May 7th, 2011


Book Review: The Hero with a Thousand Faces, by Joseph Campbell

One-line summary: A dense, extensively footnoted book that presents Campbell's thesis on the Monomyth, or Hero's Journey.

Pantheon Books, 1949, 416 pages

In this book, Joseph Campbell presents the composite hero. Apollo, the Frog King of the fairy tale, Wotan, the Buddha, and numerous other protagonists of folklore and religion, enact simultaneously the various phases of their common story. The psychological view is then compared with the words of such spiritual leaders as Moses, Jesus, Mohammed, Lao-tse, and the 'Old Men' of Australian tribes. From behind a thousand faces the single hero emerges, archetype of all myth.

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Verdict: This is an interesting book, but a dense one, and both the writing and the ideas are a little bit dated. Campbell has had a major influence on several generations of scholars and writers now, so an educated reader (or writer) should at least be familiar with him, but I'm not gonna lie and say this is scintillating reading. It's more like intellectual lima beans.