The Hero with a Thousand Faces

Joseph Campbell, The Hero with a Thousand Faces (New York: MJF Books) 1949.

Campbell - The Hero with a Thousand Faces
This book has been out for a long time and I have used it as a reference on many occasions. I know the basic premise of the book. However, I had never gotten around to reading it cover-to-cover before and I decided to assume that challenge this winter. There is no question that Campbell produced a landmark piece of research. It is remarkable how thoroughly he had exhausted his subject. He has stories form Africa, Asia, Indigenous North and South Americans, Australia and Europe. He draws heavily on classical literature including Greek and Roman sources. The scope of the book is amazing.

I, however, don't think the way that Campbell thinks. Whereas he is continually looking for similarities and common themes in diverse and different cultural traditions, I prefer to look for the unique twists and turns and the things that make each distinct form the others.

In the back of my mind as I read, of course, was the fact that I know that this was a huge influence on George Lucas' Star Wars franchise. Its impact on the first three films of the series is so obvious that were I teaching a course with this book as a text, I would use the movies as a way to discuss the outline and structure of Campbell's theories.

I suppose it was a good idea to read the book, but it is rather a slog, with a fair amount of detail. It works much better as a reference once you have the basic concepts and the outline firmly in your mind. Still, it is a remarkable work and one with which an educated person should be familiar.