Review – Joseph Campbell

I picked this up off the back of a podcast I watched recently on the art of storytelling. I’ve had a fascination with Joseph Campbell for a long time, probably since I first read The Alchemist. He’s best known for his quote “Follow your bliss” which has remained as the background on my phone ever since I heard it many years ago.

“Follow your bliss and the universe will open doors for you where there were only walls.”” – Joseph Campbell

The Hero with a Thousand Faces is his most well-known work. In it, he draws from myth and legend, the stories of the ancients, the Vedas, as well as verses from the bible. He unpacks them in his unique way, showing us the underlying similarities each contains and uses them to describe the Hero’s Journey, a process in which an adventure is called to action, and goes through a series of challenges, and eventually returns home with his  “treasure”. I can expand on this but its probably easier to just watch this video.

“A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: The hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.” – Joseph Campbell

“Myths are the masks of God through which men everywhere have sought to relate themselves to the wonders of existence” – Joseph Campbell

If I’m completely honest, I really struggled to get through this book. I do not doubt that this isn’t brilliant. Joseph’s concept has influenced all matter of individuals from songwriters, to movie producers to authors. His work was truly groundbreaking for its time. But boy did I struggle. But I think that’s more on me, I’ve always struggled with maintaining interest in myth and legend, ironic considering I’m fascinated by ancient Egypt. It also probably doesn’t help that it was written 70+ years ago and how we speak has changed a lot since then. There is no denying the importance of this book, and I’m glad I read it, but I for those interested it might be best to watch his Netflix series which was produced in the late 80s just before he passed away.

“When people say they’re looking for the meaning of life, what they’re really looking for is a deep experience of it ”- Joseph Campbell

I mean no disrespect to Joseph Campbell. I’m most likely just not intellectual enough to understand where he is coming from. And in fact, I went on to read The Hero’s Journey, Joesph Campbell on his Life and Work, a spin-off of the documentary interview which is available on Netflix, as it was written in the late 80s, because of this it’s far easier to grasp. The book features the transcribed discussions that were had during the making of the documentary. Because of this, the concepts are approached far more colloquially and reinforced from a number of different angles. Funnily enough, I found the book on the side of the road while reading The Hero with a Thousand Faces. It’s an old library book from Austin, TX, complete with classroom purchase orders for pizza, airline tickets, and old car hire receipts which are almost 20 years old.

“Social pressure is the enemy! How in heavens name are you going to find your own track if you are always doing what society tells you to do?” – Joseph Campbell

I was shocked by the fact that, during the great depression Campbell lived in a cabin in the woods and read for 9 hours a day, 7 days a week, for 5 years. 

“The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek.” – Joseph Campbell

One last thing I’ll mention is that by today’s standards some of his ideas could be seen as a little sexist. One in particular that I sat with was his concerns over the rise in feminism and its impact on relationships. He refers to the yin and yang, the importance of the equal representation of each energy within relationships. His concern was that as feminism develops, the feminine softness will be lost, throwing off the equilibrium. I can see where he is coming from, but maybe this equilibrium can be returned in other ways.

“The whole energy of life depends on polarity, and when you give that up all you’ve got left is a blob” – Joseph Campbell

In short, unless you feel like being a hero I suggest reading Life and Work, it’s easier to digest and gives you an interesting background of the man himself.

“Life has to be spontaneous. It has to come from whats called in India the ananadamya culture, the Sheaf of Bliss. Life is an expression of bliss” – Joseph Campbell

“Don’t be afraid of what you are becoming” – Joseph Campbell