Last year I read Joseph Campbell's The Hero with a Thousand Faces all the way through for the first time, and it deepened the ways I look at story and at my own life. Yet I can safely say that it didn't change my perspective as much as Valerie Estelle Frankel's follow-up book, published late in 2010: From Girl to Goddess: The Heroine's Journey through Myth and Legend.
The single best thing about this book is that it contains in-depth dissections of many myths, legends, folk an fairy tales that were thoroughly passed over by Campbell in his study. The basic structure is the same--call, descent, confrontation, integration and return--but it's not just a "feminine take" on the hero's journey. It's an entirely new look at that journey through a (mostly) new set of stories.
Women have stories, too. And sometimes they are not the same as male or masculine stories would be. I'm enough of an equality feminist that I instinctively reject binary definitions that, for example, designate reason and language as masculine or nature and emotion as feminine, and while Frankel does fall into that at times, the stories speak for themselves. There are tales where the woman fights and conquers, as a man does in his hero's journey. But there are many stories in which the goal is new life, or healing, or preservation, or the rebuilding of a family/community.
The part of me that could be a mother, that associates my gender at least partly with my body, leaps to agree with those stories. And I love that Frankel presents the whole spectrum, from Cinderella and Gretel to Mulan to Pele to Scheherazade.
Frankel makes sure to tell the tales of transgender, lesbian and queer women in mythology and legends, as well. We are all represented here.
One thing she deliberately does not include are psychological case studies, which Campbell had. And yet, mysteriously, it spoke more directly to my psyche than his book did. As I did after reading Womanthology, and after viewing an exhibition of female surrealists last year, I now feel empowered to embrace my own story, to tell it, and to trust it.
Also, I think this will be of great use (as Campbell has been) to me in telling stories of my fictional women.