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58. The Hero With a Thousand Faces

58. The Hero With a Thousand Faces

“Myths are public dreams, dreams are private myths.” –Joseph Campbell

While we were talking about The Heroes Journey I mentioned that the structure was developed by Joseph Campbell, a mythologist and writer who wrote extensively on the power of mythology.

The Hero With a Thousand Faces deals with the concept of the monomyth, that certain mythical elements (the Heroes Journey) have survived for thousands of years and are a part of the way human beings tell stories. As Campbell puts it,

“A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.”

This book is cited as influencing the creation of storytellers ranging from Bob Dylan to Arthur C. Clarke and it has become a seminal text for understanding myth.

You should also keep in mind that Joseph’s conception of the world of stories is not universally accepted. Some acclaimed scholars including Lesley Northup, Donald Consentino and Alan Dundes claim, for reasons ranging from lack of validation to ethnocentricity, that Campbell’s precepts may explain some myths but they certainly do not explain Myth.

With that in mind you should definitely read it, but maybe not all the way through, as Neil Gaiman pointed out,

“I think I got about half way through The Hero with a Thousand Faces and found myself thinking if this is true — I don’t want to know. I really would rather not know this stuff. I’d rather do it because it’s true and because I accidentally wind up creating something that falls into this pattern than be told what the pattern is.”

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