology as "proof", and that people do not agree with his world-view. My response is this: we must bear in mind that Joseph Campbell was, above all things, a pioneer. A pioneer need not get everything right the first time out - he is setting up a new paradigm with which to view the world. Freud did not get everything right when he fathered modern psychoanalysis, but he created a new framework and steered it in the direction it needed to go.
The Hero with a Thousand Faces is a comparative study of the religions and myths of the world. Its central theme is that all of their stories are essentially the same. They follow certain archetypal paths that are different in particular circumstances, but in general, follow the same overall arch. Now, this is not 100% true as even he admits - stories get changed around a bit and different things happen, but to the extent that he makes his point, the similarities are astonishing. His conclusion - or ONE possible interpretation - is that this reflects certain archetypal themes that are in every society's collective subconscious (Jung) and that these myths represent eternal truths about life...how to look at it and how to live it.
Now, as to the criticism that his examples don't bear out his theories, Campbell states that he is just choosing an example or two to illustrate his point. The purpose of this book is not to be a comprehensive collection of the world's myths - that book is The Golden Bough. Campbell selects myths that the average reader may not be familiar with. While sometimes similarities may not be immediately apparent, it is open to disagreement as any essay on literature is. Campbell warns though that these myths must be ready as poetry, not prose - so beware of any callow analysis. Personally, I would have like his using more familiar myths - especially Arthurian legends - to illustrate his point.
As for his seeming to rely on Freud and Jung as gospel, that is a bit dated. Even so, the fact that his theories do jibe with Jungian psychology is significant - if not actual "proof" that he's right. And as for disagreements with his world-view, that is irrelevant. Campbell has developed a framework with which to view the world; you do not have to draw the same conclusions from it that he does. Campbell did not believe in a personal God, and I believe he is wrong about that. But the underlying message to me is that, even though people may have divergent beliefs about religion, the underlying ideas and values of religion ARE DEMONSTRATABLY TRUE.
Campbell goes through each stage of the hero's journey, with all its variations. This is meant not only as academia but it is for YOU - the READER. This is how one views one's own life. These ancient stories were not just for entertainment - they showed us how to live. That's what this book is for.
on January 10, 2010
So what is "Hero?" Campbell is a comparative mythologist, and the original title was "How to Read a Myth." While scholarly in nature, "Hero" is not a formal scholarly paper and should not be read as such. Instead, it falls in the realm of literature. Campbell was awarded the National Institute of Arts and Letters Award for Contributions to Creative Literature for "Hero." As a scholar, he was particularly proud of this fact. While the book is not necessarily an easy read, it was written for the general public. It's difficulty may account for the "snooze factor" some reviewers attribute to it. "Hero" is a broad survey of what is similar about the world's mythologies, remarkable in breadth for its length. Rather than focus on what makes us different, as most comparative religion scholars do, he chose to focus on what makes us similar. If this interests you I suggest you read it. If after you are finished you wish for more depth, I suggest you try his four volume series "Masks of God."
If you read some of the negative reviews you will get the impression Campbell tries to provide you with answers to life's great mysteries. This is false. Instead, he borrows vocabulary from a staggering variety of the world's mythologies to describe that mystery. You will also get the impression that Campbell thinks he found the one and only way to interpret mythology. This is also false. On page one of the epilogue he says, "There is no final system for the interpretation of myths, and there will never be any such thing." You may also get the impression that Campbell was a mystic or part of the New Age movement. Again, false. When asked what method of meditation he practices, he once responded, "I underline sentences." In other words, he is a scholar.
on October 31, 2013
Really? I have to say why I like this book and think it deserves five stars? Campbell spent a lifetime focused on mythology and shares his insights in language the rest of us can understand. This is the book that helped us awaken to our hard-wiring for story and how those stories are told. This is the book other how-to books are based on. This is the third time I've bought this book because someone either borrows it and doesn't return it, or I read the pages thin.
Highly recommended for anybody setting out on their own journey as a storyteller, those interested in mythology and comparative religion, and those curious about how the human condition expresses itself.
Wow. Now that I've read this book I can't believe that I'd never heard of Joseph Campbell before. I started this book slowly, taking in the general idea and getting the point Campbell is making: all myths, religions, epic tales, etc. follow the same basic over-arching pattern. The pattern is plotted out in extreme detail in the book, so I won't go into it here, but it is spot on.
Anyone who has any interest in religion, philosophy, psychology, or the human condition needs to read this book. ALthough it starts out a bit slow and self-evident, by the end you realize that you are reading a book written by a true master teacher. Campbell's clearcut objective explanations are superb and unarguably true. Using examples from the Bible, the Iliad, the Koran, native American folklore, Hindu tales, fairy tales, Eskimo tales, Chinese legends, African tribal rituals, and too many more cultural tales to mention, Joseph Campbell definitively lays out the monomyth and its structure.
The beauty of Campbell's writing is how it sneaks up on you. I was following the general theme of the book and feeling as if I was learning something until around the middle of the book it all clicked. This book is not just about myth, philosophy, or religion, it is about mankind's constant struggle to nail down and explain the human condition. What troubles us is that we can't ever do it.
For this reason, in every culture, there is always a hero story. A hero story that describes the life and adventures and discoveries of one man who broke through the confusing walls of this world we live in and became truly enlightened. What makes this book so perfect, though, is the painstaking detail with which Campbell recounts different parts of different myths, religious tales, legends, and folklore to illustrate the "monomyth" that all these stories are telling.
Be sure to also read the footnotes, as valuable information and references to other interesting novels are often found there as well.
_First of all, I feel inadequate and unworthy to review this book, but since Amazon has given me the chance, all I can say is that this is one of the greatest Books (with a capital "B") of my experience. I suspect that it shall be recognised as one of the single greatest products to come out of 20th century American letters. No, I'm not setting Campbell up as a prophet or anything like that, indeed, I suspect that this book's greatness lies in the eternal truths that transcend Campbell's individual personality. He just managed to tap into them- thank God.
_The entire work deals with the hero's journey. This is the Monomyth shared by all cultures- and indeed seems to be a direct inspiration from the cosmos itself by way of the collective unconscious. Here we have the eternal cycle of 1) the call to adventure; 2) the crossing of the threshold; 3) the tests, trials, and helpers; 4) the sacred marriage, apotheosis (becoming one with god), or elixir theft; 5)the flight 6) recrossing/ressurection; and 7) the return to society with hard won gifts. He examines all of these elements in depth with a wealth of cross-cultural examples. The first half of the book deals with this cycle on a more individual and personal level (the microcosm), while the second half deals with the greater cosmogonic importance (the macrocosm.)
_Now, the really amazing part of all this is that virtually all of it comes across as meaningful, interesting, and totally nonacademic. That's why many academic types hate Campbell, and his mentor Jung,- they know that Campbell's and Jung's works will endure and be read a thousand years from now, while their own monographs will be justly forgotten. There are a lot of mediocre Ph.D's out there that can never forget that Campbell never bothered to get a doctorate, because he considered such degrees to be a worthless and meaningless waste of time....
on September 26, 2002
Joseph Campbell's _The Hero with the Thousand Faces_ is one of the most important works ever written in the history of the study of "myth". Penned a half-century ago, it brought a (largely Jungian) psychoanalytical perspective to the study of mythology-- and of literature and through it, argued that asame basic narrative pattern could be found all myths-- and even folktales and literary texts. Campbell termed this pattern the 'monomyth' and argued that it was essentially the basic narrative form that informed all myth-making and story-telling,
of all kinds, among all cultures.
Campbell recognizes, of course, that this basic pattern-- this narrative 'archetype' (to borrow a good Jungian word) varies somewhat in different stories. But ultimately, he argues, it's based on one basic kind of story. Campbell takes the time to outline what he sees as being the basic structural components of this story-- the 'stages of the hero', which include the 'call to adventure', the various kinds of adventures that happen on the hero's quest, and the return home. Campbell spends a great deal of time talking about each of these, as well as their various substages-- in particularly psycoanalytical terms. One of the likely encounters in the monomyth, fr example, is the 'encounter with the temptress' or the encounter with the benevolent goddess, who comes to represent the mother. For each of these stages, he provides ample quotations and summaries of various myths to show that this isn't just some crazy theory-- you actually can see it operating in the stories of legend, folktale, myth, and even literature.
For those sympathetic to a psychoanalytical reading of myths, this book is highly compelling. It also seems to be compatiable with a wide range of other 20th century ideas on the nature of myth and literature, with connections to Northrop Frye's theory of archetypes (in _An Anatomy of Criticism), to the work of structural folkorists (like Vladimir Propp), and of course to the the work of Freud, Jung, and those who sought to apply their ideas to the study of story (especially Otto Rank's _The Birth of the Hero_).
While I am generally sympathetic to this kind of approach, I nonetheless feel that this classic text, important and full of insight as it is, strikes me as a bit flawed. The biggest problem I have is the fact that it just ties everything up a bit too neatly, a bit too certainly, a bit too conveniently. Campbell always chooses mythic stories that support his particular point-- or at least he interprets them in ways that seem to. Yet, there are plenty of stories out there that would seem to go against a particular point-- and many of the ones he cites could well be interpreted quite differently. Moreover, the fact the remains that, while there may be fundamental similarities among mythic narratives, there are still differences. By emphasizing the existence of the monomyth and downplaying the relevance of those differenes, Campbell seems to me to be stripping individual myths (and distinctive mythologies produced by different cultures) of their unique character and cultural relevance simply in order to fit them into his (reductionist?) theoretical framework.
Readers should also be aware that the study of mythology has moved in many new directions since this book was first published and that, in many ways, it isgetting increasingly dated. The structuralist approach to myth pioneered by Levi-Strauss and the more semiotic understandings advanced by Barthes (and others) offer compelling interpretations of what myths are and how they work... ones that have nothing to do with psychoanalysis. That's not to say that it's unimportant, irrelevant, outdated, or any of that. Quite the contrary, this book remains a classic. Still, it's hardly the be-all and end-all of myth-scholarship these days, and I would encourage readers who like this to *also* explore other theories and interpretations of myth than Cambell's.
on October 20, 2001
The premise of this book -- that through the aid of psychoanalysis, we can find common elements in the world myths, folk tales, and religions -- is appealing. The layout of the body of the book highlights the beginning, middle, and end of the hero journey, as told through a catalog of stories from all over the world in different time periods. Roughly speaking, the "meta-story" Campell tells is a) a journey to a mysterious place, where the protagonist has been shaken out of the world of reality, b) a disintegration of identity, and, through battles with allegorical foes, a reintegration that gives the reinvigorated hero a power and the secret to conquer the "tyrant" of the old and decaying world of reality, and c) the hero's interaction (or refusal to do so) with the world of reality with his enlightened state. The various motifs Campbell labels along the hero journey (e.g., the call to adventure, the belly of the whale, the magic flight) are intended to further this meta-story.
There are two problems I have with the book as it appears today, one of which is by Campbell's doing and the other not. First, the method Campbell uses to make his points, through a series of concrete examples, is overwhelming to someone who has only a laymen's knowledge of the stories. As he jumps from a myth from, medieval Judaism and then (without a segue) to, for example, ancient Egypt, makes it harder and harder to understand the point he's trying to make by linking these stories together.
The second problem has to do with the state of scholarship in both psychology and religion since the 1940s, when Campbell wrote the book. In psychology, there's a heavy reliance upon Freud and Jung in the book. While I wouldn't say that their theories are obsolete, I would doubt that an author today were to use psychoanalysis to study world religions, I would doubt that he/she would use so much unfiltered Freud and Jung.
The study of religion has changed as well. In particular, religious scholars today aren't as enthusiastic about the "history of religions" school as they were in the first half of the 20th century. While some evangelical scholars will bristle at any notion that elements of their faith looks like others, the assumptions underlying Campbell's statement that "[t]hroughout the ancient world such myths and rites abounded: the deaths and resurrections of Tammuz, Adonis, Mithra, Virbius, Attis, and Osiris, and of their various animal representatives . . .are known to every student of comparative religion" would come with some serious qualifiers today.
This isn't necessarily to say that these criticisms cripple Campbell's basic premise, or that these criticisms are even correct, but an introduction addressing these developments by a student or contemporary of Campbell would allow the reader to put more trust in the author when reading the book.
All in all, this method of studying comparative myths and religions has some value. Certainly the mysteries of life and death to which these myths point have some similarities. But if we are to suppose that psychoanalysis is a good tool to examine these similarities (a major assumption in itself), then the tools need to be sharpened a little more to reflect the development of religion and psychoanalysis since the middle of the 20th century.