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10 Books to Read in 2012: The Hero with a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell - Light One Candle

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September 9th, 2012


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03:41 pm - 10 Books to Read in 2012: The Hero with a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell
The halfway mark, only 8 months into the year. Maybe I'll actually get all of the books on this list read. :)

This was a difficult, absorbing book--so full of ideas that I often had to take a few days' break between chapters or sections in order to assimilate what I'd already read.


I'd already read portions, and was familiar with the basic structure of the hero's journey both from writing classes, from my B.A. in literature, and because I've been writing fiction for a long time.

The biggest reason I wanted to read the entire thing was to give myself background for Valerie Frankel's book Girl to Goddess, which is a female take on the hero's journey, based in mythology and legend just like Campbell's. I'm glad I went back and read this first.

The single most interesting thing about this book were the parallels that Campbell draws between so many deeply varied world cultures, by means of their stories.

The basic outline of the hero's journey (call and departure, adventures, return) is no different from what I had studied, but the richness of this book lies in the breadth and depth and complexity of its examples.

Campbell doesn't stick to Greek, Roman, and Norse mythologies; nor only to Christian, Jewish, Hindu and Buddhist religious texts. I know more now about Shintoism and Japanese mythology, myths from the Americas, from Russian, and from many small cultures in Africa and Asia than I did before. And yet, Campbell was also very fair to major religions, to Western mythologies, and to then-modern psychology.

In fact, I found the introductory chapter very interesting because of that last: I'd forgot how long ago this was written. Campbell begins by talking about dream symbolism, about Jung's collective unconscious and Freud's psychoanalysis. I know just enough about current psychology to realize how far back in the infancy of the science this was, which was weird, but also fascinating.

I was hoping to glean insights into my own personal journey, since I think of it as a story, and I surely did.

The second half of the book, the cosmic version of the hero's journey, was less directly applicable to my own journey, and my own stories, but definitely valuable. Would love to discuss with anyone who's read this book--just comment below!

"The modern hero, the modern individual who dares to heed the call seek the mansion of that presence with whom it is our whole destiny to be atoned, cannot, indeed must not, wait for his community to cast off its slough of pride, fear, rationalized avarice, and sanctified misunderstanding.... It is not society that is to guide and save the creative hero, but precisely the reverse. And so every one of us shares the supreme ordeal--carries the cross of the redeemer--not in the bright moments of his tribe's great victories, but in the silences of his personal despair."

(Light a candle)


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