Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Joseph Campbell "The Hero with a Thousand Faces"

Every time someone notes that he has already heard/seen/read the same story somewhere else, usually he hears an answer “Of course, there is even a book that says that all stories are actually the same and has the same structure!” People usually mean “The Hero with a Thousand Faces” and it seems that they have no idea what are they talking about.

“The Hero with a Thousand Faces” is a work of comparative mythology. Indeed it introduces the term “monomyth” to define the common structure of legends in different cultures. However, at the end of the book, Campbell says that all myths are different. Despite some of them have something in common, some of them share common archetypes, the proportion of equal things is not large.

This book is not giving a skeleton of every myth in a world. Instead, it investigates what different myths have in common and why people who were in thousands of kilometres from each other, without any way to communicate, with contradicting moral foundations still tell stories about same things, with same archetypes.

No matter how different people are, they are still humans. They have same nature and same structure of brains. Apparently, Campbell thinks that it is a reason why myths of different cultures have something in common. He tries to explain plots, archetypes, characters with Freud’s theory of the unconscious. 

However this suggestion makes a lot of sense, and some things really have an obvious connection with Freud’s theory, I could not understand a majority of parallels. Some proofs were not enough for me, others were far-fetched. Sometimes the author doesn’t even try to prove his point of view, he just gives tons of myths fragments and then states the proposition without even explaining it.

And about the myths fragments — the book consists, I guess, by 80% of myths fragments. And I’m not overestimating: the author makes a statement, then adds two or three different myths passages. Passages are very long and take few pages each with verbose dialogs full of redundant phrases (like one phrase repeated three times), synonym, and multiple sentences that describe the same thing. It makes the reading process much more difficult. For effective prove, it would be enough a short retelling and a reference to the original myth. 

Author’s language is very complicated. I reread each paragraph at least five times and sometimes didn’t understand the main thought. And it seems the problem is not in my knowledge of English, because my friend, who read it at the same time but in Russian always complained me that he doesn’t understand half of a book. I think though it can be because of the age of a book. Nowadays literature adapted to the weak attention of a reader and talks with him very gently. Whereas books of start and middle of the twentieth century are very tough. 

The end of “The Hero with a Thousand Faces” is about modern myth. Campbell says that nowadays when there is no unknown land and science is on top of everything the modern hero goes not to the world of dead or to the mountain of gods, but inside himself. The biggest mystery now is the man himself and the one who is able to descend to his unconscious and meet the inner’s god blessing will be the hero and the savior.

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