It has been suggested that this book may well prove to be the most important book of the 20th century. That it has influenced millions and will continue to do so is certain. It has also been said that Campbell tells us nothing new so much as he gathers, for the first time, and makes coherent, what we have known and done since the beginning of time.
We tell stories.
And in the telling, we seek to define ourselves, both as to who we are and why we are. We seek to understand our place in the cosmos and our future.
Campbell not only lays out the structure of our stories, but shows us that all our stories are the same. They vary of course in hundreds if not thousands of ways, but they are about the same thing in the end–helping us to understand ourselves.
Coming from a Jungian foundation, we see that our stories are really the parts of ourselves unconsciously portrayed as the characters. We struggle through these parts of our human psyche as a hero encountering a new realm. We are called, we are helped, we face obstacles, we have triumphs, and in the end, we “integrate” ourselves into that larger “we” of the world.
For that is what we realize at journey’s end.
There is a passage I especially liked at the end:
“In his lifeform the individual is necessarily only a fraction and distortion of the total image of man. He is limited either as male or female; at any given period of his life he is again limited as child, youth, mature adult, or ancient; furthermore in his life-role he is necessarily specialized as craftsman, tradesman, servant or thief, priest, leader, wife, nun, or harlot; he cannot be all. Hence the totality–the fullness of man–is not in the separate member, but in the body of the society as a whole; the individual can be only an organ.” (pg. 330)
We see in all the stories, the myths of mankind, the same story, told in myriads of different ways, telling all, or part of our conclusions of who and what we are, where we came from and where we are going. Some tell parts, others tells all, some tell in detail, other bare bones, but it is the ultimate same story.
The hero quests.
We recognize that our human condition is what calls us together, it is what defines us. Much as we make of all sorts of other divisions, such as race, color, creed, and so forth, it is all cosmetic, the clothes we wear, as Campbell would say. We are captive subconsciously of the same exact feelings and drives. We all seek the same answers to the same questions.
Our religions are mere stories, designed for the same accomplishment. The bring us together and help us to negotiate the passages of life, accepting the terms decreed by the very cosmos themselves in the nature of gods.
Whether we view all this in a group or as separate individuals is no matter. The landscape inside our heads is the same as that outside. The parts of ourselves conduct the journey just as faithfully as does the hero in the stories. Jung would call them archetypes of our dreams. Campbell explains that we turn these into the stories we tell.
And it is all story. We are retelling them again and again in every book, short-story, movie ever written and that will ever be written. It is what compels us to listen, to read, and to continue. In each we seek the answer.
It is an endlessly fascinating book, one that bears many readings, much thought.
It is a good story of ourselves.