Before he was the engaging professor who brought mythology into people’s living rooms through his conversations with Bill Moyers, before he became known as the thinker whose ideas influenced Star Wars, and before his now-beloved phrase “follow your bliss” entered the popular lexicon, Joseph Campbell was a young man who tried his hand at writing fiction. At the age of twenty-nine, after years of Depression-era unemployment, when he lived off money he had earned playing saxophone in a jazz combo and read the world’s great literature in a syllabus of his own design, Campbell published his first short story. That tale, included in this collection, remained the famed mythologist’s only published piece of fiction, until now.
In these stories, listeners will find rich mythological symbolism, down-to-earth concerns with the ravages of the Second World War, and singular iterations of Campbell’s famous Hero’s Journey schema - all interwoven into a literary style that anticipates the genre that would years later come to be known as “magical realism.” Compelling in their own right, these seven stories are essential listening for longtime Campbell fans and the many who continue to discover him afresh.
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- Réamonn Ó Ciaráin
A dream-like aspect - Highly Recommend
Mythic Imagination the audio book written by Joseph Campbell and narrated by Christopher Lane is buried treasure uncovered. Like his beloved myths, these stories appeal to the primordial longings, fears, vanities and an innate search for truth – they have an earthly yet cosmic aspect – real yet illusory – composed of deep symbolism and metaphor. As the title indicates, the contents are a mixture of reality and surrealism, the commonplace and the wondrous projected on to a mythic screen.
The narration fits into the content and is reminiscent of Campbell’s own steadying and authoritative voice. Lane is perfectly measured in realising accents and other speech mannerisms. His voice gives the overall production an authenticity and a truly engaging quality vital for sustaining attention in the audio medium.
By Brilliance Audio this production contains short fiction by the foremost 20th Century scholar of comparative world mythology. One needs to devote the due time and focus to work of this depth. Joseph Campbell’s writing, like that of his literary hero James Joyce, is going to require undivided attention and some playback for enhanced appreciation.
Many of the pieces form part of literary cycles. The have the year of their composition included. Most were previously unpublished.
This collection of Campbell’s creative writing displays his ability to reach far into the inner distances of the human psyche; lesser-explored territory even 80 years on.
The stories follow mythic patterns of narrative on which Campbell was to write and broadcast extensively for the rest of his life. Recurring themes in what he called ‘man’s one great story’ occur in this collection: perilous adventure, Eden-like destinations, forbidden love along with the evils of racism or tribalism. In one story the president wakes up as black man and has to have his death faked because of this metamorphosis. He is spirited away and becomes a miraculous stranger in another place. Some of the themes are certainly of their time but relevant still unfortunately as in the case of latter story of systemic racism.
The stories have a dream-like aspect. They explore how the outside gets inside and vice versa. They have a cinematic scope. The narrative itself is powerful. It conveys complex concepts from the quotidian to the mysterious in an intriguing and captivating style. Nature, animals, courtship and love are particularly well captured and conveyed. There is a beauty to Campbell’s prose style and many memorable sections like his description of a sub-marine world where the creatures higher up the food chain feed off those lower down in a cycle of seemingly harmonious perfection unlike the chaos above the surface of the ocean during the unfolding Second World War of the late1930s and 40s, ‘the great days of slaughter’, when humanity threatened to push itself into the dark abyss yet again but this time forever.
The fact that these stories are the product of the abandonment of Campbell’s doctoral studies has itself a deeper significance it seems to me. Which of us would not be somewhat explorative and expansive having been relieved of the shackles of academia and having discovered Joyce’s Ulysses. Campbell was in his late 20s and early 30s when he composed these pieces and may have been in search of his true bliss.
Turning on my Ireland radar for a moment I detect a hint of the Irish in some of the names of some of the characters: Waterford, Burns and not least the prominent character of Douglas Hyde who was a founder member of the Gaelic League in 1893 and went on to be the first President of Ireland in 1938 to 1945, the time Campbell was creating these works. James Joyce is also referenced and his influence on Campbell is well documented.
I have listened to other classics by Joseph Campbell such as The Mythic Dimension, The Hero with a Thousand Faces and like those, this is an audio book I will return to again and be further enriched each time. One listen is not enough.
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