Rating: Three out of five stars
Joseph Campbell knows his mythology; his fault lies in merging his studies of mythology with his own epistemology, portraying his own personal opinions as facts. A college professor recommended it to me, and while Campbell was indeed a scholar of mythology, I read this book with a grain of salt.
Some of the quotes in this book touch the deepest places of the human collective, while others made me cringe and, at times, put the book down.
The best moments in the book exist when he talks about ancient initiation rites of boys and girls. He explains that while girls were initiated simply by living, through menstruation, boys had to physically endure initiation rites of their own before becoming a man. Other touching moments of the book exist when Campbell talks about the Hero Journey; how “woman magic” and “earth magic” are the same; and how the artist is like the priest in the mythological role of discovering the secrets of life.
Problematic elements are scattered throughout the text, including dismissive homophobia, a lack of understanding of women’s history, and racism. He comments on “proper” heterosexual marriage; how “the situation of women [in the Middle Ages] was not that bad by any means” (215); and the stereotypical dismissal of “The (Native American) father looks around on the ground – you know how Indians are, he can see by the footprints…” (96).
Overall, this book felt like a chore to read. I am glad to have read it, but I am even happier that I can now put it away.
This review can also be found on Goodreads.
Picture from Amazon.