Isadora Wagner's Reviews > The Hero With a Thousand Faces

The Hero With a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell
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's review
Jun 15, 2012

it was amazing
bookshelves: myth, writers
Read in June, 2012

This book remains one of my favorite go-to sources for the arc of the hero in myth and life. I recently reread parts of Chapter I (Departure: The Crossing of the First Threshold; Belly of the Whale) and Chapter III (The Return: The Refusal of the Return; Rescue from Without; Crossing of the Return Threshold) to goad myself out of my present lethargy in Middle of Wisconsin, USA, both off the page and on. Despite the fact that Neil Gaiman refused to read this book after p. 50 because he found it revealed too much about the monomyth behind all myths and the stories we tell ourselves, or maybe because of it, this book has seen a resurgence among writers today. I have to say I highly recommend it to writers for this reason. It's excellent. I don't think it gets in the way of creativity at all; if anything, it provides a structure for understanding life, fiction and myth in a way that no other book I have found does. I find myself particularly thinking about The Refusal of the Return and the Belly of the Whale often. What if we all do have a mountain to climb, or a dragon to slay, or an impossible quest to complete, and the sad, true reality of life for most is that they refuse to take up these duties? This book is wise on both sides: it speaks cogently and truly to the incredible boon awaiting those who do, and the grievous slip into failure that finds those who do not. An excellent book for deconstructing fable-like stories and quest movies, such as "The Never-Ending Story," "Labyrinth," "Princess Bride," "The True Story of Hansel and Gretel," and the Tolkien series, as well as Gaiman's own work. Equally, it would be interesting to apply Campbell's theories of the arc of the hero and the perils of action and inaction to the horror and gothic genres. Truly, of the books for (non-realist fiction) writers that I have read and recommended, I would put this one, Todorov's "The Fantastic," Heidegger's, "Poetry, Language, Thought," and Georg Lukacs' "The Theory of the Novel," at the top of the list: most helpful ever!
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