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The Hero with a Thousand Faces (1949)

by Joseph Campbell

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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7,66758835 (4.09)154
Since its release in 1949, The Hero With a Thousand Faces has influenced millions of readers by combining the insights of moden psychology with Joseph Campbells' revoutionary uderstanding of comparative mythology. In these pages, Campbell outlines the Hero's Journey, a universal motif of adventure and transformation that runs through virtually all of the world's myhtic traditions. He also explores the Cosmogonic Cycle, the mythic pattern of world creation and destruction.… (more)
  1. 21
    The Seven Basic Plots: Why We Tell Stories by Christopher Booker (ed.pendragon)
    ed.pendragon: Interesting to contrast Campbell's 'hero monomyth' hypothesis with Booker's Freudian interpretation of how all literature, plays and films can be judged by how they match with his identification of universal plotlines.
  2. 01
    Myths to Live By by Joseph Campbell (Michael.Rimmer)
  3. 13
    Giles Goat-Boy by John Barth (alaskayo)
    alaskayo: Before Lucas, Barth was one of the first writers to intentionally take the formula for what it was: A psychological pattern we're doomed to follow and that just...well, makes sense. Why? Who cares! More overly-intellectual dick-and-fart jokes, please!

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» See also 154 mentions

English (55)  Dutch (1)  Spanish (1)  Italian (1)  All languages (58)
Showing 1-5 of 55 (next | show all)
I think maybe I’m just not in the mood for studious type books. At least, that’s the excuse I’m making for not really enjoying this book. Then again it may simply be that we’re all aware of these great themes that so many myths and fictions retell over and over again. Back in 1949 it was all original and new and so of course deserved all that attention. Now? Well the writing style is a little on the ponderous side and I think I’ve read most of these arguments before.

That being said, I’m still glad I read it. I simply don’t have a lot to say about it. ( )
  Fence | Jan 5, 2021 |
There's a reason this book has only retained prominence in the public mind. This is not nearly as original as it appears, and the scholarship has come under heavy and justified criticism. The work itself is also very dated.

I'd give Campbell a pass, but if you did want to read the book just read Part 1. ( )
  xopher | Sep 18, 2020 |
Good intro to the place of the hero in comparative mythology—but Campbell really drank the old-school Freudian Kool-Aid (and seemed to have thought gender roles/assumptions were mostly fixed and just fine), and it's tough to bear. ( )
  KatrinkaV | Dec 28, 2019 |
Campbell’s thesis is that cultures around the world share a particular myth. You know the one: hero sets out on adventure, overcomes some obstacles, and returns. These myths (the monomyth) share certain features, not all of which are always apparent on a first reading. He illustrates each feature with a couple of myths from widely separated cultures. I find his arguments convincing.

Campbell further argues that these similarities are as a result of deep-wired human psychology. He uses Freud and Jung to back up this argument. I’ve read neither of those writers so can’t really comment on the specifics of what certain story elements symbolise to the subconscious, but overall I find this argument convincing too. Consider the alternatives, of which I see two in particular.

All stories of this type can be traced by descent to a single progenitor, recently by text and before that, orally. As the story is shared by all cultures, some of which had the story before they were contacted by other cultures, we would have to trace the line of descent back to Africa, to the first humans. There is of course no evidence this did not happen. In some cases there is clear evidence of literary dependency. Take Moses and Jesus, both of whom conform to the myth. It’s quite clear that the story of Jesus has been told in such a way as to call Moses to the mind of the reader. Jesus is a new Moses. But I would argue that of all the elements from the story of Moses that the writers could have drawn on they chose so many of those elements that conform to the monomyth. It seems likely that something about the monomyth makes stories feel right to us because of the way our brains are wired.

The second objection would be that what Campbell is describing is something we like to call “plot”. Quite right. It is plot. But why is it plot? Why is it that stories of this type that have the elements Campbell defines perfect? Plot doesn’t happen in real life, but when we’re a hero, or have an adventure, or do something bad, why do we plot the events, create a narrative? And why is the story we create so often analogous to the monomyth? I would argue that it is because the monomyth is hard-wired into our brains.

While reading the book I found it useful to keep before me one particular myth. Campbell can be rather an abstract thinker and it can be useful to ask “What would be a practical example of this?”. I used Star Wars. I should imagine that most people who read this book these days do so because they’ve heard George Lucas based Star Wars on it. If you are a Star Wars fan you’ve probably seen that circular diagram of the Hero’s Journey knocking about on You Tube or something. That diagram is in the book. Seeing the diagram on You Tube is not a substitute for reading the book. Reading it is a rich and rewarding experience, far deeper and wide ranging than the narrow focus of my comments here.

I could give umpteen examples of why every basement-dwelling, neck-bearded man-boy should read this book, but will restrict myself to one. You know the sequence where Luke Skywalker leaves the family farm to find R2D2 and gets beaten up by the Sand People? I had always taken this purely as plot. There is of course world-building and character development, but this is all window-dressing, fake rocks and all. For story purposes Luke must meet Obi-Wan Kenobi. Having read Campbell’s book it’s now apparent to me that this episode conforms to what he calls “crossing the threshold”. The Sand People are Threshold Guardians “at the entrance to the zone of magnified power”. That realisation led me to another thought I’d not managed before: that that episode actually fore-shadows the climax of the whole film where (spoilers) R2D2 and C3P0 are out of action, and with Luke facing defeat it is the appearance of Obi-Wan that saves the day.

The Hero with a Thousand Faces has achieved the impossible and made me appreciate the artistry of Star Wars all the more. ( )
  Lukerik | Sep 16, 2019 |
I know this is a classic, and perhaps without this book later mythological studies would not have been so world-encompassing, and I know Campbell was a product of his time. But having to read such a deep book with so much now-disputed scholastic inquiry is a slog. Yes, it is what it is, and I think as more cultures begin to reclaim their own voices, the impact of this book will remain in the far-off footnotes of mythological research rather than at the vanguard of world mythologies. ( )
  threadnsong | Sep 8, 2019 |
Showing 1-5 of 55 (next | show all)

» Add other authors (24 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Joseph Campbellprimary authorall editionscalculated
Braam, Aris J. vanTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Cvetković Sever, VladimirTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Estés, Clarissa PinkolaIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Koehne, KarlTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Virrankoski, HannesTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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To my father and mother
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"The truths contained in religious doctrines are after all so distorted and systematically disguised," writes Sigmund Freud, "that the mass of humanity cannot recognize them as truth. The case is similar to what happens when we tell a child that new-born babies are brought by the stork. Here, too, we are telling the truth in symbolic clothing, for we know what the large bird signifies. But the child does not know it. ... It is the purpose of the present book to uncover some of the truths disguised for us under the figures of religion and mythology by bringing together a multitude of not-too-difficult examples and letting the ancient meaning become apparent of itself. ... Joseph Campbell, 1948
Whether we listen with aloof amusement to the dreamlike mumbo jumbo of some red-eyed witch doctor of the Congo, or read with cultivated rapture thin translations from the sonnets of the mystic Lao-tse; now and again crack the hard nutshell of an argument of Aquinas, or catch suddenly the shining meaning of a bizarre Eskimo fairy tale: it will be always the one, shape-shifting yet marvelously constant story that we find, together with a challengingly persistent suggestion of more remaining to be experienced than will ever be known or told.
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Since its release in 1949, The Hero With a Thousand Faces has influenced millions of readers by combining the insights of moden psychology with Joseph Campbells' revoutionary uderstanding of comparative mythology. In these pages, Campbell outlines the Hero's Journey, a universal motif of adventure and transformation that runs through virtually all of the world's myhtic traditions. He also explores the Cosmogonic Cycle, the mythic pattern of world creation and destruction.

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Haiku summary
There's just one Story.
Cultures add their grace notes, but
There's just one Story.

There's just one Story:
Universal monomyth:
The human Story.


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