Author: Joseph Campbell
Description: OKAY. For as much as I generally love Campbell for his scholarship and his breadth and depth of knowledge on all things religious, mythical, and anthropological, I have to say he goes rather overboard in a DIFFERENT direction for this book.
What direction, you ask?
Living culture. And I’m not really talking about modern culture so much as I’m referring to the scope of the Dark Ages through Thomas Mann and James Joyce. He does the literary analysis thing. In spades. Want Beowulf? Check. Want tons of Parcival, Gawain, and even the tragic love story of Adelard and Heloise? Check. Want the erudite traditions, influences, mythological connections and cultural transformations laid out? You got it.
But wait, that’s not all! We get some of the best and fully explained nastiness of the truth behind chastity in Christianity and the best visceral descriptions I’ve ever read that makes me UNDERSTAND why the whole Romantic Love thing took off so HARD back at the opening days of the Rennaisance. Grail Legend? Chivalry? The whole love thing was bucking the Church and Society HARD. Trubadors were the punk bands of the day. 🙂
We get the influence of Alchemy and Science in poetry, music, and opera. We get dozens of traditions, a great analysis that shows just how much Islamic thought is slathered throughout the Divine Comedy, and so much more.
So what’s my problem?
It feels like half the book was devoted to fanboying over Thomas Mann and James Joyce.
I mean, sure, these guys were like a wet dream for mythographers and sociologists and Jungian analysts and they wrote some fine fiction, too, but I would have been JUST FINE with… a slightly abbreviated analysis.
Don’t get me wrong! I’m now interested as hell in reading more of Thomas Mann and I may go ahead and revisit Joyce soon, but BY NO MEANS is this very good reading if you’re not at least slightly interested in either author.
Of course, if you’re prepping yourself in College for writing one hell of a great essay on Joyce (or 14 of them), then DO YOURSELF A BIG FAVOR and read this book or the relevant sections. Some of it rather blew me away. 🙂
Is this the best stuff Campbell ever wrote? Hell, no. It’s very learned and I learned TONS, but it was almost nothing like what I had come to expect from him. More like he had been sitting around doing a lot of reading and his brilliant mind came up with fantastic random crap that sooner or later coalesced into a huge coherent literary epiphany. I think that’s great and all but damn… I wanted the world, not fiction, THIS TIME. 🙂
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