Campbell, The Hero with a Thousand Faces

This is the 4th book that I have finished in my Two-Thirds Book Challenge. I started it 6 October 2011 and finished it 15 January 2012. I had not intended to take so long but it is somewhat complex and, in all honesty, the rampant Freudianism/psychoanalysis is simply too much at times.

I have almost 6 pages of notes but I think I will ignore them for this review.

The central thesis is, I believe, reasonably sound. Although, certainly, it is not the only way to spin a description of cross-cultural mythology. It is in some of the (psychoanalytic) interpretation that the spinning out of control happens.

This past fall semester I took a course in classic literature and mythology, and as of today I finished a quick 3-week romp through 30 of the Grimm’s fairy tales. This book explains, or at least describes, much of what is present and happening in these stories.

One of the things I appreciated and respected is that Campbell clearly includes the stories of the Christian Bible–Old and New Testaments–in his analysis of myth.

One of the things I am unsatisfied with—I fear to be expected in Western culture and, in particular, with psychoanalysis—is the gendered explanation.

I do think the book is worth reading; some parts are certainly much better than others. In most places my notes are fairly detailed but in a few I wrote “This [such and such] is crap!” or “mumbo jumbo.”

I am going to provide a detailed list of the contents as perhaps that will provide the best overview of what the book contains/discusses:

Prologue: The Monomyth

  • 1. Myth and Dream
  • 2. Tragedy and Comedy
  • 3. The Hero and the God
  • 4. The World Navel

Part I: The Adventure of the Hero

  • Chapter I: Departure
    • 1. The Call to Adventure
    • 2. Refusal of the Call
    • 3. Supernatural Aid
    • 4. The Crossing of the First Threshold
    • 5. The Belly of the Whale/li>
  • Chapter II: Initiation
    • 1. The Road of Trials
    • 2. The Meeting with the Goddess
    • 3. Woman as the Temptress
    • 4. Atonement with the Father
    • 5. Apotheosis
    • 6. The Ultimate Boom
  • Chapter III: Return
    • 1. Refusal of the Return
    • 2. The Magic Flight
    • 3. Rescue from Without
    • 4. The Crossing of the Return Threshold
    • 5. Master of the Two Worlds
    • 6. Freedom to Live
  • Chapter IV: The Keys

Part II: The Cosmogonic Cycle

  • Chapter I: Emanations
    • 1. From Psychology to Metaphysics
    • 2. The Universal Round
    • 3. Out of the Void–Space
    • 4. Within Space–Life
    • 5. The Breaking of the One onto the Manifold
    • 6. Folk Stories of Creation
  • Chapter II: The Virgin Birth
    • 1. Mother Universe
    • 2. Matrix of Destiny
    • 3. Womb of Redemption
    • 4. Folk Stories of Virgin Motherhood
  • Chapter III: Transformations of the Hero
    • 1. The Primordial Hero and the Human
    • 2. Childhood of the Human Warrior
    • 3. The Hero as Warrior
    • 4. The Hero as Lover
    • 5. The Hero as Emperor and as Tyrant
    • 6. The Hero as World Redeemer
    • 7. The Hero as Saint
    • 8. Departure of the Hero
  • Chapter IV: Dissolutions
    • 1. End of the Microcosm
    • 2. End of the Macrocosm

Epilogue: Myth and Society

  • 1. The Shapeshifter
  • 2. The Function of the Myth, Cult, and Meditation
  • 3. The Hero Today

As a follow-up book to this one, I began another of my 2/3rds Challenge books, Mircea Eliade’s The Myth of the Eternal Return: Cosmos and History. It, too, is in the Bollingen Series. So far I am enjoying it. It is also a quite deep book and I am taking many notes. Thus, it may also take a while to get through.


My friend Jess talked me into participating in JaPoWriMo, or January Poetry Writing Month. At least that is how I am parsing it out.

The idea is simply to write one poem a day. She insisted they could be a short as haiku and that there was no requirement for them to be any good. I am sharing them with her and my wife, of course and, so far, one or two with the odd other here and there.

Much of my month is taken up with my Grimm’s Fairy Tale class and editing and other magazine production duties putting together this year’s issue of the Briar Cliff Review. Thus, a couple have been about Grimm’s; I foresee one or more about editing; I have written a couple about books, those I’ve read and those I won’t be reading (end-of-2011 book post); one about meetings (after a long meeting on Friday); one about our SirsiDynix Symphony ILS (subject of said and several other meetings); one about not having a subject; and so on.

There is no need to worry—not much anyway— as I will not be sharing all of them with you here. Many of them are bad, and I doubt that any of them are actually good. But I agreed to commit to this writing a poem a day in an otherwise already quite busy month as I hoped that more writing, even if mostly tossed off, would help me in assorted ways as a poet and a writer. The bottom-line is that I am a lazy poet. Perhaps this will cultivate a habit, perhaps this will leave me with a few choice phrases or lines or ideas, perhaps nothing will come of it.

With all of that said, I would like to share two that I wrote in response to my Grimm’s class. The first was written about 15 minutes before the class met for the first time; the second was written this morning and is a conflation of “Snow-white and Rose-red” and “Little Snow White,” which we read for and discussed this past Friday, along with other generic thoughts on the role of “beauty” in the tales we’ve read so far (~10).


Grimm’s excitement today
Innocents start to play
Villains and ogres slay
Justice wins come what may

3 January 2012

Beauty for its own sake, enticement.
Or is it really entrapment?

The hunter spares her …
The wicked queen poisons her …
The dwarves domesticate her …
The prince wants her … dead and mute.

Snow-white. Rose-red. Two
Halves of the same girl.
A maiden on the edge
Of womanhood.

Tame the bear,
Emasculate the dwarf,
Remain kind to the vile.
Gentleness, purity, innocence

Retained. These are the steps to
Make oneself a woman.
Chaste, yet chargedly erotic.
Snow-white. Rose-red.


8 January 2012

I may spend some time with the second as it could undoubtedly be improved. But, considering that I wrote it in about 10 minutes this morning I can live with it.

Armstrong. A short history of myth

Sara also read this book recently.  I think that helped me as we had already discussed it a fair bit while she was reading it, and I had the benefit of her blog post about it.

Go read Sara’s review, which is excellent; I’ll wait.  See.  Now perhaps you don’t even need to read mine.  Nonetheless, I shall press on.

The help and benefit I am referring to is in regard to some of the assumptions the author makes.  Much of this bugged Sara and is what we discussed.  My anthropological and sociological background, and my background in mythology (as a subject), is both broader and deeper than hers to some extent.  Her background in assorted specific myths is far better than mine, just like mine is in other specific myths.  But this book is about mythology as a subject as a whole, and while it discusses assorted myths it is not about any of them.

Thanks to previous discussions with my beautiful and brilliant wife, along with reading her excellent review, I was able to approach this short book with its sometimes collapsed assumptions and high level synopses in a highly positive state of mind.

All that said, I really enjoyed this book!  I hope to reread it someday in the not too distant future and to map out some of Armstrong’s analysis in outline form as I find it valuable and would like to have it better to mind for whatever uses I might deem appropriate in the future.


  • What is a Myth?
  • The Paleolithic Period: The Mythology of the Hunters (c. 20000 to 8000 BCE)
  • The Neolithic Period: The Mythology of the Farmers (c. 8000 to 4000 BCE)
  • The Early Civilizations (c. 4000 to 800 BCE)
  • The Axial Age (c. 800 to 200 BCE)
  • The Post-Axial Period (c. 200 BCE to c. 1500 CE)
  • The Great Western Transformation (c. 1500 to 2000)

As an example of an assumption one must accept or move past, take the opening sentence, “Human beings have always been mythmakers” (1).  If one browses through the Wikipedia articles on Homo and on the Oldowan period you’ll see that “human beings” applies to our ancestors going back to at least 2.4 million years ago.

“Most models rely on social and communication networks to hold the band together. These social networks range from requiring no more communication than modern primates, to requiring more sophisticated sharing and teaching. At present, no evidence has been found that sharply divides these theories.” [From Oldovan]

Exactly!  We have no idea, nor will we ever have conclusive evidence, as to when humans acquired a form of language that not only makes possible, but uses, narrative structure.  Both are required for mythmaking.  Anyway, not really a critical issue to the story Armstrong tells but an example of some of the rhetoric that might get in your way.

One more short example so that you can make a better judgement as to whether this book is for you.  The opening sentence of the second chapter begins, “The period in which human beings completed their biological evolution …” (12, emphasis mine).  Excuse me!  Again, not critical to the argument at all but perhaps difficult for the discriminating reader to ignore.

Again, let me state that I think this is a good book, and that the argument that the author makes is an excellent one.

Each age changed mythos and humankind’s relationship to it until it was, at least in the developed West, fully eradicated and we no longer had a relationship to it.

“Western modernity was the child of logos” (119). … The new hero of Western society was henceforth the scientist or the inventor, who was venturing into uncharted realms for the sake of his society. He would often have to overthrow old sanctities—just as the Axial sages had done. But the heroes of Western modernity would be technological or scientific geniuses of logos, not the spiritual geniuses inspired by mythos. This meant that intuitive, mythical modes of thought would be neglected in favor of the more pragmatic, logical spirit of scientific rationality. Because many Western people did not use myth, many would lose all sense of what it was (121-22). … But logos had never been able to provide human beings with the sense of significance that they seemed to require. It had been myth that had given structure and meaning to life, but as modernization progressed and logos achieved such spectacular results, mythology was increasingly discredited. As early as the sixteenth century, we see more evidence of a numbing despair, a creeping mental paralysis, and a sense of impotence and rage as the old mythical way of thought crumbled and nothing new appeared to take its place. We are seeing a similar anomie today in developing countries that are still in the early stages of modernization” (122).

It is with this comment, “… as the old mythical way of thought crumbled and nothing new appeared to take its place …” that I want to point to W.H. McNeill’s Mythistory and Other Essays that I read last year.

While McNeill’s concept of “myth” is broader than Armstrong’s (each appropriate to their own contexts) he directly addresses this issue of the killing of all myth while offering nothing to take its place.  In the essay “The Care and Repair of Myth” he argues that public myth provides the basis for collective action:

“A people without a full quiver of relevant agreed-upon statements, accepted in advance through education or less formalized acculturation, soon finds itself in deep trouble, for, in the absence of believable myths, coherent public action becomes very difficult to improvise or sustain” (23).

In this, and the title essay, he scolds his fellow professional historians for their destruction of myth and attempts to show them why responsible mythmaking to replace those they have destroyed is an ethical and professional responsibility.   His main concern in the book is a rehabilitated view of myth, and while broader than Armstrong’s it is one that melds well with hers.  Whether one accepts Armstrong’s or McNeill’s concept of myth and the functions they respectively assign to myth, it is clear that humankind *needs* myth.

Sara, in her review [linked above] gives a good inkling of how Armstrong ends the book.  I agree with much of her analysis in the concluding sections but I fear this is at best a temporary amelioration of the problem and not an actual solution.

Sara and I were discussing this this morning and as she wisely pointed out this conclusion may have been primarily slanted toward supporting the series which this title is the lead in to, the Canongate Myth Series, which is “A bold re-telling of legendary tales — The Myths series gathers the world’s finest contemporary writers for a modern look at our most enduring myths.”

Nonetheless, I think there is much of value in this little book.  It is easy reading, and it is a great introduction to the riches-to-rags story, as Sara called it, that is the history of myth in human thought and action.

whatever will shall be

adamantly heedless was she
of warning given on a moon full night
venturing forth shall I be

faerie-cursed changeling, forest bound tight
enraged he was when lily she picked
the stars they blazed in all their might

passion engulfed the simple maid
burning like an ember bright
the sun across the sky was splayed

“your essence, i feel it right
the world it whispers to me
deep from within your smile”

pregnant with possibility
locked together tight
things simple were not meant to be

bravely she faced her plight
as deny he did his need
what shall come from such a night?

whatever will shall be
“having held you till morning light
for ever shall I your Margaret be”

Written the evening of 22 September 2008 at Crane Alley, Urbana, IL

Loosely based on the Tam Lin stories

Tam Lin at Wikipedia

Website devoted to Tam Lin


the man sat gazing
awed by the vast firmament
night after endless night
terrified, alone
years rolled by

friends came
friends went
his children grew
and the world changed around him
the stars, they were too many

one May evening in the endless procession of months
in an Alley
the man and a friend sat and talked
unknown to the man
something stirred in the heavens
the night sky had changed

a few days later
a single beautiful star spoke to him
“Look at me.
I shine for you.”

for the next couple of nights
the man continued to listen
to his shining star
tentatively at first he began to speak back

as Luna, his lifelong but ever mute companion, approached full
with hope and courage in his heart
the man turned his face fully
to his softly calling Starshine

Primarily written on 18 June 2008 by yours truly. I wanted to write a poem but I’m not too good at poetry. This was a (very) rough 1st draft of the ideas I wanted to convey but I quickly realized that it would take far too long to either clean this up into a poem or even into a “proper” story. So instead I wrote a haiku. And, no, you do not get to see it.

It also should probably go on a bit longer but such is life and the lack of time. [Or, one ought to work for their pay.] Then again, it ends with the event that it celebrates.

Some things seen around the Internet lately

Drinking with the Troops

From a local blog, Urbanagora, comes “Drinks with a Soldier.” I just love how some jackass commentor tries to hide behind the shield of anonymity and call the post author a liar. Certainly there are all sorts of views on this war, including those of the troops fighting it.

Perhaps if you ever get the chance—you could try arranging the chance—you, too, should have drinks with a soldier (or sailor, airman or marine) and find out a bit about what it is like on the ground in this war.  Of course, don’t forget the millions of servicemembers still living who served in our previous wars. A patient, caring ear would do many of them a world of good.

The value of a liberal arts education

For an interesting discussion on the value, or lack thereof, of a liberal arts education and liberal arts colleges see “On Liberal Education” at the Academic Librarian blog. Wayne Bivens-Tatum critiques the views of the author of a new book on the subject, as presented in The Kansas CW.

A spirited back-and-forth between Bivens-Tatum and the book author follows in the comments. I should state up front that I agree entirely with all of Bivens-Tatum’s points and his larger argument. The book author tries to point out some flaws in Bivens-Tatum’s arguments which simply are not there. I found that rather humorous.

But the one point I was hoping Bivens-Tatum would take up was the author’s insistence that some immediately practical subjects should get substituted for liberal arts classes because students are incurring too much debt, can’t pay their student loans, have to take high paying jobs vs. the job of their dreams, have to move back home with mommy & daddy, etc. because colleges are financially predatory.

So the solution is immediately practical vocational training? Wouldn’t better financial counseling for students, laws barring credit card companies from preying on students, educational finance reform, and so many other things be helpful, too, and perhaps even more ethically important? Have a look and see what you think.

Early Mike Wallace interviews with “important people”

Via Resource Shelf comes The Mike Wallace Interview.

In the early 1960’s, broadcast journalist Mike Wallace donated 65 recorded interviews made in 1957-58 from his show The Mike Wallace Interview to the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas. The bulk of these were 16mm kinescope film recordings, some of the earliest recordings of live television that were possible, and that survive today. Many of these have not been seen for over 50 years, and they represent a unique window into a turbulent time of American, and world history.

See interviews with jockey Eddie Arcaro, stripper Lili St. Cyr, actress Gloria Swanson, Steve Allen, Frank Lloyd Wright, birth control pioneer Margaret Sanger, Eleanor Roosevelt, novelist Pearl Buck, and many others.

Doing the dirty fictionally

Via 3 quarks daily we get a book review in the New York magazine of Robert Olen Butler’s Intercourse: Stories. Find it in a library near you via WorldCat.

Robert Olen Butler’s new story collection, Intercourse, is, as its title suggests, totally about doing it. It imagines the thoughts of 50 iconic couples as they knock the proverbial boots, beginning with Adam and Eve copulating on “a patch of earth cleared of thorns and thistles, a little east of Eden,” and ending with Santa Claus blowing off postholiday steam in January 2008 by doing the nasty with an 826-year-old elf in the back room of his workshop. But, as the clinical tone of Butler’s title also suggests, Intercourse is very much not a work of erotica. It tends to ignore messy fluids and crotch-logistics in favor of wordplay and psychological nuance.

Civilization and cultures

Also via 3 quarks daily we get Tzvetan Todorov in the Pakistan Daily Times thinking and writing to his usual standard of quality.

But if you look at this line of argument more closely, the flaw in Barnavi’s argument is immediately apparent. The meaning of the words civilisation and culture is very different when they are used in singular and plural forms. Cultures (plural) are the modes of living embraced by various human groups, and comprise all that their members have in common: language, religion, family structures, diet, dress, and so on. In this sense, “culture” is a descriptive category, without any value judgement.

Civilisation (singular) is, on the contrary, an evaluative moral category: the opposite of barbarism. So a dialogue between cultures is not only beneficial, but essential to civilisation. No civilisation is possible without it.

[There, S, I did it. And no, neither linking to the Academic Librarian nor WorldCat invalidates my effort. 😉 ]

What Martin Luther King Jr. Day now means to me

Truthfully, I will not be addressing that directly as such. Much more oblique will be my comments.

But first some initial resources:

Five years ago today—well, it was 20 January in 2003—I was sitting at home listening to the MLK Jr. specials on the radio (NPR) when at 4:02 PM CT I heard that 12,000 soldiers from Fort Hood (4ID) were being mobilized.

4th Infantry Division (4ID) is the division I retired from and the one my son was serving in at the time. Not that this was publicly known yet, but they were to be the hammer out of the north from Turkey in the initial invasion of Iraq.

Later that evening after a couple pints of beer and attempted reading I went by the ex’s for a hug and some talk. Jeremy called while I was there. Said aircraft had to be on ships down south by the end of the week & they’ll be 2 weeks behind. When I got home from Mary’s I called my mom and then my sister.

So, here I am, almost 44 years old & my baby’s ordered to war. Where did I go wrong? [my journal, 9 PM 20 Jan 2003]

The complete irony of the formal announcement of these deployments on Martin Luther King Jr. Day did not escape me. Nor will it ever.

My son’s deployment was quite hard on me. The reasons are quite complex and I will never fully understand them myself and certainly never be able to explicate them to others.

My son and his family have been lucky so far and he has had a job for the last couple years such that—unlike many who have been back several times in the last almost 5 years of war—he has not. That shall change soon, though. He is on his way back to Fort Hood and the 4th ID.

So here I sit again contemplating my son’s (possible) deployment.

That, and so much more, is what Martin Luther King Jr. Day will forever mean to me.

… consistently we are resistant to love …

Four Bitchin’ Babes. “Beautiful Fool.” Beyond Bitchin’

Song I used to “commemorate” MLK Jr. Day 2003, the mobilization of 4ID and the march to war on my 2003 compilation CD.

Using the Future to Create the Present – Betty Sue Flowers

This past Wednesday, 26 Sep 2007, was the Fall 2007 Phineas L. Windsor Lecture at GSLIS.

Betty Sue Flowers, Director of the Lyndon Baines Johnson Library and Museum was the lecturer.

I must say I was kind of ambivalent about this lecture but I ended up truly enjoying it. I have, I believe, attended all of the Windsor Lectures since my arrival at GSLIS. Well, looking through the lectures page it seems I may have either missed one or simply do not remember it.

I have heard Betty Sue speak on two previous occasions, both via telephone in LEEP classes. In fact, I called her at her office on the 1st occasion as I was the Tech GA for that class. The 2nd time I was taking the class. She is a wonderful speaker but I am generally ambivalent—actively leaning towards the negative end—towards some of the topics she was to cover in the Windsor Lecture. Plus, she considers herself a futurist. On that topic, let’s just say I still haven’t got my damn flying car I was promised when I was a kid.

Enough about me; on to the lecture, keeping in mind that these are very sketchy notes. Also where I have used “” I do believe that I captured a direct, verbatim quote. Other cases may be also but are more likely a paraphrase.

Using the Future to Create the Present

“This field [LIS] is under-theorized to the outside world.”

Amen, but then many outside fields are also under-theorized by us! (me)

The trouble with the future is how the past blocks our vision of the future.

“Logic is an organized way to go wrong with confidence.” — attributed to a NASA head engineer on a project which she consulted for.

A-freakin’-men, brother! (me)

Our extrapolation from the past to the future is like this. [I.e., we infer the same from the past into the future. Thus, we are often wrong about the future; and we create bad futures due to lack of vision.]

We cannot know the future BUT we must have a story about it.

This I can fully agree with.

  • How do we escape from extrapolating from the past to make the future better?
  • Our stories of the future (and bad extrapolating from the past) affect the present.
  • “The present is created by the story you’re telling of the future.”
  • We need a clear distinction between fact and narrative. The story you tell about the facts are what influence/create the present.

How do we break out of the current story to a new plot?

Scenario planning:

  • Equally plausible stories.
  • Must hold the future as a fiction.
  • Creating in a field of play allows one to support a position that they don’t have to stand by/defend as much as they might in a non-scenario case.

Stories of the United States – historically there have been 3 stories and we are now adding a 4th.

  1. Hero Myth – “brings out competition,” lack of communication as is individualistic.
  2. Religious Myth – “goodness.” [Religious more in the Joseph Campbell sense, not religion per se.]
  3. Democratic/Scientific/Enlightenment Myth- “truth,” “we can all reason together.”
  4. Economic Myth – “growth.”
  • Pictures and numbers make this the 1st truly global myth.
  • Has a kind of parity: my number is as good as your number; my bit is as good as your bit. [Ah, leveling ala Kierkegaard!]
  • Growth implies interconnectedness – can create a field of possibilities never seen before – both good and ill.

Sorry for the sketchiness, but perhaps it will give you a flavor and you will make the effort to hear her speak if you ever have the chance. I would recommend it highly! There is a good possibility that this lecture will be available as streaming audio (Real) at the lecture archive link in the near future.

Plus, this allowed me to record my notes in a slightly more formal way than on the heavy paper handout they gave us as we entered the lecture.

On a slightly related note [“the future”], please have a look at, and comment on, this recent post by Jonathan Rochkind, “Notes on future directions of Library Systems.

I had a very quick read through yesterday and it looks pretty good on a first pass. He clearly admits where it needs fleshed out more; perhaps others can help him do so.

Story, or not story

[Disclaimer: I do not mean to offend anyone’s personal views. My only aim here is to share a love of word play with others who may also appreciate it.]

Earlier this week I did the copy cataloging to enter this book into our library. I found the juxtaposition of the the title and the subject heading quite humorous.

Murphy, Francesca Aran. God is Not a Story: Realism Revisited.
LCSH: Narrative theology.

Truth be told, the book looks highly interesting to a heretic such as me, and the subject clearly matches the title because the book is (based on my reading a fair amount of the intro) a reaction to a “side-effect” of narrative theology, which argues that

the Church’s use of the Bible should focus on a narrative presentation of the faith, rather than on the exclusive development of a systematic theology.

The intro to the book explains it better than the Wikipedia article, but it seems that (and it makes sense that) a side-effect of focusing on story is that the view, intentional or otherwise, that ‘God is story’ arises. That’s is in the existential sense. Does seem to be a distinct possibility.

Anyway, based on my reading of Auerbach’s Mimesis I imagine that if I was a theologian I would be highly drawn to narrative theology. It is the story of the Bible that is important. But Murphy’s objection is easy enough to see as a definite issue within narrative theology.

Nonetheless, heathen word play lover that I am, God is Not a Story == Narrative theology cracks me up.