Nicholas (nwhyte) wrote,

September Books 4) The Hero With A Thousand Faces, by Joseph Campbell

I have to say that I was rather disappointed by this classic work on mythology. On the plus side, it is indeed fascinating to put myths from very different points in time and space beside each other to note the similarities; Campbell is consistent and clinical in subjecting the Bible to the same scrutiny as any other culture; and for myself, I learned a thing or two about Cuchulain, not just a local hero and contributor to Ulster geography but in fact an exemplar of several different widely found characters in folklore.

But I found the structure rather confusing, both at macro and at micro level. I couldn't quite be sure what Campbell's basic thesis is, whether he thinks that there is a single archetypal hero myth in which all hero stories (maybe even all stories) are rooted (which is what he seems to say in the introduction) or whether he thinks it's impossible to be so concrete (which is what he seems to say in the epilogue). While each individual chapter and section is supposed to illustrate a certain element of the "monomyth", in fact the examples given often have little bearing on the point that is being made; Campbell tells us what he is going to say, then actually says something a bit different, and then fails to tell us what he has said. (The chapter on Transformations of the Hero, where Cuchulain comes up, seemed rather better structured than the rest.) Of course, it is the nature of folklore to be rambling and discursive, but one can analyse a thing without taking on too many of that thing's characteristics.

Anyway, I can see why this was an influential book of its time, but I felt that the approach was old-fashioned even for 1948, and hope that there are better introductions to world folklore out there.
Tags: bookblog 2011

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