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A Skeleton Key to Finnegans Wake (The Collected Works of Joseph Campbell)

4.01 of 5 stars 4.01  ·  rating details  ·  420 ratings  ·  31 reviews
Since its publication in 1939, countless would-be readers of Finnegans Wake - James Joyce's masterwork, which consumed a third of his life - have given up after a few pages, dismissing it as a "perverse triumph of the unintelligible." In 1944, a young professor of mythology and literature named Joseph Campbell, working with Henry Morton Robinson, wrote the first "key" or g
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Paperback, 365 pages
Published September 29th 1977 by Penguin Books (first published 1944)
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Nathan "N.R." Gaddis
Brief addendum addend’d.


Joseph Campbell’s A Skeleton Key to Finnegans Wake was the first book-length critical study published on Joyce’s Meisterstück. It was also one of Campbell’s first books, which alone ought to earn him a great deal of respect.

But aside from the importance of this book in the reception history of Finnegans Wake, is it still current, still useful for the novice Wake Reader? Yes it is. But it is no longer the indispensable guide it once was. That honor goes to Roland McHugh’s
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Geoff
Being Campbell, this heavily emphasizes the role the abundance of occurrence of myth plays in Joyce's masterpiece. And it is a large, if not the largest, role. And this skeleton key does a great job pointing the way through key aspects of the "plot" of Finnegans Wake. That being said, one should not rely fully on Campbell's interpretation. One should use McHugh thoroughly and learn to read the Wake oneself. It makes its own meanings. Campbell's work is best used throughout a first reading of Joy ...more
James
One of the first and still indispensable books for working through Finnegan's Wake. The authors present their sense of the text beneath the text beneath the text beneath the text, along with some commentary and thoughts about what is going on.

Campbell went on to become an icon in the field of mythology, symbolism, and world religions. His knowledge and intellectual powers are at full play here in what was one of his earliest texts.
Adam Floridia
I doubt that even 400 pages of cliff notes will be enough.

So far, incredibly helpful. In addition to pointing out major themes and structural points in the beginning, this is basically a paragraph by paragraph “translation” of Wake. Read a paragraph of Wake, read the corresponding paragraph in this, then re-read the paragraph in Wake. That’s how I plan to get through the book with at least some basic, elementary level of comprehension.
Rhonda
I was just reminded, after reading an upbeat review of Finnegan's Wake, how my reading years ago would have been impossible had it not been for this book. While I am not entirely sure it was exhaustive, it was more than enough food for thought.
Finnegan's Wake was frustrating in a way I cannot define, more so than any book before or since. I cannot get beyond the issue of the writer's continuously writing jokes to himself which, when deciphered, appeared anti-climactic in a way in which Ulysses
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Qhlueme
Very helpful for getting started in understanding Finnegans Wake.
I wished the book had covered the entire Wake.
There are plenty of aids available now for making sense
of books, allusions, names, religions, geographies, sigla, figures,
and all sorts of things appearing and reappearing in the Wake.
Nonetheless, while now superseded, it was one of a kind when I got my first copy.
If you are reading Finnegans Wake for the first time,
you will find the first pages of the Key helpful.
Keegan
So far, a great commentary to read along with The Wake. The line-by-line translations are silly, but the footnotes are great. I'm sure they do not match Joyce's intentions exactly - they are obviously defenses of Campbell's own idea of the unity of mythology - but they point out many allusions I would read over, and I'm interested in Campbell's interpretation because his fascination with myths mirrors my own.
Matt
Joseph Campbell understood more about storytelling than just about any other person I can think of. This book, which he cowrote with Henry Morton Robinson, helps to illuminate one of the most difficult - but most rewarding - books ever written.
Fionnuala
The parts that announced the themes were very useful but I couldn't see the point of paraphrasing entire chapters - I chose to read Joyce's original instead.
Em
I heard this was the hardest book to read...I'm not even going to start reading this, Can't even understand the title...
Bob
Jul 01, 2007 Bob marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
someday I hope to have the time to study this novel long enough to understand it.
Josh Brown
I used this book the way you might use a travel guide when visiting an unfamiliar city. At first it seems an indispensable text against which to compare my perceptions with its reality. But as I went further into Finnegans Wake itself, I realized that there was no one "reality" for me as a reader to "figure out." The trouble with the Skeleton Key is that it presupposes such a reality. Again, like with a travel guide- sometimes they get annoying, as you find that you disagree with their assessmen ...more
Tammy Marie Jacintho
O' the labyrinthine ways of it... and what a guide!
Barnaby Thieme
In this work, Campbell and Robinson (i.e., Campbell) provide a running synopsis to Finnegans Wake, establishing what they take to be the essential line of its polysemic plot and presenting it in concise, articulate terms.

Along with McHugh's "Annotations to Finnegans Wake," this book has been my constant companion for the last five months, and as with McHugh's book, I can't even imagine trying to read the Wake with out its assistance. Part of the Wake's effect is to allow scenes to gradually com
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Max Nemtsov
ценность Кэмбла велика, но, понятно, относительна. как пересказ (тем паче ранний, всего через 5 лет после выхода романа), текст обедняет исходник, что понятно, как попытка вскрыть как можно больше слоев романа - заслуживает всяческого уважения и вселяет надежду, что человеческому разуму, не вооруженному ничем, кроме собственный знаний, это сделать под силу (хотя понятно, что у Кэмбла с Джойсом просто очень много совпадало в сфере интересов и списках прочитанного).
и да, в конце Кэмбл дает лучший
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S.D.
For those merely curious about an intended meaning behind the Wake, reading this study may suffice; but for readers of Joyce’s “Night Tome” looking for more, the Key is a better compliment than guide. It’s opening and closing chapters do present a laudable insight into Joyce’s technique; but in demonstrating the possibility of a linear narrative, the Key invites the danger of experiencing more difficulty in reading Finnegans Wake than is typically assumed, as readers may attempt to fit a convent ...more
David Melbie
Dec 06, 2010 David Melbie rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: you anjer lil cutlet-sized consort. . .
Recommended to David by: Joseph Campbell
It all started in 1995. I had been a fan of Joe since I first read The Power of Myth, the companion book of the PBS series of interviews with Bill Moyers, in 1989. I had not seen the six episodes when they aired in 1988. I was pretty busy in those days, living in California, working in cable TV, playing (working!) in The Thread, a cover band (some originals) and probably doing a lot of speed. . .

. . . I did see a lecture once on PBS, and I was immediately fascinated by his ability -- talent, rea
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Patricia Weston
so wonderfully, cleverly researched. invaluable for the student of Joyce's masterful Finnegan's Wake.
Kevin
I read this book in conjunction with Finnegans Wake. it provided a helpful guide, and in his commentary, Joseph Campbell is himself a beautiful writer. The title "A Skeleton Key" is an apt one. it is skeleton key, not in the sense that it opens every lock and every door. Rather it provides a useful to to find one way into the book, and it provides a skeletal frame on which to hang those initial insights that one struggles with on reading FW for the first time. Campbell offers a means of finding ...more
Garrett Cash
It did what it was supposed to do. It probably would have helped a lot more if I had taken the time to really go through it, but I just didn't care enough for Finnegans Wake to do it.
Steve
A pretty good map of complex territory. I'll be coming back to this one. In tandem with Tyndall's guide, all the help one needs....
Jack  Bernardi
pretty useful but campbell is overdramatic as heck i mean that's part of it's allure but w/e i dont see why i should be giving a reader's guide anything higher than three stars
Clarke
I don't think any book can fully explain Finnegans Wake, but this one does a pretty damn good job. If you're going to attempt The Wake, this isn't a bad guide to have.
Meredith Watkins
having read this, I'm more confident now that I'll be able to finish Finnegan's Wake. There's a lot of useful insight in this book
Joe
It may be because I only read a middle section of this, but this didn't do much for me.
James Kayorie
Essential for the first time you wade through the Wake.
Derek Martin
I hope it will help me figure out Finnegan's Wake.
Julia
Jun 30, 2008 Julia is currently reading it  ·  review of another edition
Superseded, but cheap on ABEBooks!
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Finnegans Wake Gr...: Joseph Campbell's Skeleton Key 3 12 May 18, 2014 06:11AM  
  • Annotations to  Finnegans Wake
  • Re Joyce
  • The New Bloomsday Book: A Guide Through Ulysses
  • James Joyce
  • James Joyce's Ulysses
  • Stephen Hero
  • James Joyce
  • Ulysses Annotated
  • Axel's Castle: A Study of the Imaginative Literature of 1870-1930
  • Nabokov's Pale Fire: The Magic of Artistic Discovery
  • The Penguin Dictionary of Literary Terms and Literary Theory
  • Lucia Joyce: To Dance in the Wake
  • Theory of Literature
  • The Sense of an Ending: Studies in the Theory of Fiction
  • Modernism: A Guide to European Literature 1890-1930
  • Problems of Dostoevsky's Poetics
  • Proust
  • The Use of Poetry and the Use of Criticism
20105
Joseph John Campbell was an American mythology professor, writer, and orator best known for his work in the fields of comparative mythology and comparative religion.
More about Joseph Campbell...

Other Books in the Series

The Collected Works of Joseph Campbell (1 - 10 of 37 books)
  • Goddesses: Mysteries of the Feminine Divine
  • The Hero With a Thousand Faces
  • The Hero's Journey: Joseph Campbell on His Life & Work (Works)
  • Myths to Live By
  • Pathways to Bliss: Mythology and Personal Transformation
  • The Eastern Way: Joseph Campbell Audio Collection
  • The Myths and Masks of God: Joseph Campbell Audio Collection
  • The Inner Reaches of Outer Space: Metaphor as Myth and as Religion (Collected Worksl)
  • Thou Art That: Transforming Religious Metaphor
  • Mythic Worlds, Modern Words: Joseph Campbell on the Art of James Joyce
The Power of Myth The Hero With a Thousand Faces Myths to Live By Primitive Mythology (The Masks of God, #1) Oriental Mythology (The Masks of God, #2)

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