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The Masks of God, Vol. 1: Primitive Mythology Paperback – November 1, 1991


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 528 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books (November 1, 1991)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140194436
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140194432
  • Product Dimensions: 1 x 5.5 x 8.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (28 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #34,577 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Review

"A monument of learning, wonder, and wisdom, daringly conceived and brilliantly written by a man who is at home in the Eastern and the Western universe of spirit.… In temporal span and spatial scope and in relevance to the needs of its own day, it is unexampled."
—Henry A. Murray, Harvard University

About the Author

Joseph Campbell was interested in mythology since his childhood in New York, when he read books about American Indians, frequently visited the American Museum of Natural History, and was fascinated by the museum's collection of totem poles. He earned his B.A. and M.A. degrees at Columbia in 1925 and 1927 and went on to study medieval French and Sanskrit at the universities of Paris and Munich. After a period in California, where he encountered John Steinbeck and the biologist Ed Ricketts, he taught at the Canterbury School, then, in 1934, joined the literature department at Sarah Lawrence College, a post he retained for many years. During the 1940s and '50s, he helped Swami Nikhilananda to translate the Upanishads and The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna. The many books by Professor Campbell include The Hero with a Thousand Faces, Myths to Live By, The Flight of the Wild Gander, and The Mythic Image. He edited The Portable Arabian Nights, The Portable Jung, and other works. He died in 1987.

More About the Author

Joseph Campbell was an American author and teacher best known for his work in the field of comparative mythology. He was born in New York City in 1904, and from early childhood he became interested in mythology. He loved to read books about American Indian cultures, and frequently visited the American Museum of Natural History in New York, where he was fascinated by the museum's collection of totem poles. Campbell was educated at Columbia University, where he specialized in medieval literature, and continued his studies at universities in Paris and Munich. While abroad he was influenced by the art of Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse, the novels of James Joyce and Thomas Mann, and the psychological studies of Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung. These encounters led to Campbell's theory that all myths and epics are linked in the human psyche, and that they are cultural manifestations of the universal need to explain social, cosmological, and spiritual realities.
After a period in California, where he encountered John Steinbeck and the biologist Ed Ricketts, he taught at the Canterbury School, and then, in 1934, joined the literature department at Sarah Lawrence College, a post he retained for many years. During the 40s and '50s, he helped Swami Nikhilananda to translate the Upanishads and The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna. He also edited works by the German scholar Heinrich Zimmer on Indian art, myths, and philosophy. In 1944, with Henry Morton Robinson, Campbell published A Skeleton Key to Finnegans Wake. His first original work, The Hero with a Thousand Faces, came out in 1949 and was immediately well received; in time, it became acclaimed as a classic. In this study of the "myth of the hero," Campbell asserted that there is a single pattern of heroic journey and that all cultures share this essential pattern in their various heroic myths. In his book he also outlined the basic conditions, stages, and results of the archetypal hero's journey.
Throughout his life, he traveled extensively and wrote prolifically, authoring many books, including the four-volume series The Masks of God, Myths to Live By, The Inner Reaches of Outer Space and The Historical Atlas of World Mythology. Joseph Campbell died in 1987. In 1988, a series of television interviews with Bill Moyers, The Power of Myth, introduced Campbell's views to millions of people.

Customer Reviews

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A must read for anyone who is interested in comparative religion.
Mythman
Campbell handles this insight with a genius that must be read and re-read to truly appreciate.
Tom Lombardo
Over all, this is a wonderful book and I simply cannot repeat that enough.
Zekeriyah

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

82 of 84 people found the following review helpful By Tom Lombardo on June 8, 1999
Format: Paperback
Along with "The Hero With a Thousand Faces," this is Campbell's greatest work. Campbell was a loving student of Native American cultures, and this book's historical achievement is to evaluate and compare all world mythologies as co-equal, including cogent and detailed examples from Native American mythology.
Campbell's core belief was that all humanity has a common origin, and that the study of mythology exposes this core identity amongst all peoples. By traversing the plains of time back to the very first artifacts of human behavior, he draws a compelling conclusion that we are all born of the same stock, from the same mythopoetic and spiritual origin, and destined to share the same future.
The student of humanity will find this study particularly compelling because Campbell identifies several mythological themes that span the globe. Among them are the virgin birth of a savior, the trial of the hero at the hands of evildoers, and the resurrection of the savior/hero from the dead. To my mind, these timeless echos of Christian beliefs place Western thought in an ancient and endlessly rewarding intellecutal context.
Campbell's higher purpose of showing that all humanity is united through its most fundamental ideas about the cosmos and our place in it is brilliantly synthesized in his discussion of the origin of agrigculture at the outset of the Neolithic. In the same way that all philosopy is "footnotes to Plato," all of history is "footnotes" to the Neolithic Revoltuion. Campbell handles this insight with a genius that must be read and re-read to truly appreciate.
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53 of 57 people found the following review helpful By frumiousb VINE VOICE on March 17, 2000
Format: Paperback
This last volume of the Masks of God is a huge book that spans the efforts of artists to interpret the myths from early troubadour poems to Finnegan's Wake. Just for the books it added to my reading list, this book was valuable.
The idea of the book that has stayed with me the most since I read it is the idea that an artist neither accepts myth as historical fact, nor rejects it as useless, but moves somewhere between those two extreme poles to mine its history.
The book is dense, and not always easy to read. It took me a long time to pick through it-- particularly in sections with pages of quotations-- but it was ultimately quite rewarding. Being only an amateur student of religion and mythology, I am ill-equipped to judge the merits of its scholarship.
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40 of 43 people found the following review helpful By Johannes Amersdorfer on June 21, 2000
Format: Paperback
The master of Comparative Mythology delves into the themes, that underlie the art, beliefs and literature of the Western Soul. The third volume explains why the Western culture is so much different from the Eastern Way.
It enables the reader to step back and review his/her own culture from a more objective point of view. In the West, it is about the monotheistic belief, about God and Man as a seperate being. Therefore occidental myths establishes a means of relationship between God to Man and vice versa. He also shows up, why Christianism, Judaism and Islam are so similar and the fight over the "true God" is so ridiculous.
If you haven't read the first two volumes "Primitive Mythology" and "Oriental Mythology", go for them first!
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69 of 78 people found the following review helpful By B. Michael Harlow (BHarlow863@aol.com) on January 10, 1999
Format: Paperback
After more than a decade of reading and pondering, I have finally finished Campbell's great populist tetralogy on the history, manifestations and uses of the world's myths, both as aids to spirituality and as a tools of power politics. No doubt, I could have read it faster, but my wont was to read a section, then contemplate, often taking side-trips into other texts, either to check out the original, or to catch another perspective, or to read other works by Campbell. (I was reading volume one, for example, when I became aware of the PBS series of conversations between Bill Moyers and Campbell, so I took side-trips into the companion volume to that, into Hero with a Thousand Faces and into Bruno Bettelheim's The Uses of Enchantment. Volume two somehow got me into Campbell's Mythic Image, a very satisfying consideration of mythic representations in art, and into Robert Bly's Iron John.) This volume deals mainly with the mythology of individuation, and with the history of the movement from tribal/sociological mythogenesis to the concept of the individual as his/her own "all in All" interpreter who uses the past as guide, but not as a monolithic revelation or absolutist decree, necessarily. I was most fascinated by the discussions of artistic creation in terms of mythogenesis, moving from the personal and religious letters of Heloise and Abelard, through the Parsival and Grail legends which became art (via Mallory and Wagner, most notably, whose works were both discussed extensively and well, to my delight [and also to my regret that my fellow lover-of-all-things-Arthurian, Andy Raiford, is no longer alive to share my joy in these passages], and on to the contemporary works of James Joyce [all his work] and of Thomas Mann [Magic Mountain, primarily]).Read more ›
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27 of 28 people found the following review helpful By DigitalMan on August 30, 2006
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Well, it took some years, but I finally finished reading Campbell's, "Masks of God" series and I must say I agree with another reviewer as Campbell has indeed saved the best for last.

What set this one ("Vol. IV: Creative Mythology") apart from the other three to me, is that Campbell presents ideas which can be directly applied to your everyday life and looks towards the future of mythology (which we are all a part of!) rather than strictly recounting a history of the world's mythological past. There is plenty of mythological history in, "Creative Mythology," but it is all presented as background for looking towards the future...

As far as Campbell's own written work is concerned, to date I've read his other three, "Masks of God" books and of course his, "Hero with a Thousand Faces." I've actually read, "Hero..." a few times over and it remains my favorite of his books so far, but, "Creative Mythology" is now a close second.

The entire, "Masks of God" series is well worth reading, but unlike, "Hero...," they are all big, dense books that take quite sometime to get through. If you're only going to pick one in the series, my recomendation would be to make it, "Vol. IV: Creative Mythology." It's exciting and inpiring and a real tour-de-force.

Unfortunately, I suspect that many people start with the high ambition of reading the entire series and then never finish it. Hence, they miss out on reading this great book which is a shame. Don't let that be you!
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