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The Masks of God: Creative Mythology (1968)

by Joseph Campbell

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: The Masks of God (Volume 4)

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1,49379,558 (4.03)4
This volume explores the whole inner story of modern culture since the Dark Ages, treating modern man's unique position as the creator of his own mythology.
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Showing 1-5 of 6 (next | show all)
This was a great wrap-up to Joseph Campbell's The Masks of God 4-book series. The first 3 books in the series focus on how all of the mythologies in the world connect. This last book, though, focuses on how mythologies from different countries/areas are unique. For a series that focuses on the similarities of the world's mythologies, this last book initially seems a bit disjointed. However, I think that this was a good move on Campbell's part. It's specifically because the first three books focus on the similarities that it was beneficial to focus on the differences as well. As with the other three books, there were a few parts that seemed a bit slow and dragged on a bit too long. I did enjoy this book, though, and I do recommend the series. (Although it's not necessary to read every book in this series to read one.) ( )
  historybookreads | Jul 26, 2021 |
OKAY. For as much as I generally love Campbell for his scholarship and his breadth and depth of knowledge on all things religious, mythical, and anthropological, I have to say he goes rather overboard in a DIFFERENT direction for this book.

What direction, you ask?

Living culture. And I'm not really talking about modern culture so much as I'm referring to the scope of the Dark Ages through Thomas Mann and James Joyce. He does the literary analysis thing. In spades. Want Beowulf? Check. Want tons of Parcival, Gawain, and even the tragic love story of Adelard and Heloise? Check. Want the erudite traditions, influences, mythological connections and cultural transformations laid out? You got it.

But wait, that's not all! We get some of the best and fully explained nastiness of the truth behind chastity in Christianity and the best visceral descriptions I've ever read that makes me UNDERSTAND why the whole Romantic Love thing took off so HARD back at the opening days of the Rennaisance. Grail Legend? Chivalry? The whole love thing was bucking the Church and Society HARD. Trubadors were the punk bands of the day. :)

We get the influence of Alchemy and Science in poetry, music, and opera. We get dozens of traditions, a great analysis that shows just how much Islamic thought is slathered throughout the Divine Comedy, and so much more.

So what's my problem?

It feels like half the book was devoted to fanboying over Thomas Mann and James Joyce.

I mean, sure, these guys were like a wet dream for mythographers and sociologists and Jungian analysts and they wrote some fine fiction, too, but I would have been JUST FINE with... a slightly abbreviated analysis.

Don't get me wrong! I'm now interested as hell in reading more of Thomas Mann and I may go ahead and revisit Joyce soon, but BY NO MEANS is this very good reading if you're not at least slightly interested in either author.

Of course, if you're prepping yourself in College for writing one hell of a great essay on Joyce (or 14 of them), then DO YOURSELF A BIG FAVOR and read this book or the relevant sections. Some of it rather blew me away. :)


Is this the best stuff Campbell ever wrote? Hell, no. It's very learned and I learned TONS, but it was almost nothing like what I had come to expect from him. More like he had been sitting around doing a lot of reading and his brilliant mind came up with fantastic random crap that sooner or later coalesced into a huge coherent literary epiphany. I think that's great and all but damn... I wanted the world, not fiction, THIS TIME. :) ( )
  bradleyhorner | Jun 1, 2020 |
Gerald Sykes said of this work, "[Joseph Campbell] says things here that have not been said anywhere else--though every good artist has implied them--and he says them with urgency, breadth, and some of the most impressive scholarship of our time."
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  uufnn | Jan 28, 2017 |
After exploring ancient, Eastern, and Western mythology and religion up until the approximate time of the Dark Ages, Joseph Campbell's final volume of his Masks of God series deals with the "modern" world. As societies became increasingly mobile and fluid, the social purpose of religion and myth (transmission of local cultural "rules" to each generation, and the acceptance of those rules) fades in importance. Now what?

Creative Mythology explores what happens as cultures begin to intermingle, how local symbols are repurposed for new reasons in new places. He uses the lens of epic poetry to show us the heretic Christian ideas of Tristan & Isolde, the heavily pagan roots of Beowulf, and the Islamic influence on Dante's Divine Comedy (which was super interesting to me, since I took a class on just this work in college, and to the best of my recollection, this never came up). He moves into the modern world by dissecting some of the works of Thomas Mann and James Joyce (Finnegan's Wake, Ulysses, and Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man). Portrait was something I read several years ago that I enjoyed not at all and remembered precious little of, and after reading about it here, I'm not sure I want to read Ulysses even though it's a "classic" because it sounds very tiresome. Campbell wraps up his review by discussing the Holy Grail mythologies in the Knights of the Round Table/Arthurian legends (this section is very very long), and then concludes by reflecting back on the functions of mythologies, and how they have and do work (or not, as the case may be).

I'm not going to lie...I'm very glad to be done with this series. It was very informative, but only sporadically interesting. Do I feel much better versed in world religion and mythology? Yes. Would my life have been just as lovely without it? Absolutely. ( )
  ghneumann | Apr 7, 2016 |
Creative Mythology is the fourth and last volume in Masks of God. Up to this book, I thought the work had become stronger with each volume. The first book, Primitive Mythology published in 1959 by and large dealt with the pre-historic era Campbell sees at the root of world culture, and so relied quite a bit on archeology and the speculations of such psychologists as Freud. It was very dry and I suspected, dated. The second volume, Oriental Mythology, primarily examined Egypt, India and China--and certainly made me want to read more--and reread Confucius and Lao Tzu in light of what I'd learned. In Occidental Mythology, Campbell examined the religious/mythological heritage of the West, both of the Greco-Roman classical world and the Levant as expressed in the scripture of Zoroasterism, Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

Creative Mythology examines something quite different. Not the dogma found in scripture nor indigenous ritual and artifacts. Rather it examines the "living mythology" of literature, music and paintings. Campbell sees in the Renaissance the "dawning day and civilization of the individual" who seeks to be "not coercive, but evocative." Grounded in individualism, this new ethos is expressed both in the rise, or given classical culture, the return, of the idea of reason in the sciences but also in the ideal of romantic love found in the troubadours and Arthurian legends. Campbell also examines modern users and makers of mythos such as Wagner, Picasso, Thomas Mann--and giving in my opinion far too much space to James Joyce, but then I'm not a fan. I read Joyce's Ulysses only three months ago, so it, and how much I detested it, is fresh in my mind. With the previous volumes there was no doubt in my mind about the centrality and importance of the texts and artifacts Campbell was examining and Campbell was at his fascinating best making connections between them. But in this volume where Campbell mostly plays literary critic, I found him at his most dull, tedious, repetitive and impenetrable. So though I gave the first volume 3 stars as worth reading, the next 4 stars as something I learned much from and the next one after that 5 stars for some amazing connections, insights and arguments, this last volume only gets two stars from me--and I'm being generous. ( )
1 vote LisaMaria_C | May 6, 2012 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Campbell, Josephprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Chagal, MarcCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Stuart, NealCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed

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In the earlier volumes of this survey of the historical transformations of those imagined forms that I am calling the "masks" of God, through which men everywhere have sought to relate themselves to the wonder of existence, the myths and rites of the Primitive, Oriental, and Early Occidental worlds could be discussed in terms of grandiose unitary stages.
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This volume explores the whole inner story of modern culture since the Dark Ages, treating modern man's unique position as the creator of his own mythology.

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This last volume of the Masks of God is a huge book that spans the efforts of artists to interpret the myths from early troubadour poems to Finnegan's Wake.
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