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am 27. Juni 2000
Campbell's reputation gives every indication of gathering momentum, now that he's passed away,
"Everybody loves you, when you're six feet in the ground."
and some of us who were reading Campbell over 10 years ago have ambivalent feelings about the March violets which are springing up, uncritically singing his praises. It's positive, but would Campbell have approved of this sort of adulation? (He described himself as "a maverick", not a hero.)
1. "The Hero with a Thousand Faces" is the starting point for Bill Moyers' six videotaped conversations with Campbell: "The Power of Myth", (videocassette no.1 - THE HERO'S ADVENTURE). My personal recommendation is to buy the videos first to come down with a good case of the author's infectious enthusiasm about his subject.
2. This book is not a bad starting point for a first reading of Campbell. It was my first Campbell book.
A drawdown is the less-than-typically-engaging style, making it not the most enjoyable read of his extensive opus. (Campbell's first major tome -if memory serves- perhaps it was written with an eye toward critical peer reviews?)
On the other hand, the book is well-crafted, satisfying, and does not drag; you're carried along by the interest of discovery, (much like a detective novel), unveiling skeins of meaning in apparently unrelated, seemingly indecipherable, symbols and traditions.
It clearly persuades of unifying themes in diverse traditions while outlining certain basic rites of passage in every hero adventure: real, fantastic, or mythological.
3. So, what do heroes do? A hero is one who gives himself to something bigger than himself, or other than himself.
Campbell points out that heroes evolve as cultures evolve, describing heroes who perform war/physical acts, a la Beowulf and Gilgamesh, then progressing to other feats of altruistic endurance: Spiritual, emotional, or intellectual.
Jesus, the Buddha, Mahomet, Moses - all participate in the standard format of Spiritual heroic achievement, (the first two with close parallels).
Briefly, the hero leaves for adventure, willingly or unwillingly, summoned or unsummoned. (Or the adventure may occur serendipitously on the way to somewhere else.)
There is often a messenger to arouse the hero to action: the old milkwoman in Joyce's "Ulysses"; Gandalf in "The Lord of the Rings"; Athene in Homer's "Odyssey"; Phillipe in Disney's "Beauty and the Beast"; the White Rabbit in Alice's adventures, Obi-Wan in Lucas' "Star Wars", etc...
There is usually a barrier, peopled by guardians, between the everyday world whose knowledges and perceptions the hero has assimilated, and the foreign world of unknown and waiting adventures. Successful passage of this obstacle gives entree to the mythic realm of "the Soul's high adventure".
Another common thread in hero tales is "the descent into the dark". This can be viewed not only as the trip into the unknown (sketched above), but also as an especially nasty sub-variant of it, which occurs along the way. At this point, one of two things happens: either the hero is cut to pieces (to be later resurrected), or escapes, renewed. I always recall the Steadfast Tin Soldier of Hans Andersen, who sails a paper boat through the sewer only to then be swallowed by a fish. (Subsequently rescued, subsequently destroyed, subsequently subliminally resurrected.)
Having successfully completed his mission, the hero ultimately returns from his travels, or his return is forecasted (King Arthur, Jesus, etc..), to guide and help others.
4. The hero's journey may be represented as a trek into a labyrinth, and at the center of every labyrinth there waits a minotaur. The purpose of the journey, the catalyst, being the hero's own Soul, which seeks out those adventures it requires for further growth:
"The adventure he's ready for is the adventure he gets".
This is not one of the great books of the age, if for no other reason because Campbell wrote so many more, but it IS a definite must-read for someone interested in acquiring the rudiments of a perception of the heroic themes and motifs in his own and others lives.
5. The book's signal strength is that it serves to blur the mind's eye to the distinction between mythology, religion, and philosophy. And this is a major thrust of Campbell's work: to create an even ground for all the spiritual traditions of mankind (with circumspection). This crucial psychological insight is Ariadne's thread - we escape the chthonic, claustrophobic labyrinth of dead men's thoughts and fossilized traditions, emerging exultant to breathe clean, cold mountain air: the meaning and message of these tales, bequeathed to us from those who have already lived what we are living; having returned from the foreign shores of the Soul's circumference, these men and women's charts are still as modern as tomorrow afternoon, and we do well to consult them.
Campbell's work is to give us a feel for our commonality with all men and women of all times and climes: this book succeeds, making us better citizens of the world.
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am 4. Februar 2014
Many pictures illustrate Campbell's text. His ideas come across as slightly whacky, but ultimately the basic concept of the monomyth is convincingly argued, and Campbell certainly draws on a vast body of knowledge. Whether you like his style – which is eloquent, if not always simple – or not, this is entertaining and fascinating. Christopher Vogler's reworking of big bits of this book into a guideline for screenwriting seems to misrepresent certain details, which might explain why some topoi of Hollywood cinema have become clichés rather than elements of story that strike a deeper chord within us as human beings.
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am 19. Juni 2000
Having moved so far beyond the intellectual/psychological paradigms Campbell subscribed to and so magnificently introduced to me with this book, I had forgotten how important his way of thinking is and had been to both regular people and anthropological scholarship- and my own personal development as a person.
Joseph Campbell was an intellectual/spiritual throwback to the pre-Victorian age, when myth was not degraded for religious, socio-political and scientific agendas. It is almost hard to believe- thanks to him- that the word could have ever taken on the connotation of lie or trivial fantasy. Or, that the ancient myths at the foundation of what we know to be culture, universal in much of their form and reason for being, could ever possibly be ignored or trivialized. So much wealth of human history do they hold, and so many treasures of inner knowledge do they make as gifts.
Campbell set out to be not just a scholar or intellectual, but a modern Bard of his own, in the tradition of Homer, Sophecles, Confucius, Shakespeare and Freud. In so doing, he also cut through much of the modern culture's historic efforts to divide the world into some form of the Pagan/Believer dichotomy (via religon or science or politics vs. the regular folks of every century and their traditions) and reestablish the hegemony of the ancient truths that still serve as the fountain head of our imagination. HERO OF A THOUSAND FACES does that so elegantly, and so compassionately, that it becomes a truly life- affirming as well as paradigm shifting adventure.
Some scholars have had and will continue to have problems with his work and approach. Don't kid yourself; it's in part because he was such a wonderful writer who can connect the daunting intellectual scope of his ideas with the general public, almost regardless of one's level of education. Weaker writers cannot do that, regardless of their intellectual capacity or theories, and hide in the ivory tower where it is safe. Another reason, however, is the degree to which his work relied on the psychological theories of Jung. Though Jung's genius is also unquestionable, he did not provide the only lens by which to look at ancient myth, and via staying so deeply in a psychological paradigm (for more than just altruistic therapeutic reasons) he served to antagonize variant approaches and perspectives on the same materials. (Jungian psychologists and architects for example can almost never sit in the same room together without a fistfight practically ensuing, so violently and diametrically opposed they become on Jung's interpretations of what very often is actually ancient science and mathematics.) Yet though I tend not to agree with a significant portion of the meaning given to Campbell's work and discoveries anymore for that reason, I cannot help but remember that it was he more or less who opened my eyes to so much of what I now understand to be human and universal, transcending culture, "race", language and time.
Campbell's unexpected bringing together of mythical similarities from Celtic, native American, Indian, Bablyonian and other divergent world sources of myth is done so well, and so poetically while again with great erudition, it will put you in touch with much of what is beautiful in art, literature, religion, and the human mind- not to mention the human heart. And of the several of his books I have read, HERO OF A THOUSAND FACES is the best. Your soul-quest will far from end with his work and ideas, but I can't imagine it having a better beginning.
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am 2. Dezember 2015
Bought this, in part, because you can't ignore this work if you are interested in storytelling.
It is said George Lucas wrote Star Wars after reading this book.
I just saw it on the shelf of my favourite university teacher, marked with about a thousand colour-coded post-its, and got a glowing recommendation from her.
It really is a great read. Easy to understand, entertaining, and hugely educational. I've learned facts about cultures I previously knew nothing about (African, Native American, Hindu, Chinese, etc.). These are cultures that I thought I knew "something" about, but, really, I didn't.
Can recommend, also to novices of myths and storytelling structure.
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am 15. April 2015
Wer sich leichte, schnell konsumierbare Kost mit viel lockerem Lesespaß erwartet wird hier ermüden... und sollte besser auf Christopher Voglers Standartwerk "The Heroes Journey" ausweichen.
Wer tiefere Einblicke und einen breiten und umfassenden Blick auf Dramaturgie und deren mythologischen Wurzeln werfen will der wird hier reich belohnt. Das Buch ist ein Schatz und lässt niemanden ohne große Bereicherung zurück. Campbells Standard- und Meisterwerk geht weit über reinen Know-How-Transfer hinaus uns schenkt Fremd- und Selbsterkenntnis.
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am 14. August 2016
It's been praised by a number of people I respect, but frankly the Freudian psychobabble was almost unbearable to me. And some of the language is, understandably, a bit dated. I much preferred (the more recent) "Seven Basic Plots", which suffers from Jungian psychobabble but thankfully relegates it to the final chapters instead of mixing it throughout.
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am 4. Juni 2000
Joseph Campbell and Mircea Eliade are, perhaps, the preeminent accessible scholars in the field of mythology in the 20th century. I eliminate writers like Harold Bloom whose blatant gnosticism often blurs intended explication of mythological traditions and renders them bewildering and solipsistic rather than "illuminating". The great "political" mythologist Czeslaw Milosz' vision is...as he himself declares...a bit "eccentric" for the beginner. Hence: Campbell and Eliade. The former explains the "players" (would-be heroes). The latter explains the nature of the "field" (the cosmos & history), the nature of the TWO kinds of time: sacred and profane; be they WESTERN/linear/; or EASTERN/ cyclical)...... THE HERO WITH A THOUSAND FACES is, I submit, Campbell's best and perhaps only important work. Why? The book provides clear definition of THE HEROIC QUEST and why the hero is the foundation of all mythologies. Axiom: societies must have heroes; mythologies are stories of heroes who incarnate values upon which a society, nation or world-order thrives or dies. THE CALL...THE ORDEAL...(Trials by "Fire & Water") THE GREAT TEMPTATION...AND THE RETURN (Final apotheosis as NAMED hero) initiate the hero. All kinds of cool jargon, freighted with the cultural values of the West (LOGOS)or East (TAO)are employed by Campbell along with stories adjuged by great cultures to Re-Present themselves to their own traditions and the WORLD embodying their notion of THE HEROIC. It's good stuff and very accessible. Campbell's later work..."The Masks of God" and his studies in the mythological dimension of dreams...becomes less so as he apparently succumbs to the "gnostic" temptation himself. After studying THE HERO WITH A THOUSAND FACES, the reader is advised to take-on Eliade. THE COSMOS & HISTORY: The Myth of the Eternal Return; and SYMBOLISM, the SACRED & the ARTS. Then, if your interest has been piqued, you're ready for Eliade's literally encyclopediaec study of religions and myth. Or not. No, I have not forgotten Frazer,Graves,Ceram or Corcoran...explicators; nor Lewis, Tolkien or for that matter A.A.Milne..."creators" of mythical heroes and their quests. But with Campbell's THE HERO WITH A THOUSAND FACES, the student of mythology can acquire some formidable tools for judgment of culture and ethical ultimates. Petronious (Emperor Nero's "minister" of culture) once composed a mock-heroic quest called THE SATYRICON. It is about the daring struggle of two homosexuals ...against odds and foes, arch and otherwise...to leach a free meal EVERYDAY! An inspirational goal (GRAIL) of truely heroic archetype. Of course historically, Petronius was slain by Nero for participating in an assassination plot. Nero himself reluctantly committed suicide aided by a courtier Then followed civil war (and, in a single year, four violent aspirants to the Emperor's chair and SPQR). The final point: "Who wants to be a hero?" in a culture which has devolved into another quest called "Who wants to be a millionaire?" THE HERO WITH A THOUSAND FACES helps to suggest which answer is important; why and how such heroes prevail...or the consequences of failure in even the REFUSAL of the Call. It's an important book...not because Campbell was George Lucas' mentor and STAR WARS was conceptualized on Campbell's ideas. But because this society now does not know the difference among heroes, entertainers and celebrities (the famous for being famous). This book...an excellent introduction to the serious study of mythology...suggests answers to what provides a society with essential VITALITY to EXIST...and that is the purpose of all TRUE MYTH..........
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am 18. März 2000
Reading Joseph Campbell books is like.... First you walk out into a clear desert night, a cloudless sky above, and you see many stars. There are the patterns of stars described by the zodiac signs, but those patterns are haphazard, jerky, and "not real." Those are the patterns people strain to create from apparent chaos because they do not have the tools to see deeper into space. They do not have the tools to see the Real patterns. But there are those people who do have the tools, and one such implement is the telescope. The better the telescope, and the more you learn where to look, the better you see the patterns. You see entire galaxies, binary stars, and those exploding. There are black holes. Life and death throughout the universe, and there are repeated themes everywhere you look. Only the details change. You may not understand the archetypical galaxies, or how they dance together in some great symphony that physicists are forever struggling to describe, but the fact that there ARE patterns is obvious. The rules apparently don't change, just the details in how they are expressed. This is nothing new, and it is certainly not a revelation that patterns occur, too, within us. Perhaps myths are like internal galaxies, swirling about within us by certain rules, and then there is "that uncertainty thing" that we hope might translate into free will. Well, this review seems a bit galactic itself, and perhaps a bit out there, but Joseph Campbell, with this book, has provided a telescope that points to certain galaxies within each person and population, galaxies which reverberate throughout humankind past, present, and future. And though Campbell helps us see these galaxies, there obviously remains much to be explained. One of the interesting things about the act of peering through a telescope is in knowing that other people have looked, or will look, through the same apparatus. Will they see what you see? How will others interpret messages delivered by photons that zip through space into their curious eyes? Recently I read a book called "Danger Close" by Mike Yon. It is the true story of an American soldier who was charged with murder in Maryland. Throughout the book I noticed themes, patterns and so forth. At times it seemed as though the author were winking at a small (a very small) section of the readership. The author seemed to allude to Joseph Campbell and his discoveries. In the final hilarious chapter of Danger Close, the future soldier, then a teenager in a Florida high school uttered, "sat chit ananda" to his raging school principal. And that was when I knew the author had studied his art beyond the writing of a single true sentence; he said so clearly to those few who could read the signs. The author had peered through the telescope created by Joseph Campbell, had seen the galaxies swirling, and had applied the principles of Creative Mythology to a true story, and perhaps that is why "Danger Close" is categorized as "creative nonfiction." The book, or rather the author, even won the very prestigious William A. Gurley award for application of scholarship. I have also noticed that a certain lawyer, a man who wins his cases without fail, sub fuses mythology in his winning arguments. The lawyer uses symbolism and the structure of myth tirelessly, presenting contemporary cases as if they were epic drama. Some of these stories, when presented to juries, have returned verdicts worth tens of millions of dollars. THAT is an example of the power of "applied myth." "The Hero with a Thousand Faces" is a "must read," a part of the training, for any serious writer, artist, or anyone who wishes to reach people on a basic level, or to better understand some of the powerful galaxies swirling within us.
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This is an extraordinary text. What some of the other reviews suggest is that it is to be avoided if you think it will be an escapist treatise bridging the worlds of myth and fantasy. IF YOU EXPECT THIS TO BE LIKE STAR WARS DO NOT READ THIS BOOK.
It is a journey to your own personal experience, as well as an exploration of the universal experience. It touches on our deepest fears and needs. It says much about our lives, our religions, and our civilisation. It is a sister text to Jung's autobiography. I found it gave me unique insights into my life, in all our heroic voyages, showing myth not to be the realm of fantasy, but of deep psychic truth. If this interests you read this, read Jung, and read The Marriage of Cadmus and Harmony, by Roberto Calasso.
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am 9. August 2014
I had heard and read a lot about "Storytelling", therefore I bought the book that is the foundation of everything: "A hero with a thousand faces".

As I am not very familiar with the topics Joseph Campbell worked on, this book was very hard to read for me. Without explanations from other authors and from the internet I would not be able to extract the basic ideas that have become crucial in today's marketing.

If you are a marketing specialist interested in practical storytelling, buy another book. However, if you are interested in the original, buy this one.

David Wenger, Wenger Engineering GmbH, Ulm, Germany
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