Comparative Mythology is just what its title suggests. It is an overview and comparison of the mythic and epic stories of Vedic, Iranian, Greek, Roman, Celtic, Germanic, Baltic and Slavic cultures. It begins with an overview of just what the study of mythology is, a history of that study, and approaches to the study.
The overview is interesting as it traces the ups and downs of the study of mythology and details certain ways of studying myth. These include Universal Mythology which seeks to explain mythological accordances and reduce them to basic common levels of human existence, and Diffusionary Mythology which seeks to trace how myths spread over time and geography. The approach of the book itself is explained as monogenesis, "tracing the mythological matter of disparate societies back to a common ancestry, one that includes language, society, and culture alike." The tracing of the cultures mentioned above mean we are trying to reconstruct Indo European myth and perhaps culture with a comparison of myths and epic stories from the cultures spawned from Indo European ethnogenesis.
While I give this book very high marks overall, it is obviously the product of decades of scholarship on the part of the author, its construction and content leave much to be desired from the promise of the title. Of its 290 pages only 50 comprise actual comparative essays on the themes of God and Warrior, King and Virgin, Horse and Ruler, Fire in Water, and Twin and Brother. While the previous bulk of the text separately covers the various myths and epics of the aforementioned named cultures, with a little comparison woven in along the way, there could be more of the "Comparative" versus the "Mythology."
These themed essays are where the book really picks up steam. But, the author seems to me to choose obscure ideas to trace along the comparative lines. I was quite disappointed that there wasn't more, for instance, on cosmogony and anthropogony, the creation of the universe and mankind, and eschatology, the end (and sometime regeneration) of the world, as well as post-death experience. These, after all, are the most basic questions man ponders "Where did I come from?" and "Where am I going after here?". Historically, science has been able to do little to none to answer these questions and they have then fallen under the religious purview. While it can be argued that not every IE culture has left us with creation myths, for instance, even the author argues that epic stories of urban foundations (i.e. Rome) often contain inklings of the original myth if we study them carefully enough.
I also think the author could have chosen some more basic subjects for comparison. While the study and comparison of myths about, for example, the creation and sanctification of kings and the accompanying horse sacrifices, was interesting enough, I would have enjoyed more comparisons on gods and goddesses as they fulfilled specific roles such as water deities, smiths, fertility gods, etc.
In closing, though, I did find this book highly enjoyable, and while a challenge to read, being written at a somewhat advanced level, it was written with clear prose and just enough linguistics to illustrate points without being overly complicated. This book is clearly a must read and one that I highly recommend.