The Hero with a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell

Description & Review


Book Description

Joseph Campbell’s classic cross-cultural study of the hero’s journey has inspired millions and opened up new areas of research and exploration. Originally published in 1949, the book hit the New York Times best-seller list in 1988 when it became the subject of The Power of Myth, a PBS television special. Now, this legendary volume, re-released in honor of the 100th anniversary of the author’s birth, promises to capture the imagination of a new generation of readers.

The first popular work to combine the spiritual and psychological insights of modern psychoanalysis with the archetypes of world mythology, the book creates a roadmap for navigating the frustrating path of contemporary life. Examining heroic myths in the light of modern psychology, it considers not only the patterns and stages of mythology but also its relevance to our lives today–and to the life of any person seeking a fully realized existence.

Myth, according to Campbell, is the projection of a culture’s dreams onto a large screen; Campbell’s book, like Star Wars, the film it helped inspire, is an exploration of the big-picture moments from the stage that is our world. Offered for the first time with beautifully restored illustrations and a bibliography of cited works, it provides unparalleled insight into world mythology from diverse cultures. It is a must-have resource for both experienced students of mythology and the explorer just beginning to approach myth as a source of knowledge.

Readers Book Review

Joseph Campbell is a “love him or hate him” type of guy. The other reviews of his works that I have found on Amazon bear this out. The criticisms seem to be that his examples do not bear out his theories, that he relies on Freudian and Jungian psychology as “proof”, and that people do not agree with his world-view. My response is this: we must bear in mind that Joseph Campbell was, above all things, a pioneer. A pioneer need not get everything right the first time out – he is setting up a new paradigm with which to view the world. Freud did not get everything right when he fathered modern psychoanalysis, but he created a new framework and steered it in the direction it needed to go.

The Hero with a Thousand Faces is a comparative study of the religions and myths of the world. Its central theme is that all of their stories are essentially the same. They follow certain archetypal paths that are different in particular circumstances, but in general, follow the same overall arch. Now, this is not 100% true as even he admits – stories get changed around a bit and different things happen, but to the extent that he makes his point, the similarities are astonishing. His conclusion – or ONE possible interpretation – is that this reflects certain archetypal themes that are in every society’s collective subconscious (Jung) and that these myths represent eternal truths about life…how to look at it and how to live it.

Now, as to the criticism that his examples don’t bear out his theories, Campbell states that he is just choosing an example or two to illustrate his point. The purpose of this book is not to be a comprehensive collection of the world’s myths – that book is The Golden Bough. Campbell selects myths that the average reader may not be familiar with. While sometimes similarities may not be immediately apparent, it is open to disagreement as any essay on literature is. Campbell warns though that these myths must be ready as poetry, not prose – so beware of any callow analysis. Personally, I would have like his using more familiar myths – especially Arthurian legends – to illustrate his point.

As for his seeming to rely on Freud and Jung as gospel, that is a bit dated. Even so, the fact that his theories do jibe with Jungian psychology is significant – if not actual “proof” that he’s right. And as for disagreements with his world-view, that is irrelevant. Campbell has developed a framework with which to view the world; you do not have to draw the same conclusions from it that he does. Campbell did not believe in a personal God, and I believe he is wrong about that. But the underlying message to me is that, even though people may have divergent beliefs about religion, the underlying ideas and values of religion ARE DEMONSTRATABLY TRUE.

Campbell goes through each stage of the hero’s journey, with all its variations. This is meant not only as academia but it is for YOU – the READER. This is how one views one’s own life. These ancient stories were not just for entertainment – they showed us how to live. That’s what this book is for. –This text refers to the Paperback edition