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Campbell’s More Scholarly Works

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    androoshka (aka Andy) asks

    So if I want to follow the rigorous and systematic academic work of JC – what titles do you suggest I look at?

    Joseph Campbell wrote with the layman more than the scholar in mind; he often said he considered artists his primary audience, which is one reason why many academics have dismissed his work. Another is Campbell’s interdisciplinary approach, which made him a generalist in a field dominated by specialists, and has at times, depending on which way the pendulum is swinging, made his work suspect in academia.

    But for a comprehensive, detailed, and exhaustive overview of Campbell’s mythological perspective, consider reading in order the four volumes in The Masks of God tetralogy (Primitive Mythology; Oriental Mythology; Occidental Mythology; and Creative Mythology). He started on this series after returning from his sabbatical year in India and Japan in 1954, publishing the final volume in 1968. In Asian Journals, the thick travel journal of that year abroad, Joe, at age 50, consciously comes to the conclusion that his field is mythology, and sketches out his intentions for a series of books with a working title of “The Basic Mythologies of Mankind.”

    Each of these volumes is worth the read – particularly the first 100 or so pages of Primitive Mythology, where Campbell makes a strong case for the biological basis of mythology, and the fourth volume, Creative Mythology, which explores how individuals, and particularly artists, can create their own mythology from the remnants of the past in today’s seemingly post-mythological age, (my personal favorite of all Campbell’s work).

    Many scholars, such as David L. Miller, Watson-Ledden Professor Emeritus of comparative religion at Syracuse University, consider the essays in The Flight of the Wild Gander Joseph Campbell’s most rigorous academic work – especially “The Symbol without Meaning” and “Mythogenesis,” papers presented in 1957 and 1959 at the annual Eranos Roundtable (Eranos, anchored in its early decades by the presence of Carl Jung, was an interdisciplinary conference of distinguished historians, psychologists, physicists anthropologists, and such exploring Jungian concepts and themes encountered in their own work; Campbell selected and edited six volumes of papers from the Eranos Yearbooks for an English-speaking audience).

    “The Symbol without Meaning” is also available as a stand-alone Esingle that can be purchased and downloaded through JCF (I also added Ebook links to the other titles listed above, in case you are intrigued, though all are also available through local brick-and-mortar stores as well as through the usual online outlets – or in your local library).

    Hope that helps, Andy.


    Awesome! Thanks, Stephen!

    I also found this while perusing the JCF website, and thought it tangentially applies – Campbell’s reading list from his classes at Sarah Lawrence:

    Click to access Appendix-2-Reading-List.pdf

    Beyond that, I’m also taking notes on the people he cites, both in his books and in his video interviews and lectures.


    Your approach (“taking notes on the people he cites, both in his books and in his video interviews and lectures”) is exactly what Joseph Campbell recommended: instead of reading works that are said to be important, or are on the nonfiction bestseller list that year, find an author who speaks to you, read everything you can of his (or her) work, then pay attention to his influences, the writers he cites, read their works, and then who they read and so on – and sooner or later you will end up with a comprehensive worldview.

    Though he did earn a Masters Degree, Campbell was primarily an autodidact – most of his erudite intellectual expertise developed out of those five years reading books during the Depression in Woodstock. I have had the opportunity to spend time with archival materials from JCF’s files: Joe would make copious, detailed outlines, often comprising a relatively thick sheaf of pages, of everyone from Oswald Spengler to Stanislav Grof.

    As for his assigned reading list, Joe would often tell the story of how one day his students complained that they had other classes too, and just could not manage to read all those books in a single year. His response? “I’m surprised you even tried. You have the rest of  your life to do the reading.”

    I envy all the reading you have ahead of you. Enjoy!

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