So you'd like to...

know more about Comparative Mythology and Joseph Campbell

A guide by David Kudler (Mill Valley, California)
(REAL NAME)   

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***NOTE: The first ebook in the Collected Works of Joseph Campbell series, the beautiful new edition of Campbell's classic Myths to Live By (The Collected Works of Joseph Campbell Book 1), is now available in the Kindle Store!

Mythologist Joseph Campbell defined myth as "the public dream." Societies express their myths in many ways--their religion, their architecture, their forms of government.

There are many wonderful authors whose writing can give insight into the beauty of the human mythic impulse: C. G. Jung, the great psychologist; Mercia Eliade; Bruno Bettleheim; Marija Gimbutas. However, the most accessible, inspiring authority on the subject is probably Joseph Campbell.

The Power of Myth is probably the most exciting, easy way of approaching Campbell's work (also available in print: The Power of Myth). Watching the video or reading the book, you get a sense of Campbell and his joy in the subject that is really wonderful. I'd also like to point out that copies of The Power of Myth (in both formats) are available at many public libraries in the US.

How one approaches Campbell's works after that depends on one's background and what one is looking for.

Here are three possible approaches:


The Open Door--A Beginner's Approach
If one is looking for an accessible, inspiring exploration of the nature of mythic thought, after The Power of Myth it makes sense to move on to Pathways to Bliss: Mythology and Personal Transformation, Myths to Live By (also on Kindle: Myths to Live By (The Collected Works of Joseph Campbell Book 1)) and The Inner Reaches of Outer Space: Metaphor as Myth and as Religion (The Collected Works of Joseph Campbell), a progression that moves from personal myths (we all have them!) to the evolving mythology of the new millenium. Thou Art That: Transforming Religious Metaphor examines the mythic underpinnings of Western society, while the newly published Myths of Light: Eastern Metaphors of the Eternal (The Collected Works of Joseph Campbell) does the same for Indian and East Asian cultures.

I'd probably finish up by viewing the Mythos video series: Joseph Campbell - Mythos, Vol. 1: The Shaping of Our Mythic Tradition and Joseph Campbell - Mythos, Vol. 2: The Shaping of Our Mythic Tradition, ten hours of lectures (with further volumes on the way) that sum up Campbell's thoughts wonderfully, and should give one a thorough enough background to dive into some of the denser material (see below). You might also enjoy filmmaker Sheldon Rocklin and Maxine Harris's visual poem to Campbell and his subject, the beautiful Joseph Campbell - Sukhavati.


The Net of Gems--An Advanced Approach
If one is looking for a more rigorous, academic introduction to Campbell's take on comparitive mythology and the history of religion, I'd start where he did, with The Hero with a Thousand Faces (The Collected Works of Joseph Campbell), his influential, mind-expanding exploration of the universal myths of the hero journey. Then I'd move on to the four-part Masks of God series (Primitive Mythology (The Masks of God), Oriental Mythology (The Masks of God), Occidental Mythology (Masks of God) and The Masks of God, Vol. 4: Creative Mythology), which encapsulates his view of the cultural forms of myth. I'd definitely check out Flight of the Wild Gander: Explorations in the Mythological Dimension - Selected Essays, 1944-1968 (The Collected Works of Joseph Campbell) and The Mythic Dimension: Selected Essays 1959-1987 (The Collected Works of Joseph Campbell), two fascinating collections of essays that manage to be both intensely focussed and breathtakingly wide in their scope. If you are more visually minded, read The Mythic Image, a wonderful exploration on the visual mythic motifs of the world's cultures. Then I'd finish up with The Historical Atlas of World Mythology--a work that, while sadly unfinished and currently out-of-print, was his most comprehensive.

It is easy to forget that Campbell's initial fame came in the area of literary criticism, particularly his writings on the novels of James Joyce and Thomas Mann. For a thorough overview of his thoughts on the mythic content of Joyce's great novels, definitely read A Skeleton Key to Finnegans Wake: Unlocking James Joyce's Masterwork and Mythic Worlds, Modern Words: Joseph Campbell on the Art of James Joyce (The Collected Works of Joseph Campbell)


Campbell, the Man
If you are interested in Campbell himself, there are a number of books and videos that give insight into both his biography and his psychology. If you want to hear about Campbell from his own mouth (as well as those of his friends and associates), read The Hero's Journey: Joseph Campbell on His Life and Work (The Collected Works of Joseph Campbell), or watch watch it on video (Joseph Campbell - The Hero's Journey). Robin and Stephen Larsen wrote the lovely biography, Joseph Campbell: A Fire in the Mind. And if you want a sense of Campbell's thoughts as he went through one of the most remarkable transitions in his career, during his first travels through Asia, read Baksheesh and Brahman: Asian Journals - India (The Collected Works of Joseph Campbell) and Sake and Satori: Asian Journals -- Japan (The Collected Works of Joseph Campbell); these wonderful journals give a wealth of insight not only into the genesis of his own ideas and into the cultures that he was studying, but into Campbell himself. They are illustrated with his own drawings and photos.

There are a few of Campbell's works that I haven't included here, but this should provide a good starting point. And, of course, you can get more information at the Joseph Campbell Foundation's web site, at www.jcf.org

David Kudler
Publishing Director
Joseph Campbell Foundation
publications at jcf dot org
(take out the spaces and replace the "at" with "@" and the "dot" with ".")

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The Open Door--A Beginner's Approach
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The Net of Gems--An Advanced Approach
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Campbell, the Man
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Author

David Kudler (Mill Valley, California)
(REAL NAME)   
Qualifications: Publishing Director, Joseph Campbell Foundation (www.jcf.org
Last updated: 6/2/11
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