Friday, May 22, 2009

The Power of Myth

The Power of Myth with Bill Moyers
© 1988 Joseph Campbell
293 pages

I first encountered the name Joseph Campbell in Wikipedia's article on Star Wars, and since having returned to university studies I've heard his name numerous more times -- most recently in my sociological theory class, where his name arose in connection with Emilie Durkheim's work on social ritual and religion. While on one of my weekly trips to the library, I noted that they had in their DVD collection an interview of Campbell by Bill Moyers. I was never able to watch said interview, but this is apparently the transcript of it: I don't know if it's been edited for length or not. Given its format, this is not a very structured argument for anything: rather than Campbell building a case chapter by chapter, Moyers and Campbell "talk" and their conversation is parceled up into chapters labeled in ways like "Myth and the Modern World", "The Hero's Adventure", and "The Gift of the Goddess". The book's format limits its use for the first-time reader (like myself), I think. While I did glean a good impression of what Campell's main ideas were, Moyers and Campbell tended to drift -- as you would expect in a conversation, and especially in a conversation between two academics who delight in talking about one subject and connecting it to another.

Campbell is perhaps best known for The Hero with a Thousand Faces, in which he (I've been told) writes on the mythical archetype of the Hero. (It was through this work that I found him on a Star Wars wikipedia page, as Lucas supposedly rewrote parts of his script to better reflect the pattern that Campbell gleaned out of studying the stories of old.) What Campbell does throughout this interview transcript is to talk about themes that arise when studying mythology and religion. It's informative in that way, but the approach just seems a little scattered. Had I read some of Campbell's work previously, or watched the television specials, I could make more thoughtful comments, but as it is all I can offer are my initial impressions.

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