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Reply To: 1997 reprint of The Mythic Image


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.⁠” (Joseph Campbell in radio interview with Professor Miller)

“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.” (Campbell interview with Chris Goodrich in Publishers Weekly, referring to The Historical Atlas of World Mythology)

Image has always been essential to Joseph Campbell’s understanding of myth – it just took technology decades to catch up to his vision.

The original edition of  The Hero with a Thousand included multiple images, but these were expensive to reproduce and appeared on plates, an image on each side, often pages away from where Campbell discusses them. (This problem is finally fixed, thanks to the efforts of David Kudler, in the 3rd edition of The Hero with a Thousand Faces, published by New World Library in 2008)

By the time we get to the four volumes of The Masks of God, published from 1959 through 1968, Campbell addresses this problem by using sketches of archaeological artifacts, rather than actual photographs. Though we lose some of the visual impact of viewing the object, this is not only far less expensive, but drawings appear on the same page as the text discussing each image.

The Mythic Image, released in 1974, is an an early attempt to meld images with myths, but, in an unpublished interview, Campbell complains to John Lobell about

. . . The Mythic Image, which is published by Princeton, and they have abandoned the book. They turned it into a smaller format paperback, black-and-white, where the pictures don’t do the communicating that they were meant to do.”

In 1976 a large coffee table book called Myths, by Alexander Elliot, is released, with significant contributions from Joseph Campbell and Mircea Eliade. This too uses a number of pictures, but there is that same problem of linking the text to the image.

Finally, the technology catches up to Joe with The Historical Atlas of World Mythology:

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?’ . . . 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.”

Joseph Campbell, interviewed by Joe Nigg, in The Bloomsbury Review


I can only imagine the magic Campbell could make happen with the technology available today.