Heroes have existed in virtually every culture in the world, at every time in the world, in a diversity ranging from the warrior to the spiritual leader.    But what do they have in common?  What themes are shared by them -- and what do they tell us about ourselves?  In The Hero with a Thousand Faces, Joseph Campbell explores the heroic archetypes and messages through a variety of perspectives.

Campbell begins with the "monomyth" -- the common elements running through innumerable myths separated by geography and time -- and then analyzes what they share.  He explores a wide range of sources of myth, from the tales of King Arthur to Christian and Islamic beliefs to Irish folk tales to the Greek and Roman pantheons, by discussing them historically, psychologically (Freud and Jung were fairly new and very influential when this was first published), culturally, and philosophically.  In addition to the hero's journey (departure, initiation, return, resolution) Campbell also explores the beliefs on the nature of the universe -- from creation to purpose -- and how the hero shows us what the hero teaches us about, and affects, this all-encompassing force.

There are times when The Hero with a Thousand Faces can be a little dry, and there is much information to take in here.  But Campbell provides an amazing amount of source material to support his theories, and his analysis may not be agreed with by all (especially those who take their religion literally) but it is a fascinating look at the ideas that cultures return to time and again with their creation and treatment of their heroes.  The final section explores the impact (of lack thereof) of the hero in the modern, more secular, more individualistic culture; and this may make us sad for what has been lost in antiquity.

The Hero with a Thousand Faces is a fascinating, intelligent, and seminal exploration on what makes a hero -- and what that can tell us about us.  For anyone interested in mythology, anthropology, or what we have always sought, it's required reading.

Overall grade: A
Reviewed by James Lynch

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