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Reply To: Questions about the Historical Atlas of World Mythology


Thank you for bringing this up, Shaahayda. I’m confident you aren’t the only Campbell reader who has questions about the Historical Atlas.

Before I address your numbered questions, I’ll provide a little background – or rather, a lot of background (which will likely answer a few of those questions).

The idea for the Historical Atlas of World Mythology, originally envisioned as a large, illustrated single volume coffee table book, started with Alfred van der Marck,  the head of the the division of McGraw-Hill headquartered in Switzerland. He approached Joseph Campbell, who declined the project and referred him to Mircea Eliade, the other leading light on mythology. Eliade loved the idea, but believed Campbell was the only person up to the task, so van der Marck again approached Joseph, who let himself be persuaded and signed a contract with McGraw-Hill in 1976.

Joe was excited because this work would be centered on visual images:


My own view is that the visual aspect of myth is what is primary. Myth derives, it seems to me, from envisionments, from visions, and vision is trans-cultural, trans-linguistic. . . .

The logics of image thinking and of verbal thinking are two very different logics.⁠ I’m more and more convinced that there is, as it were, a series of archetypes which are psychologically grounded, which just have to operate, but in whatever field is available to them. In the myths, they are represented pictorially. There’s a big distinction to be made between the impact of the image, and the intellectual and social interpretation and application of the image.⁠ (Joseph Campbell, from a yet-to-be-published manuscript I’ve edited)

Campbell envisioned the Atlas as consisting of images of works of art from a specific cultural matrix on the same page as the related myths and explanatory text, along with charts, graphs, and maps, all woven together. (The technology to do this did not exist when he wrote The Masks of God in the fifties and sixties, and much less The Hero with a Thousand Faces in 1949):

This one also has a totally different format.⁠ I don’t think there has been another scholar anywhere who has had the good fortune to have a publisher who said, ‘How many pictures do you need?’⁠ I think that actually mythology is image, and it’s only because the publication of pictures is so expensive that we don’t realize that in our reading.⁠3 So this opportunity to have hundreds and hundreds of pictures, the ones I choose—and besides, those brand new, beautiful maps—opens a whole new prospect to exposition. I can say things here you can’t say without a visual accompaniment⁠.

Myth is expression, not just reading. The reader has to see the picture and say, “Aha!”, so the reference has got to be right there; the picture and text need to be on the same page. I just can’t tell you what agony it is getting the illustrations into the book, though I love working with them⁠. The discourse is really extrapolation out of the implications of the image. And to be able to have a book where my prose meets the image, right on the same page, is a marvelous privilege. It really is. In the Masks of God it’s all conceptual, but here, you can have the experience⁠.” (ibid)

This proved a very expensive, time-consuming process – but over the course of four years Campbell ran into roadblocks with the designer. Eventually, van der Marck fired the designer and assigned a new designer that Joe loved – but then that designer died. Campbell persuaded van der Marck and McGraw-Hill to hire Robert Walter to help take charge and organize the massive material for the Atlas (which was shipped over from Switzerland in dozens of boxes).

Then, in late 1981, McGraw-Hill fired Alfred van der Marck. Joseph Campbell was incensed at their treatment of his friend and publisher, so he refused to write another word; he returned his advance, and paid an additional $25,000 to secure title to all the material developed up to that point (a huge financial hit; Campbell was no a man of wealth – I have it on good authority that, between teaching, writing, and public appearances, he never earned more than $15,000 any single year of his life; he didn’t even receive a pension from Sarah Lawrence when he retired). Van der Marck spent the next year trying to persuade every major publisher to buy Campbell’s book. Come Christmas of 1982, Fred van der Marck, Bob Walter, and Joseph Campbell met to determine next steps.

That’s when Joe observed that Fred was a publisher, Bob an editor, and Campbell a writer, so they should just publish it themselves. They mortgaged everything they owned to come up with the initial funding and created Van der Marck Editions. Campbell had a long list of books he wanted to publish, including work by other authors such as Marija Gimbutas, and, after the Atlas, several books of his own (the posthumously published works that comprise most of the Collected Works of Joseph Campbell have their origin in that list).

Campbell’s notes and research for the Atlas, starting back in the 1970s, are extensive (written in pencil on yellow legal pads). He began with Africa, and soon had collected so much material that he realized the Atlas could easily be an unwieldy dozen or so volumes that still wouldn’t do the subject justice, so realized he would have to come up with a different format. Eventually, he settled on four volumes:

I. The Way of the Animal Powers
(Starting with early hunters and gatherers, cultures where shamanism was the primary approach). Published in 1983

II. The Way of the Seeded Earth
(the mythological shift that comes in with agriculture) Published in 1988/89

III. The Way of the Celestial Lights
(beginning with the development of civilization in Mesopotamia, Egypt, India, and China, when humanity’s mythological focus turned to the heavens) Never completed

IV. The Way of Man
(the mythological shift that begins around 500 B.C., with the perennial philosophy as it appears among the Greek philosophers in the Mediterranean region and Buddhism in India, continuing up the present – paralleling, in many ways, ideas contained in The Masks of God Vol. IV: Creative Mythology) Never completed

Sad to say, Campbell died after the first volume was published and about three-fourths of the way through the second volume.   Bob and Fred were able to pull enough material together left by Campbell to complete the second volume (The Way of the Seeded Earth); alas, the final two volumes died along with Joe.

Volume I – The Way of the Animal Powers, was published in 1983 as a beautiful but massive, unwieldy, coffee table sized hardbound book,selling for $75 ( a prohibitive sum back in the early eighties, equivalent to roughly $200 today). When it was released in paperback, still oversized, it was published as two distinct coffee table sized softcover books:

Historical Atlas of World Mythology
Volume I: The Way of the Animal Powers
Part 1: Mythologies of the Primitive Hunters and Gatherers


Historical Atlas of World Mythology
Volume I: The Way of the Animal Powers
Part 2: Mythologies of the Great Hunt

One can occasionally purchase Volume I on eBay in the huge, single-volume hardbound version, but more likely you’ll find it in the two softcover books noted above (which is what I have on my shelves).

The second volume (The Way of the Seeded Earth) was released as three separate coffee table size books in 1988 and 1989, after Campbell’s passing:

Historical Atlas of World Mythology
Volume II: The Way of the Seeded Earth
Part 1: The Sacrifice

followed by

Historical Atlas of World Mythology
Volume II: The Way of the Seeded Earth
Part 2: Mythologies of the Primitive Planters: The Northern Americas

and finally

Historical Atlas of World Mythology
Volume II: The Way of the Seeded Earth
Part 3: Mythologies of the Primitive Planters: The Middle and Southern Americas

(so, in answer to your question number 7, the print version of the Historical Atlas of World Mythology that can sometimes be found in used bookstores, or possibly online, consists of only the first two volumes published in five parts, each part a separate book.)

The digital version does engender some confusion. Each of the five parts that comprise the two volumes consist of multiple sections. Only four sections from the first part of volume one have been digitized and made available as eSingles (these are the “parts” you can find on Amazon and elsewhere, which are not the same as the books that comprise Parts 1 through 5 of the physical volumes). No sections from the second part of Volume 1, nor any section from Volume II, are available in a digital format.

On to your questions:

1.      Why is the Atlas only in Kindle format?

It isn’t. The sections of the Atlas that have been digitized are available in mobi, ePub, and PDF formats. Amazon’s Kindle only uses the mobi format, so that’s all you’ll find on Amazon, whereas iBooks uses the ePub format (though I don’t believe any sections of the Atlas are available through iBooks, which doesn’t publish little parts of a book, all Joe’s other work should be).

2.       Are other formats available through other vendors?

If you go to our eBook page at this link and scroll down, you’ll find the four small sections of Volume I of the Historical Atlas that have been published so far (the same ones up on Amazon)

Each of these sections can be purchased and downloaded from JCF in mobi format (if one has a Kindle device), ePub format (if your eBook reader is iBooks or another ePub platform), and as a PDF. You choose which format as part of the purchasing process

3.      There (on + com) are books 1, 4, 5, 6. Where are 2 and 3?

Only 4 sections of Volume I are available as eSingles so far, with 4 more to come (and that’s not counting the 8 parts of  Volume II, which has yet to be digitized). You’ll find all the parts listed here, with links to what you can download.

Those 4 sections were chosen because they are primarily text, and hence easier to transfer to an eBookl format. David Kudler, Managing Editor of the Collected Works, was new to the art of designing eBooks when those were created several years ago; the Historical Atlas is incredibly complicated, given the mix of text, images (hundreds of images), maps, charts, tables and reference notes. Coordinating those so they work together the way Campbell intended is no easy task in an eBook (even more difficult than producing the original print volumes). It’s tedious and time-consuming.

At the same time, we had several new Campbell works to complete, as well as revised editions to create of existing works whose copyrights had reverted to JCF. Those took priority. It quickly became apparent that if JCF concentrated on completing the many sections of the Historical Atlas, it would be years before we could start releasing his other works as eBooks – so we moved ahead with that (most are now available for digital devices).

Now that David has the craft perfected, at the last Board meeting he shared that, once a few other priority projects are met, he will return to working with the rest of the Historical Atlas.

4.      IS there a delay in their publication?

I believe that is covered in the answer to the previous question.

5.      A Reviewer wrote, the Kindle version never downloaded. Is it Amazon’s fault or the customer’s, but that was the only review on Kindle for “People’s of the Equatorial forest”

That’s something for Amazon to determine, which they apparently have, as your next question indicates.

6.      So I tried downloading, and it downloaded just fine.

Glad it worked – seems Amazon resolved the problem

7.      One final question. Would this book be available in print form as one Single Atlas or in segments, book 1 thru —-?

As noted somewhere above, in print form the Historical Atlas was available in two volumes, consisting of five distinct oversize  books (Volume I in two parts, Volume II in 3 parts).

There are no plans to publish Volumes III and IV, as Joseph Campbell is not here to write them. Nor are there plans to re-release print versions of the first two volumes.

Instead, we will ultimately end up publishing all the sections of Volume I as one large, beautiful eBook (including the four sections already out) replete with hundreds of images, and the same for Volume II. That date lies a few years in the future (possibly by  2025, given the current publishing schedule).

Shaahayda – I trust that answers your question. Thank you for bearing with me!