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The Hero's Journey: Joseph Campbell on His Life & Work

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The author of Hero With a Thousand Faces, The Masks of God series, and The Power of Myth here turns his powers of observation and analysis on his own life's journey and conveys the excitement of his life-long exploration of mythic traditions, which he called "the one great story of mankind." In conversations with poets, anthropologists, and philosophers, Campbell reflects on subjects ranging from the origins and functions of myth, the role of the artist and the need for ritual, to the ordeals of love and romance. Illustrated throughout with photographs from Joseph Campbell's family archive and with a new, revised introduction, The Hero's Journey introduces the reader first-hand to Joseph Campbell the man, his discoveries, his terminology, and his thinking.

288 pages, cloth

First published May 1, 1990

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About the author

Joseph Campbell

373 books5,069 followers
Joseph Campbell was an American author and teacher best known for his work in the field of comparative mythology. He was born in New York City in 1904, and from early childhood he became interested in mythology. He loved to read books about American Indian cultures, and frequently visited the American Museum of Natural History in New York, where he was fascinated by the museum's collection of totem poles.

Campbell was educated at Columbia University, where he specialized in medieval literature, and continued his studies at universities in Paris and Munich. While abroad he was influenced by the art of Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse, the novels of James Joyce and Thomas Mann, and the psychological studies of Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung. These encounters led to Campbell's theory that all myths and epics are linked in the human psyche, and that they are cultural manifestations of the universal need to explain social, cosmological, and spiritual realities. 

After a period in California, where he encountered John Steinbeck and the biologist Ed Ricketts, he taught at the Canterbury School, and then, in 1934, joined the literature department at Sarah Lawrence College, a post he retained for many years. During the 40s and '50s, he helped Swami Nikhilananda to translate the Upanishads and The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna. He also edited works by the German scholar Heinrich Zimmer on Indian art, myths, and philosophy. In 1944, with Henry Morton Robinson, Campbell published A Skeleton Key to Finnegans Wake. His first original work, The Hero with a Thousand Faces, came out in 1949 and was immediately well received; in time, it became acclaimed as a classic. In this study of the "myth of the hero," Campbell asserted that there is a single pattern of heroic journey and that all cultures share this essential pattern in their various heroic myths. In his book he also outlined the basic conditions, stages, and results of the archetypal hero's journey.

Throughout his life, he traveled extensively and wrote prolifically, authoring many books, including the four-volume series The Masks of God, Myths to Live By, The Inner Reaches of Outer Space and The Historical Atlas of World Mythology. Joseph Campbell died in 1987. In 1988, a series of television interviews with Bill Moyers, The Power of Myth, introduced Campbell's views to millions of people.

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5 stars
1,193 (54%)
4 stars
672 (30%)
3 stars
243 (11%)
2 stars
66 (3%)
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19 (<1%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 132 reviews
Profile Image for Barnaby Thieme.
516 reviews234 followers
July 10, 2009
Having listened to dozens of hours of Campbell lectures in addition to reading several of his books, it's clear to me that Campbell is a much more effective speaker than writer. It may not be clear to audiences chiefly familiar with Campbell through the PBS series "The Power of Myth" but he is a prodigious scholar of immense learning and insight.

This book is a delightful and fascinating collection of interview excerpts strung together to tell his biography, illuminated with the occasional digression into comparative religions, storytelling, or depth psychology. It's a fabulous way to get to know the man and his ideas, and an excellent introduction to his system of thought. It's very entertaining and deeply rewarding. Probably my favorite Campbell book.
Profile Image for Deirdre.
2,023 reviews78 followers
January 21, 2015
There are some great bits in this but there is also some appallingly sexist moments.

He did some great work looking at the Hero's journey from the point of view of a man, and what he wrote was seminal, but he just didn't see stories that had women's journeys, maybe because they weren't recorded, maybe because, in the past, it was more important for a woman to remain at home and keep the next generation stable and continuing than go on a journey.

The biggest problem is that now, this is the monomyth, the core that many writers can't see beyond, inversion of roles, changes of roles, he did say that there would be new myths built of our culture, I haven't seen many more than the ones he was starting to identify that centred around money.

Interesting look at some of his ideas.
Profile Image for Michaela.
72 reviews36 followers
July 17, 2018

Sexism can really kill a mood. I used to respect this guy somewhat, but if he couldn't shake the most basic of social constructs, after having clearly stated that he knew otherwise, then I can't help but to doubt the validity of all else he has interpreted. I'm not saying there's nothing of value in there. I'm saying that after a certain number of pages thinking surely they are done with this old-school sexist crap now, only to turn into yet another freaking page of the shite, I was disgusted & (quite literally) tossed it the hell away from me. So, I guess one could say I've lost faith in his interpretations, which is a shame, for he quite clearly knew better, but went on w/ that nonsense anyway. Take it for what it is, but that was my experience here. *sigh.* So utterly disappointed.

(Side note: I'm not a stranger to the male/female, positive/negative, polarities often set up in reading of a so-called mystical, or even magickal, orientation. That type of arrangement I have the background context for understanding.....and as such that is not what set me off in the reading of this book. I just wanted to be clear about that.)

Profile Image for Jeffrey Howard.
353 reviews62 followers
October 1, 2016
This book is largely a collection of transcribed interviews with Joseph Campbell. This is a benefit given that he is so much more affecting as a speaker than he is as a writer. He gets to the heart of the matter in spoken word while his writing can be a bit opaque and scholastic. This volume attempts to map out Campbells life according the monomyth, or hero's journey, formally dividing the chapters into each major step of the way: the call to adventure, the road of trials, etc. It was a clever thought but poorly delivered. The interviews felt scattered, disjointed. The attempt to aling it with the hero's journey felt more like an afterthought.

Most of Campbell's greatest wisdom is captured within these covers and made more poignant by anecdotes from his life (his wife Jean was a huge impact on his thinking). I wouldn't give this book to a friend as an introduction to Campbell's work. Appropriately, it is a summation of his work, in bits and pieces. I enjoyed it but look forward to a more tradition biography.
Profile Image for Saiisha.
77 reviews47 followers
August 5, 2016
I've been wanting to read this book for a long time, and I wasn't disappointed! True to Campbell's other works, the depth of discussion about various topics that his life's work was involved in - myth, mythologies, stories, roles, rituals, etc. was outstanding.

But the formatting of the book threw me - it's a collection of snippets of conversations between Campbell and the many poets and psychiatrists and even filmmakers who he inspired with his extensive work on the world's mythologies. I'm not sure I got used to the format even by the end of the book, but the topics of conversations were certainly enlightening.

If you're interested in spirituality, philosophy, yoga, etc., join my Old Souls Book Club (https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/...) for other recommendations and thought-provoking conversations!
Profile Image for Stephen Huntley.
155 reviews3 followers
September 3, 2017
Disjointed and self-congratulatory. Lots of fawning and name dropping. Rambling explanations and poor writing.
Profile Image for Claire.
652 reviews279 followers
January 11, 2018
Excerpts from interviews have Joseph Campbell in conversation with others inspired by him.
Read in preparation for a course I'm doing in 'spiritual phyto'essencing' based on the theme of the hero's journey.
Will follow up with The Hero with a Thousand Faces, his theory of the archetypal hero in ancient mythology.
Profile Image for Jason Meuschke.
Author 3 books37 followers
September 24, 2021
I got this on an audible sale for cheap and jumped when I saw it as I love his Hero with a Thousand Faces.
But this ain’t that.
I didn’t read the description, perhaps at all? Imagine my surprise (after the first hour of listening) to find it to be a collection of interviews put together about Campbell’s life and his critical thinking POV.
Still, I finished with an open mind and found many thought provoking, interesting tidbits.
Overall, it’s not really my thing but it was done decently well. I’d rate it 3.5 if I could.
Profile Image for Gay.
Author 22 books40 followers
August 23, 2007
More inspiration for writers. Also Star Wars source. Note: I'm pretty sure Asimov's Foundation series was also a huge influence to GL.
Profile Image for A.L. Sirois.
Author 25 books6 followers
May 15, 2023
I have been a fan of Campbell's work since I first ran across it in the 1988 PBS series THE POWER OF MYTH, in which he was interviewed by Bill Moyers and which appeared shortly after his death in 1987. This biographical book covers Campbell's life and work in fascinating detail. The best way to summarize his philosophy is this: Follow your bliss. His work was primarily concerned with comparative mythology and comparative religion. While those may sound like dry subjects, he imbued them with life and excitement, and made it clear that ALL of mankind's civilizations seem to have certain aspects of mythology in common. In this book, Campbell, in conversation with a number of interviewers, explicates his views and beliefs. Whether you buy into his research or not, it seems clear that Campbell uncovered the basic premises of storytelling -- which have sustained human beings throughout our entire history, and which occur again and again in cultures that have had no contact whatsoever. A fascinating book, and required reading for writers -- especially fiction writers -- as is his book THE HERO WITH A THOUSAND FACES.
Profile Image for Daniel.
65 reviews1 follower
March 2, 2020
If like me you are not familiar with the work of Joseph Campbell, this is a great way to dive right in. It's not only a look at this contributions to the world but also his life story that led to all those contributions. Through reading this I am much more closely connected to mythology and am assured that the work I've been doing over the past few years of looking inward is not for nothing and is core to my experience as a human. The sad thing is that I don't recall who handed me this book, still I will transmit my gratitude to the world and hope it will be felt by the gifter when desired.
Profile Image for Nikki.
354 reviews14 followers
April 17, 2008
A wonderful collection of interview with Campbell. Organized by the motif of the hero's journey. Reveals personal history of Campbell, as well as his attitude toward his experiences and his continual mythological understanding of all around him. Additionally, the epilogue contains a priceless tale.
Profile Image for Laline Paull.
Author 3 books753 followers
April 7, 2014
Included because I'm a writer, so I need to know everything I can about the meaning, the origin, the potential of story. I was about to say, 'and this is a seminal work', but I realised there is no female parallel. 'This is an ovate work'. Just doesn't work.

OK. It's a seminal work, but I'm not sure I like that phrase.
Profile Image for Judith Ann Kohnen.
Author 3 books40 followers
May 22, 2014
Another good book I've read a couple of times. It names common structural elements found universally in myths, fairy tales, dreams, and movies. The author uses movies to defend his philosophy. A must in a writer's library.
Profile Image for داوود قنبری.
Author 5 books3 followers
August 13, 2019
به نظر من این اثر بیشتر به درد کسانی می خوره که با کمپل آشنایی کافی دارند. و آثارش رو پیش از این خوانده اند. اما باز هم در همین کتاب مطالب بسیاری برای یادگیری وجود داره. اصولا جوزف کمپل به عنوان یک معلم انسان اثر بخشی در بین دانشجویانش، جامعه اش و حتی کل دنیا است.
Profile Image for Richelle.
97 reviews2 followers
March 31, 2010
Read this in college. It was very inspiring to me at the time. Still is in many ways. The video series by Bill Moyers is fascinating as well.
Profile Image for Melanie.
Author 4 books12 followers
November 13, 2013
I've just re-read this book for the umpteenth time - a real classic that would definitely be on my desert island list.
Profile Image for Susan Reynolds.
Author 13 books28 followers
September 17, 2015
I consider Joseph Cambelll one of my "spiritual fathers." I've read or watched everything he wrote or videotaped. ADORE.
Profile Image for Daniel Petra.
Author 1 book15 followers
March 26, 2016
Sooner or later all of us will have to face and go through our own :Hero' Journey" ... whether we like it or not! We may try to avoid it as long as we can. I did!
7 reviews
June 8, 2020
An insightful look into the life and work of one of the great minds of the 20th century. A sprawling web of art, history, and the human condition all tied together by the common and underlying thread of mythology. Would recommend this book for anyone interested in the deeper mysteries of the human condition. Campbell's approach to making sense of these mysteries is so creative and insightful, you'll surely come away from this book with some new ideas about your own life to consider.
Profile Image for Tore.
61 reviews3 followers
June 2, 2020
Some parts have not aged well, some parts are gems, some parts repeat themselves since the book is just a collection of short dialogues from different times and places.

Part biography, part wisdom, part rants.
Learn how to think about and recognize myths, use myths that are useful to you, live an authentic life.

I will have to read The Hero with a Thousand Faces soon.
Profile Image for Tom Walsh.
593 reviews9 followers
April 19, 2022
Poorly organized hodge-podge.

There’s an amazing amount of information in this book because Campbell has accumulated amount of knowledge of Mythology over the course of his life. Unfortunately, it comes at the reader like a barrage of names, traditions, and stories addressing multiple themes that only Campbell can keep straight.

The lame questions fired at this fountain of knowledge follow no coherent thread and add nothing to the story he’s trying to tell, resulting in a stream of consciousness catalogue resembling a dramatic reading of a phone book.

Please read Campbell’s own writings and leave this book alone.

Three stars for his knowledge. Minus 6 for this book.
4 reviews
July 15, 2022
Es un libro increíble. Un referente para mí. Explica la esencia subyacente en todas las historias humanas desde el comienzo de los tiempos. De alguna manera, me ayuda comorender cómo las personas miramos el mundo y entendemos la realidad que nos rodea. Lo recomiendo. Para mí es un libro imprescindible.
Profile Image for Sabby.
296 reviews10 followers
June 20, 2018
Joseph Campell is darn good in making me understand Mythology. Fascinating, brilliant in comparative religion and comparing mythology. He is pure love.
Profile Image for Madhur Ahuja.
160 reviews9 followers
April 9, 2022
Not as good as I was expecting. It's mostly collection of his interviews.
February 5, 2023
A must read for any social communicator. Joseph Campbell's journey and persistance to publish his books is also admirable. The construction of myth is subtly revealed.
Profile Image for John Fredrickson.
594 reviews15 followers
November 4, 2017
One has to love Campbell. This book informs about his personal life, not as a biography, but more about what has mattered to him in his own journey. The book consists of a lot of interview segments with a wide variety of interviewers.

I definitely enjoyed getting a sense for "the man behind the curtain", as it were, but overall the book felt a bit too meandering for me. I prefer his other books, which are much more focused.
Profile Image for Czarny Pies.
2,489 reviews1 follower
June 9, 2015
I bought this extremely handsome volume at the Salvation Army for $4.00 which is slightly over priced. At $2.00 it would have been a true bargain.

The book is a compilation of transcripts of interviews done for a PBS documentary on Joseph Campbell that aired in 1988. In other words it is a gift item rather than a true book. As such, however, it is very well done. The photographs of Campbell taken at various stages in his life will please any Campbell. The selection of illustrations showing art objects related to the myths analyzed by Campbell in his writings is outstanding.

This is a book for fan's so Campbell is not challenged anywhere. However, what is well done, is that Campbell's ideas are very well presented and explained. In particular, the book provides a succinct statement of one Campbell's major theses which is that: "God is a metaphor for a mystery that absolutely transcends all human categories of thought. ... A mythology is an organization of symbolic narratives and images that are metaphorical possibilities of human experience and fulfilment in a society at a given time."

This book has its charms if you are a Campbell fan and occasionally rises above the level that is typical of spin-offs from TV series. Most readers, however, would be well advised to devote their time to other books.
Displaying 1 - 30 of 132 reviews

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