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Joseph Campbell

The Power Of Myth * Joseph Campbell / Bill Moyers (1988)

The Power Of MythI bought this book when I was ‘in between literature’. It is not really a book by Joseph Campbell (1904-1987), but rather the written result of a series of interviews by his former student Bill Moyers that were broadcasted on TV. My Dutch translation has a title translating as “myths and consciousness”, I think the original title fits the content a lot better. Campbell might have had ideas that I do not agree with, but as the introduction to this book says:

He was, of course, criticized for dwelling on the psychological interpretation of myth, for seeming to confine the contemporary role of myth to either an ideological or therapeutic function. I am not competent to enter that debate, and leave it for others to wage. He never seemed bothered by the controversy. He just kept on seeing, opening to others a new way of seeing.

And Campbell doing what he thought he ought to be doing can easily inspire both people who follow his ideas as those who do not (entirely). And inspire is exactly what this book does. Campbell may have been a scholar, a writer of books, a teacher at universities, but this man lived myth. Already in the first minutes of the first interview, he says:

One of the problems of today is that we are hardly acquinted with the literature of the mind. We are interested in the daily news and problems of the moment.

Campbell had a fixed period of time in each day to read, both to keep up with the literature in his field, but mostly to be continuesly inspired. The way Campbell in the interviews flies from one mythology to another, from Amerindian stories to Star Wars, from daily things to the Vedas is amazing. Subjects dealt with vary from heros to goddesses to marriage. What I liked most about this book is that time and time again Campbell shows the importance of myth for our daily lives. A whole range of nice tales, anecdotes and interesting pieces of information pass, but the parts in which Campbell shows what the subject of his lifelong studies meant to him make this little book worth reading to anyone who is interested in religion and mythology.
1988 apostrophe, isbn 0385418868 (of the anchor editions)

The Hero With A Thousand Faces * Joseph Campbell (1972)

A Hero With A Thousand Faces

The modern intellectual will without hesitation admit that the symbology of mythology has a psychological meaning. Especially since the work of psychoanalysists there can be little doubt that myths are of the same breed as dreams and that dreams are the driving force of the psyche.

I did not really plan on reading this book, but I ran into second hand and also I was a little curious about this often-mentioned writer. Campbell has an approach that is not mine. As you can read in the opening quote, he finds modern psychology to be a good starting point to explain mythology and on many occassions, Campbell goes even so far to compare myths with dreams. Especially in the beginning of the book, this view comes around the corner irritatingly often, but this becomes less furtheron. As a matter of fact, Campbell differentiates his ideas a little. However I do not agree with the approach, I still find the book recommendable. Somewhat thematically Campbell displays a massive amount of myths, fables and folklore, making comparisons and giving interpretations. I noticed some sloppy mistakes in the Norse parts, so I cannot guarantee that the writer is 100% accurate in his retellings, but A Hero With A Thousand Faces is a very nice read.

Mythology is often understood by the modern mind as a primitive, clumsy attempt to explain the world of nature (Frazer); as a product of poetic fantasy from prehistoric times, that in later centuries was understood incorrectly (Müller); as a reservoir of allegorical lessons, meant for the individual to adjust to the group (Durkheim); as a collective dream, symptomatic for the primal urges in the depths of the human psyche (Jung); as the traditional means to convey metaphysical awareness (Coomaraswamy); and as the Divine Revelation to His children (the Church). Mythology is all this at the same time.

(My translation of the Dutch translation back to English…)

The writer even says that mythology has a function in our time and age and describes the downfall of our society to the loss of mythology. That is something that I agree with wholeheartedly!

princeton university press, isbn 0691017840