on 27 March 1998
Moyers and Campbell's conversation first aired on the PBS special: "The Power of Myth." The tapes capture the relaxed and entertaining essence of six programs: The Hero's Adventure; The Message of the Myth; The First Storytellers; Sacrifice and Bliss; Love and the Goddess; and Masks of Eternity. There is something very comforting in hearing Campbell's voice respond with ease to Moyers questions about myth: questions that anyone might ask. Campbell was a great storyteller, but it is his range of stories and depth of insightful interpretation that will keep the listener engaged - maybe awed. Taking place on George Lucas' Skywalker Ranch, "The Hero's Adventure" discussion has an interesting piece where Campbell laments the paucity of modern heroes and its consequences for adults and children alike. Then he relates the plot from the Lucas film "Stars Wars" with elements of the hero's journey; the listener can hear Campbell's optimistic excitement as he links the film's characters and plot to the Hero's rite of passage. The listener can sense Campbell's hope for future hero/heroine role models with universal appeal as his voice trys to keep pace with his thoughts. After listening to a tape individuals may feel a sense connectiveness to all that surrounds them: touched by the wisdom of myth. Campbell's words still echo in my ears, "If you follow your bliss . . .the life you ought to be living is the one you are living." For those who need to see the words and visually hold them in space and time, Moyers and Campbell's book "The Power of Myth" [edited by Flowers] provides the orginal PBS transcipt and additional material that was edited out. In addition to the six topics detailed on the tapes, the book includes the program on The Journey Inward.
on 4 November 2011
Several years ago I tried to work my way through Campbell's Hero With a Thousand Faces (HWATF). I was designing a university course based on Star Wars at the time (true story) and learned that Lucas was influenced by Campbell in matters of plot and characterisation. So Campbell became a must read.
Almost immediately I ran into difficulties. HWATH is a hard study, at least for someone with my type of brain and training. If you, like me, are educated in the ways of Western thinking, especially in the Anglo-Saxon linguistic tradition, then Campbell may give you a migraine. How? His style is not analytic. There is a lack of definitions, sequential reasoning, accumulative evidence, cautious conclusions etc. Everything seems thrown together at once. Knowledge of all sorts of different disciples - literature, psychology, anthropology, theology - seems to be assumed. You have to know the whole before you can decipher the parts. By instinct and method, Campbell is a generalist; this is not in itself a bad thing.
However, I did need to find a different way into his thought. The Power of Myth (TPOM) provided this for me.
Here's what I got out of it.
First and foremost, I got an introduction to Campbell's ideas. Campbell, along with Henry Morton Robertson, wrote A Skeleton Key to Finnegans Wake. Well, TPOM serves as a sort of key to Campbell's thought. It'll get you started. I've since gone back to HWATF after reading TPOM and I feel I finally 'get it'.
Second, it could serve as a general introduction to the study of mythology. I've found it hard to come across such an intro. I've recently read Myth: A Very Short Introduction by Robert A Segal with mixed results. If anyone can recommend a quality introduction to myth theory then please do. In the mean time, TPOM contains snippets of schema and prime ideas that can serve as lunch pads for further investigation e.g. the four functions of myth (31), the two explanations of myth similarities (51), or the three centers of mythic creativity (59).
Third, TPOM is a good read in itself. There are lots of insights on a vast array of topics, from the medieval troubadours to Jung's mandalas to Zen Buddhism and beyond. Someone could use TPOM as a decent personal development type book (indeed I first came across it in Tom Butler-Bowdon's 50 Self-Help Classics). For the intellectually curious, it is highly invigorating; I actually found some of Campbell's more philosophical opines shocking. For instance, his views that the world cannot be improved or worsened, or that pain is a necessary part of growth, are contrary to popular mindsets (65-67). I smell the scent of Nietzsche (89, 150, 153, 161, none of which are listed in the index, naughty, naughty).
Forth, if you're a bit of a Star Wars or sci-fi geek and you want to read something beyond the (IMHO) tedious 'expanded universe' novels, then TPOM is a must. Bill Moyers does seek to take every opportunity to bring SW into the proceedings, although I sense that Campbell is less of an enthusiast. There are some nice insights about the role of Darth Vader as father in particular (144-146).
Fifth, the 'hero's journey' mono-myth has become a favourite of scriptwriters and novelists. With this, you can see why. Any budding author out there might want to give it a plunder.
Sixth, this edition of TPOM is beautifully illustrated with helpful quotes at the top of each chapter and sometimes graphic pictures relating to the topics. It is a big, glossy book, striking to flick through, better to read one chapter at a time. I've read TPOM three times now. You can read it quick or slow, depending on what you want out of it.
Here's the downside (or 'kathodos' as Campbell might have put it). 1) Some of the dialogue between Campbell and Moyers is - as a teenage girl might say - awk-ward. This is not a meeting of equals, which is fine, if Moyers hadn't tried to overreach his journalistic powers into the realms of the pseudo-academic and the mildly sycophantic. 2) Those who are traditional atheists might find Campbell's fuzzy version of Zen pantheistic monism off-putting. 3) In the other corner, Moyers seems keen to use the interview as a therapy session to work through his own issues with traditional Christianity. 4) Related to point two, those committed to Western scientism will want to take this book and use it for an experiment involving matches and lighter fluid. Small portions of it do feel like the ruminations of a couple of agéd hippies yakking over a shared spiff of west-coast weed. `Nough said, dude...
I'll give it a star each for content, stimulation, publication quality and niche. One star stays in my pocket, the same place Bill Moyers apparently kept his journalistic skills on this assignment.
on 3 July 1999
I picked up this book because I wanted to know more about how mythology relates to the human mind, hoping that this would allow me to be a better storyteller. I haven't gotten through the entire book as of yet, but so far it is pretty good. As a note to somebody like the previous reviewer, it is obvious that he has missed the entire point of the book. There is much in this book about the conflict inside a person and the quest to understand it. If you get nothing else from this book, you should understand that life is about contribution. If you contribute to the general welfare of your nation and people, then you've lived a full life. How is that new age? I especially liked what Campbell had to say about the military in that one should judge the actions of its members, by the responsibility that its society presents to it. Society requires protection and security, and to do so it creates a military culture to protect it. To judge the military as a destructive force within a society because of the job that society requires it to preform, is ludicrous. As a masters student in anthropology and a former Marine, I think this book has something for all people... whether conservative, liberal, intellectual, or lay-person. I wonder if MR. email@example.com even read the book. Since he found it so disdainful, I doubt he could have.
on 30 July 1999
Let me quote Campbell. Towards the end of the second chapter: "People ask me, 'Do you have optimism about the world?' And I say, 'Yes, it's great just the way it is. And you are not going to fix it up. Nobody has ever made it any better. It is never going to be any better. This is it, so take it or leave it. You are not going to correct or improve it." I continued reading, waiting for a valid explanation for this, but to no avail. Campbell makes you think, I'll give him that much. I suggest that you make your own verdict.