In THE INNER REACHES OF OUTER SPACE Joseph Campbell repeats some of the familiar observations of his earlier works in which he shows how certain mythic motifs can be found buried in all of the world's religious traditions. The similarities may not be easily recognized because the same motifs are usually understood and developed in different ways because of cultural differences. These repetitive motifs are called elementary ideas and in the local forms where they appear in various religions they are known as ethnic or folk ideas. As examples of elementary ideas Campbell offers the concepts of the Promised Land and the Virgin Birth. In writing about the similarities of symbols found in ancient civilizations, Campbell mentions discoveries among such diverse societies as those that existed in the Indus Valley, Mesopotamia, Egypt, China and Ireland.
Because of the great advances in learning which have become accelerated and dramatized by space exploration, Campbell points out that our old gods are either already dead or dying. The big question now is what new mythology will emerge from a modern understanding of a unified planet amidst a vast universe.
The creation of any new mythology will certainly depend in part on the contributions of art because artists will be the ones who will produce the images of the future. Those images will come from our knowledge of a constantly changing and expanding universe. Campbell writes about the connection between art and mythology with conviction, no doubt due to the long-standing influence of his wife, Jean Erdman, a well-known dancer and choreographer.
The most remarkable feature evident in THE INNER REACHES OF OUTER SPACE is the breadth and depth of the author's knowledge and understanding of mythology. Joseph Campbell led an enviable life driven by a singular passion and his writings are the best reflection of that life.