Sarah Schanze's Reviews > The Hero With a Thousand Faces

The Hero With a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell
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Mar 17, 2010

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bookshelves: how-to-write, classics

This was an interesting book, if a little hard to follow sometimes. My mind wandered more than once and I had to reread sentences several times. Some of the ideas presented I just didn't entirely understand. Probably my favorite parts were instances where stories and myths were just told, supposedly as an example to something explained. I didn't always get it.

One thing that bothers me was the position of women in this train of thought. There were maybe two large myths told that dealt with a woman as the main Hero, but only to illustrate another point, not to illustrate the archetype of woman. From what I remember, woman signifies the Known World, and this knowledge is what the Hero wants to acquire, hence marriages and mistresses being totally acceptable. Much as I like the idea of knowing everything, I don't know how this flies when the genders are reversed. If the Woman knows everything, she has no reason to go on a Journey or do cool things. If she's the main character, she has to be coaxed into revealing herself (like the myth of Amaterasu). If a Heroine sets out on the same journey as a Hero, do the people encountered suddenly symbolize different things? If the Heroine meets the Virgin Boy instead of the Virgin Maiden, what happens? Campbell didn't get into any of that.

I don't think this is a great book to read for writing advice, but I think it's great for worldbuilding. It does break done dozens of myths and religions in such a way that writers could start to think of their own mythologies for their own worlds. I know it's done that for me. I don't know anything much about psychology, but given the importance of this book, it's probably still worth reading for those who haven't.

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Reading Progress

March 17, 2010 – Shelved
October 9, 2011 – Started Reading
October 10, 2011 –
page 30
October 11, 2011 –
page 49
October 12, 2011 –
page 90
October 13, 2011 –
page 126
October 14, 2011 –
page 149
October 15, 2011 –
page 172
October 18, 2011 –
page 207
October 19, 2011 –
page 229
October 20, 2011 –
page 255
October 21, 2011 –
page 261
October 22, 2011 –
page 297
October 22, 2011 –
page 334
October 24, 2011 –
page 349
October 25, 2011 –
page 365
October 26, 2011 – Finished Reading
June 14, 2012 – Shelved as: how-to-write
July 15, 2012 – Shelved as: classics

Comments (showing 1-7 of 7) (7 new)

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message 1: by Carly (new)

Carly Ugh, don't do it! Campbell is painful. :(

Sarah Schanze Carly wrote: "Ugh, don't do it! Campbell is painful. :("

What?! But his stuff is like essential to storytelling!

message 3: by Carly (new)

Carly The Hero Cycle itself is handy... if you take it with a grain of salt, since in a lot of ways it's so general that it CAN be applied to any story in bits and pieces (if you can apply the entire hero cycle to something, it was probably written with Campbell in mind, such as, say, Star Wars).

He's pretty influenced by Jung, who... while also handy, I have a hard time agreeing with (if we're talking psychoanalysis in the literary studies sense, I tend more towards Lacan before Jung or Freud). Pretty much, I skeptical of anyone who develops a "mono" anything (be it a monomyth as Campbell has developed, archetypes as in Jung, or universal stages of development as in Freud and Lacan), so while I can certainly see how the cycle is helpful in seeing the underlying structure of stories (as bits and pieces of the monomyth), I think that an author is limiting themselves if they are trying to write a story that conforms to the cycle.

Mostly, my dislike of Campbell is from a literary/academic standpoint than that of an author... for literary analysis, he's not that useful and I have some serious problems with what he excludes from his book (he picks and chooses the myths to look at, doesn't really examine non-Western mythologies, and doesn't address the issue of heroines aside from Inanna). Plus, I find his writing incredibly dry. XD

message 4: by Sarah (last edited Oct 10, 2011 07:59AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Sarah Schanze HAHA! It is pretty heavy reading, but also pretty interesting, at least to me. Then again, I haven't read anything by him in its entirety, and since he's such a big guy in the literary world, I figured I should at least read his stuff firsthand. I'm not that far into it, but I do like the idea of a kind of universal need to tell stories. It's unifying and a bit hopeful. As for its limitations, well, the book was first written in the 40s, and then only revised again in the late 60s. A lack of focus on non-Western and non-heroine stories doesn't really surprise me (not that it's excusable either). It does make me wonder how a book like this might be written today though.

I haven't read (or, to be honest, heard of) Lacan, but I definitely prefer Jung to Freud. Freud was a crazy guy and his ideas are mostly crazy. Also a tad misogynistic if I recall right. Jung's ideas also have that universality to them, with the archetypes. That does make them kinda vague, but still pretty solid ideas. Almost like fail-safes, like their use in the Star Wars movies. "Use these archetypes and this Hero's Journey thing and the story probably won't suck!"

ALSO this book has been sitting on my shelf for like five years so I gotta get it over and done with, for better or worse. XD I also have another book that specifically looks at the Hero's Journey and its use in writing that I want to read, but figured I should read the original source material first.

message 5: by Carly (new)

Carly lol - I think part of the reason I dislike Campbell and Jung is why you like them. For me the idea of archetypes and universals is depressing and limiting, not liberating, so that's why I dislike their theories in general.

Lacan was a student of Freud's, so his ideas are very Freudian, but less about sex and penises and more about an individual's identity and how it relates to the rest of the world. I wouldn't say go out and read him, since honestly for most people it's just not necessary, but since I'm doing graduate work in English it's kind of someone I've had to read. TBH, I dislike psychoanalysis in general, and I tend to use other literary frameworks before sticking solely to psychoanalysis, because it's just not a way of looking at literature that I find interesting.

As for the period when he was writing... I honestly don't think this book would be written today, because literary analysis has kind of moved beyond the type of critical framework that he was working in (I'm thinking of New Criticism, specifically); similarly we wouldn't get Frye or Propp writing today either, because people are looking at different things. It's not so much about categorizing literature as questioning these categories, these days (which, come to think of it, is probably another reason I'm not a fan of Campbell; too much post structuralism!). (Uh. More tangents. Sorry!)

But yes, I think you're right to read Campbell before reading someone else's interpretation of him. And I'll be interested in seeing what you think of him after you're done; I hope you get something helpful out of him! :)

Sarah Schanze Man I haven't heard of any of those guys you mentioned. You are super-duper smart, my friend.

It's pretty much been said that there's no such thing as originality anymore. You have to take what's already there and change it to make it fresh. Campbell kind of reminds me of that. Jung's archetypes and Campbell's Journey are limiting, but that's where the challenge is. The fun part is screwing with the formula to make something new. Flip an aspect of the story around in a way people didn't expect. Haha, it's almost like learning the rules before you can break them, not that the Hero's Journey is a set of rules, but they're certainly a good place to start.

If nothing else, reading Campbell makes me feel slightly smarter! :D Good thing I've got a big buffer on the reading challenge....

message 7: by Carly (new)

Carly Not super-duper smart - I've just done a degree and a half in literature, and literary theory is something I actually really enjoy, so I tend to do more reading in that area that I might have done otherwise. :)

And yes, I agree with you in that respect, and as a writer, I can definitely see how Campbell would be useful that way. As an academic, I wince every time I hear his name. XD

But yay for feeling slightly smarter! :D Like I said above, I'll be interested to hear what you think of the book once you're finished. :)

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