book review

The Hero With A Thousand Faces

Joseph Campbell (1949)

Recently I have seen many references to this book. And with my interest in the narratives it was only a matter of time before I traced a copy and read. It makes a very good read, as Campbell uses so many wonderful tales to illustrate the generic “adventure of the hero”. Based on psychology and anthropology more than on linguistics or literary theory Campbell builds a monomyth which main function is to guide man through the different stages of life. Using examples from Native Americans, Hindu and Greek mythology, the Bible, Japanese Shinto tales and folklore from Australia he argues that all myths and stories deal with the same subject of the life cycle and focus on the rites of passage. This is of course very relevant to the study of narrative games. But, times have changed and “the democratic ideal of the self-determining individual, the invention of the power-driven machine, and the development of scientific method of research, have transformed human life that the long-inhereted, timeless universe of symbols has collapsed” (387). In Campbell's view this is not necessarily a bad thing; he does not wish to return to an era in which the monomythmakes sense again. It only means that the myths themselves will change. The focus of our stories will shift to accomodate for our contemporary needs, but because of the psychological roots of our myths and metaphors the new myth will also be a monomyth (387-391). If such a myth already has taken shape we might need to look at contemporary cinema to identify it in its most prominent form. As it happens the book I read more or less claims exactly this: