Friday, July 15, 2011

Joseph Campbell's "The Hero with a Thousand Faces"

Today I'd like to feature another classic
in the field of mythology,
written by Joseph Campbell,
the famous American mythologist,
writer and lecturer.

Hardcover, 391 pages
Published by Fine Communications, US
July 1, 1999
(first published in 1949)

From the Wikipedia Article

Campbell explores the theory that important myths from around the world which have survived for thousands of years all share a fundamental structure, which Campbell called the monomyth. In a well-known quote from the introduction to The Hero with a Thousand Faces, Campbell summarized the monomyth:

"A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man."

This is another of those books I've been meaning to read!  This particular book became even more famous when the journalist Bill Moyers interviewed the author for a special series on mythology, back in 1987.  The project aired on PBS, and is accompanied by a book.  Both are titled "The Power of Myth".

Campbell's interpretation of the hero's quest shows the marked influence of the great Swiss psychiatrist Carl Gustav Jung, who first formulated the theory of the archetypes, as well as that of the collective unconscious, that universal repository of images shared by all of humanity.  It must be a fascinating read!

Campbell borrowed the term "monomyth" from James Joyce's Finnegan's Wake, since he was a noted Joyce scholar.  The structure of another classic Joyce novel, Ulysses, also influenced the structure of Campbell's own book.

Born and raised in White Plains, New York, in a Roman Catholic family, Campbell showed an early fascination with Native American culture, especially its mythology.  This was the seed of his lifelong fascination with the subject.

He graduated from Columbia University with a B.A. in English Literarure in 1925, and received his M.A. in Medieval Literature in 1927.  In that same year, he also received a fellowship from Columbia University, which enabled him to travel to France and Germany, where he became fluent in the languages of those countries.

His sojourn in Europe brought several important influences into his life, such as those of modern art, literature, and the work of Freud and Jung.  He edited the first nine papers in Jung's Eranos lectures, and helped found the Bollingen Series of books, which covered the subjects of psychology, anthropology, and myth. 

Campbell taught at Sarah Lawrence College for 38 years.  During those years, he also traveled to India and Japan.  He had already met the Indian philosopher Jiddu Krishnamurti in 1924. 

The Asian trips convinced him of the importance of comparative mythology, and he embarked on his magnum opus, The Masks of God, which is a study of world mythologies, spanning several centuries.

Campbell's books describe the evolution of myth through time.  He also affirmed that mythology has a fourfold function in human society, which he listed in the last volume of his great masterpiece, titled The Masks of God: Creative Mythology, as well as in several lectures.

1.) The Metaphysical Function: Awakening a sense of awe before the mystery 
     of being. 
2.) The Cosmological Function: Explaining the shape of the universe
3.) The Sociological Function: Validate and support the existing social order
4.) The Psychological Function: Guide the individual through the stages of life

Professor Joseph Campbell

(March 26, 1904 - October 30, 1987)

1 comment:

  1. I've been after this book forever! I read a book of essays called Millennial Mythmaking that basically used Campbell's ideas on myth to analyze contemporary sci-fi and fantasy works, but I've had problems tracking down an affordable copy of Campbell's book in local stores.


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