The Hero With a Thousand Faces
By Joseph Campbell
Novato, CA: New World Library, 2008
Review by Carl McColman
Ever since New World Library started to bring out beautiful hardcover editions of the complete works of Joseph Campbell a few years back, I (and I suppose countless others) have been waiting for this one. If there’s one Campbell book to own, this is it (although, Joycean that I am, I must confess that for me personally A Skeleton Key to Finnegans Wake runs a close second). But whereas Skeleton Key, like many of Campbell’s works, is aimed at a very specific readership, The Hero with a Thousand Faces is really about not only all the great heroes of mythology… it’s about all of us, period. Just as the great heroes are for everyone, so is this book.
The book itself really needs no introduction, as it is Campbell’s masterly study of the key themes of world mythology, in the light of twentieth century knowledge including psychology. This is the book that inspired a generation of visionary artists, most notably George Lucas as he created his mythic world in Star Wars; and its influence on the revival of mythic spirituality probably is incalculable. Exploring topics ranging from apotheosis to initiation to quest to vocation, this book belongs in the library of anyone interested in the role that myth plays in art, in human development, and its continued relevance to postmodern spiritual seekers.
This edition, published a year ahead of the book’s sixtieth anniversary, is a feast. Not only is it a reasonably priced hardcover edition, but it has new features including more illustrations than ever before, a comprehensive bibliography and new annotations sprinkled throughout the text. The cover design makes its own statement about the book’s universal message: a montage of photographs of very ordinary looking people from cultures throughout the world that blend to form a hero’s face (it looks like Christ to me, but that could be my own bias).
Donate your old paperback copy (you know, the one with Luke Skywalker on the front cover) to Goodwill, and get a copy of this splendid new edition. And carry on with your heroic quest.