Review: The Power of Myth – Joseph Campbell

Paperback: 293 pages
Publisher: Anchor (June 1, 1991)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0385418868
ISBN-13: 978-978-0385418867
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If I had a list of top 10 Authors Joseph Campbell would be right up there. He’s always amazed me with his grasp of human history and how it all ties together. In this book, based on the Video Series, we are treated to He and Bill Moyers talking about Mythology in general and the various cultures and how different myths seem to tie together.

One example is when he talks about rituals. I discovered why reading it, what I think is behind one of the big controversies of today. People say our morality went down hill because we quit saying the pledge of allegiance or praying in school. I don’t think that’s the case. Mr. Campbell makes the argument, and a sound argument I think, that we have quit having rituals. Those things were merely rituals and taught people how to behave, many of those rituals in American culture at least have been done away with for right or wrong, but not replaced.

I found myself thinking quite a bit while reading this book. It raises many questions, and causes a lot of introspective thinking on the different belief systems and the similarities in the many stories they have to tell. For fans of Mythology who haven’t experienced Mr. Campbell’s writing, I encourage you to pick this up. For those who have, this is a definite must have for your bookshelf. It is definitely one I’ll find myself reading again.

About the Author

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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