Trevor's Reviews > The Hero With a Thousand Faces

The Hero With a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell
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Mar 08, 08

bookshelves: psychology, social-theory, religion, philosophy

We studied the Myth Cycle at Uni and I was interested enough to come back to this book years later and read the whole thing. It is well worth a read – an endlessly fascinating book by a fascinating man.

The idea is that there is basically only one story, the grand story of our lives, the monomyth. This story is told in millions of different ways, but ultimately every story ever told is either just a retelling of this grand story, or it is a re-telling of certain aspects of this more complete story.

I read, probably about a decade ago now, that if you submit a screenplay to Disney for consideration they basically use the myth cycle to ‘judge’ the worthiness of your script. And they’ll say things like, “So, I wonta hear what you got to say, where’s the supernatural assistance from a female divine for gad sake – ay, where’s dat at?” Or however it is that Disney executives speak.

I fall somewhere further from that particular tree. I think the Myth Cycle is a fascinating idea, fascinating in the real sense that in fixates the mind once you begin contemplating it, and it is something I’m very glad I’ve heard about. But would I use it to structure every story I ever write? Well, no. Is it the touchstone I return to when appraising a work of fiction? Again, no. Like feminist criticism, Marxist criticism, Freudian criticism, Structuralist criticism, deconstructionalist criticism – this particular variety of Jungian criticism is good to know about, but any schema that seeks to encompass the whole of literature is only ever going to end up being a girdle. After a short while the constraints and pinching imposed on literature by the theory are sure to become too much to suffer and the restrictive garment needs to be taken off, if not cast aside. We may not be nearly as pretty or shapely with these garments off, but at least we can breath.

Ideas in the cycle like ‘the rejection of the call’ come into my mind constantly while reading or watching films – the rejection of the call to adventure is a cliché in so many texts – as it is in life. And that is the point, Campbell doesn’t see his ideas as being about interpreting literature, but that the interpreting of literature is a way to come to an understanding of our own lives – and that is something I wholeheartedly agree with. So, rather than take this work as the last word on the structure of stories and the monomyth and the possibilities of self-transcendence, this is a book that is better read as an introduction to thinking about literature as a way of coming to understand our own lives.

And what better task is there? And what surer guide than literature?
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Comments (showing 1-5 of 5) (5 new)

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message 1: by Wendy (new)

Wendy The seminal work of Frazier was The Golden Bough and thus the weaving of myths...with reoccuring themes thru the history of man and memorialized in archeaology,and religions ..became apparent to me as a reader and so I was delighted to come across Campbell. Joseph Campbell's books of which I have read four, continues and amplifies this insight..with a multiplicity of examples of the weaving and reweaving of threads and elements, the different depictions of "the hero", the different presentations of the "masks of god" etc. Campbell was featured delivering his ideas on a television series which introduced more to this maestro who conducts people thru the worlds of myth.
I would especially recommend Occidental Mythology which may be read after Primative Mythology or on its own for how this applies to Christian myth.
Whether it is the monomyth or simply reuse of elements,Campbell is compelling in the sweep of his observations and the inclusion of information.
He would point out that movie makers DO with their craft continue the tradition of myth making with the same archetypes.


message 2: by Book'd (new)

Book'd Seems like you really enjoyed this book and strongly recommend it with huge 5 stars and all that. However, I do not learn anything about the main character 'THE HERO' nor about this journey that he makes.


message 3: by Aubrey (new)

Aubrey I was hoping you had written a review of this. Now I'm going to go actually read it...


Trevor I've recently finished Did Jesus Exist? The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth and was surprised that he clearly didn't think very highly of this book. But I would certainly recommend it.


message 5: by Rakhi (new)

Rakhi Dalal And what better task is there? And what surer guide than literature?

I agree!


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