My rating: 5 of 5 stars
The Hero with a Thousand Faces (1949) by Joseph Campbell is the book that awakened in writers and storytellers in publishing and in screenwriting to the larger scope of mythology as metaphor and to the underlining structure of stories. Campbell ends the rather short book of 337 pages (when compared to his much longer works over 500 and 700 pages) by explaining who the Hero is in the stories that have been passed down from mouth to mouth and who is eventually laid to rest inside myth and legend and religion.
”Man,” writes Campbell, ”is that alien presence with whom the forces of egoism must come to terms, through whom the ego is to be crucified and resurrected, and in whose image society is to be reformed” (p 337).
To say that The Hero with a Thousand Faces is simply a book would be a vast under-statement and a discredit to the meticulous research Campbell compiled for this project. No. This book is a journey of the Great Self that is inside each one of us. We all believe, as individuals, that the world, no!, the Universe revolves around us, and to read The Hero with a Thousand Faces is to go on a journey within the soul, spirit, life-force (call it what you may) and then to be enlightened and transformed by the book’s message.
In the Vedas it is written and told of how ”Truth is one” and that ”the sages speak of it by many names” (p xiii). Such is the way to read and discern the truths found in The Hero with a Thousand Faces.
You might want to go ahead and watch this video with Campbell first before reading on ahead:
Part I, as one might argue as well in Life, is titled ”The Adventure of the Hero” and it is divided into three chapters: 1) Departure; 2) Initiation; and, 3) Return. These three chapters are what provided the foundation for Christopher Vogler’s The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers (previously reviewed here on my website).
One particular section titled ”Apotheosis” in Part 1, Chapter 2 stood out for me as a striking example of the human endeavor that is conflicted by masks that have been placed on us and attempt to shape us into a specific role in society.
”Once we have broken free of of the prejudices of our own provincially limited ecclesiastical, tribal, or national rendition of the world archetypes,” explains Campbell, ”it becomes possible to understand that the supreme initiation is not that of the local motherly fathers, who then project aggression onto the neighbors for their own defense” (p 135).
Sadly I have known dozens of people who have not even considered yet to break free from such archetypes as simple as that of the family and as complex as the cultural and national ones that often remain hidden and far too buried to ever be shed.
Campbell continues to discuss this issue: ”If the God is a tribal, racial, national, or sectarian archetype, we are the warriors of his cause; but if he is a lord of the universe itself, we then go forth as knowers to whom all men are brothers. And in either case, the childhood parent images and ideas of ‘good’ and ‘evil’ have been surpassed. We no longer desire and fear; we are what was desired and feared. All the gods, Bodhisattvas, and Buddhas have been subsumed in us, as in the halo of the mighty holder of the lotus of the world” (p 138).
Most are never able to transcend the constructed archetypes to ever consider these profound notions of identity, both in a deconstructive context of the Ego or a more constructive context of the Cultural Mask that is devised to promote society but must be lost in order to shape and transform society for the better.
In the chapter called ”The Crossing of the Return Threshold” Campbell discusses the divine and human distinctions within the hero adventure that is one person’s birth, maturity, and death.
”How teach again, however, what has been taught correctly and incorrectly learned a thousand times, throughout the millennia of mankind’s prudent folly? That is the hero’s ultimate difficult task,” Campbell remarks. He has, however, many more questions for us to consider:
”How render back into light-world language the speech-defying pronouncements of the dark? How represent on a two-dimensional surface a three-dimensional form, or in a three-dimensional image a multi-dimensional meaning? How translate into terms of ‘yes’ and ‘no’ revelations that shatter into meaninglessness every attempt to define the pairs of opposites? How communicate to people who insist on the exclusive evidence of their senses the message of the all-generating void?” (p 188-189)
I have also had to struggle with such questions, especially in the novels and stories I write.
And so whose story is it? Are you a sub-character inside my story? Or am I in yours?
Regardless of the answer Campbell reminds us that nothing is truly lost: ”Be sure there’s nothing perishes in the whole universe; it does but vary and renew its form” (p 209).
In ”The Function of Myth, Cult, and Meditation” Campbell explains the vital importance of society and interconnectedness.
”The totality–the fullness of man–is not in the separate member, but in the body of the society as a whole…If he presumes to cut himself off, either in deed or in thought and feeling, he only breaks connection with the source of his existence” (p 330). There is some truth in these words.
The book ends on this note:
‘The way to become human,’ writes Campbell, ‘is to learn to recognize the lineaments of God in all of the wonderful modulations of the face of man…”Live,” Nietzsche says, ”as though the day were here.” It is not society that is to guide and save the creative hero, but precisely the reverse. And so every one of us shares the supreme ordeal–carries the cross of the redeemer–not in the bright moments of his tribe’s great victories, but in the silences of his personal despair’ (p 336-7).
Society, have mercy on me
I hope you’re not angry if I disagree
Society, crazy indeed
I hope you’re not lonely without me
Read more: Eddie Vedder – Society Lyrics | MetroLyrics
MORE BOOKS to CONSIDER:
CG FEWSTON is an American novelist who is a member of AWP, a member of Americans for the Arts, and a professional member and advocate of the PEN American Center, advocating for the freedom of expression around the world.
CG FEWSTON has travelled across continents and visited such places as Mexico, the island of Guam, Japan, South Korea, Hong Kong, Macau, Viet Nam, Cambodia, Singapore, Thailand, Taipei and Beitou in Taiwan, Bali in Indonesia, and Guilin and Shenzhen and Beijing in China. He also enjoys studying and learning French, Vietnamese, Cantonese and Mandarin.
CG FEWSTON earned an M.Ed. in Higher Education Leadership and Administration (honors), an M.A. in Literature (honors) from Stony Brook University, and an M.F.A. in Creative Writing and Fiction from Southern New Hampshire University, where he had the chance to work with wonderful and talented novelists like Richard Adams Carey (author of In the Evil Day, October 2015; and, The Philosopher Fish, 2006) and Jessica Anthony (author of Chopsticks, 2012; and, The Convalescent, 2010) as well as New York Times Best-Selling novelists Matt Bondurant (author of The Night Swimmer, 2012; and, The Wettest County in the World, 2009, made famous in the movie Lawless, 2012) and Wiley Cash (author of A Land More Kind Than Home, 2013; and, This Dark Road to Mercy, 2014).
Among many others, CG FEWSTON’S stories, photographs and essays have appeared in Sediments Literary–Arts Journal, Bohemia, Ginosko Literary Journal, GNU Journal (“Hills Like Giant Elephants”), Tendril Literary Magazine, Prachya Review (“The One Who Had It All”), Driftwood Press, The Missing Slate Literary Magazine (“Darwin Mother”), Gravel Literary Journal, Foliate Oak Magazine, The Writer’s Drawer, Moonlit Road, Nature Writing, and Travelmag: The Independent Spirit; and for several years he was a contributor to Vietnam’s national premier English newspaper, Tuoi Tre, “The Youth Newspaper.”
You can read more about CG FEWSTON and his writing at
A TIME TO LOVE IN TEHRAN won GOLD for Literary Classics’ 2015 best book in the category under ”Special Interest” for “Gender Specific – Female Audience”…
Finalist in the 2015 Chatelaine Awards for Romantic Fiction…
Finalist in the 2015 Mystery & Mayhem Novel Writing Contest…
Praise for A TIME TO LOVE IN TEHRAN:
“Fewston delivers an atmospheric and evocative thriller in which an American government secret agent must navigate fluid allegiances and murky principles in 1970s Tehran… A cerebral, fast-paced thriller.”
“A TIME TO LOVE IN TEHRAN is a thrilling adventure which takes place in pre-revolutionary Tehran. Author CG FEWSTON provides a unique glimpse into this important historical city and its rich culture during a pivotal time in its storied past. This book is so much more than a love story. Skillfully paired with a suspenseful tale of espionage, A TIME TO LOVE IN TEHRAN is a riveting study of humanity. Replete with turns & twists and a powerful finish, FEWSTON has intimately woven a tale which creates vivid pictures of the people and places in this extraordinary novel.”
CG FEWSTON‘s new novel,
A TIME TO LOVE IN TEHRAN, was published on April 2, 2015 —
10 years to the day of the publication
of his first novella, A FATHER’S SON (April 2, 2005)
“Thus one skilled at giving rise to the extraordinary
is as boundless as Heaven and Earth,
as inexhaustible as the Yellow River and the ocean.
Ending and beginning again,
like the sun and moon. Dying and then being born,
like the four seasons.”
found in Sources of Chinese Tradition, p 5