Thursday, June 23, 2011

The Hero With a Thousand Faces

From the inside jacket:
Since its release in 1949, The Hero With a Thousand Faces has influenced millions of readers by combining the insightsof modern psychology with Joseph Campbell's revolutionary understanding of comparative mythology. In these pages, Campbell outlines the Hero's Journey, a universal motif of adventure and transformation that runs through virtually all of the world's mythic traditions. He also explores the Cosmogonic Cycle, the mythic pattern of world creation and destruction.

As relevant today as when it was first published, The Hero With a Thousand Faces continues to find new audiences in fields ranging from religion and anthropology to literature and film studies. The book has also profoundly influenced creative artists - including authors, songwriters, game designers, and filmmakers - and continues to inspire all those interested in the inherent human need to tell stories.

I have been reading this book for probably three months now and I finally finished it because I couldn't renew it from the library any more times and I figured it would be ridiculous for me to check it in, only to check it right back out. Just because it took me forever, though, doesn't mean that this isn't an awesome book. It is. I loved it so much. I started reading it because I took a class last semester that examined the Hero's Journey (in art, film, music, and literature) and I have been fascinated with the subject ever since. I love the idea of the monomyth (that there's just one universal story and that all myths, tales, and adventures fit into it) and I love all the psychology I learned about in this book. I thought Campbell gave Freud a bit too much credit sometimes, but it was still interesting to read. I personally love Jung and archetypes and the fact that certain stories and elements will always ring true in the human soul because they are part of us and part of what we all go through on our own heroic journeys.

Joseph Campbell is a genius. He compares myths from all different cultures in this book to show how they all fit into the monomyth. I love that he didn't just use greek and egyptian myths; this book is full of stories from native american tales, religious texts (of all different religions), medieval european stories, indigenous folk tales, chinese stories, african, south american, Indian, and on and on. I think this book is an incredible resource and I plan on buying it. I think it works better as a resource than a for-fun read. I really did have a hard time reading this straight through.

The reason for that is that Joseph Campbell speaks with a pretty heavy academic dialog. He throws out massive words like the people reading them should be walking dictionaries (things like "obfuscation" and I can't remember what else but I do remember having to look that one up). I have a good vocab, but it can be hard to cut through this kind of book - like whacking bush to get through the jungle. Anyway. The other thing is that Joseph Campbell is too smart. Have you ever had a college professor who you could tell got their job because they were super smart and not because they had amazing teaching skills? That's what reading this book is like. Genius brains like that tend to jump from subject to subject, without regard for the fact that people of lesser intelligence are scrambling to keep up. I found myself wishing that this book could have been edited a bit better; I didn't think it flowed very well. Like I said, it makes an awesome resource, but it's not so easy to just sit down and read it cover to cover.

I discovered so many things while reading this book. I love archetypes. I love mythology. I can tell why so many people have been influenced by this book, particularly storytellers (George Lucas cites this novel as a MAJOR influence for Star Wars). Disney has also admitted to relying on Hero With a Thousand Faces while writing scripts for several movies: Aladdin, The Lion King, Beauty and the Beast. I think this book is genius. Fascinating. Revelatory. If you can make it through, it's well worth it.

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