A short review of Joseph Campbell’s Hero with a Thousand Faces

The Hero with a Thousand Faces is above all an exceptional piece of scholarly work. Impeccably references, structured and substantiated with evidence from around the world, Joseph Campbell is undeniably the pioneer of comparative mythology.



If you can go past the slightly arduous 1940s writing style (arduous for us, who are used to modern self-help books) common to many non-fiction American writers, you can return with the “ultimate boon”.

The thesis of Joseph Campbell is often depicted as a circle of departure, initiation, and return, but the book highlights so many themes along the way, including the meeting with the Goddess, and Atonement with the Father. If you are interested in philosophical, spiritual and theological questions, the book will be a great gift.

As a practicing Siddha yogi, I admire Joseph Campbell’s exemplary understanding of Buddhist and Hindu thinking. His chapter “Apotheosis” contains a cleaver comparison of psychoanalysis and the seeking of nirvana. According to Campbell, the former attempts to bring back a devious mind to the accepted delusions and fears of our society, whilst Buddhism seeks to annihilate the self, desire, hostility and delusion, a much more ambitious but fruitful aim.

15553-joseph-campbell-quoteThe popular rendition of the Hero with a Thousand Faces often simplifies the narrative of the book, alluding to how all movies, books, and myths follow the Hero’s Journey. The popular “slaying of the dragon” is only mentioned in two pages of the 418 pages book, and is a minor tenet of the central thesis. The focus of the book is more on our own inner Hero’s Journey (spiritual development) than on the journey projected onto the outside world (personal development).

The original text can be taken beyond popular culture and comparative mythology. Just as St Augustine’s Confessions, it can be a support tool for any student of the spiritual, esoteric or theological disciplines. The excellent referencing and indexing allow easy navigation through most concepts of Oriental and Occidental mythology. On my part, I have generously annotated the book for further study.

A major strength of the book is the blending of Oriental and Occidental philosophies, which was truly novel when the book was first published (1949). These days, this account is no longer novel, but completely exact and exemplary. Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Taoism are all mentioned not in a descriptive way, but in a true comparative and synthesized way, a feat only achievable by someone who was incorporated the precepts of these religions in their own psyche.

The Hero with a Thousand Faces is a classic. It is not one of Joseph Campbell’s most approachable works (Myths to Live by is much more readable for a modern audience), but is the central tenet of his thinking. It deserves a place on the bookshelves of any student of the spiritual arts, and will prove useful for referencing and in-depth reading of individual chapters.

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