Furthermore, we have not even to risk the adventure alone; for the heroes of all time have gone before us; the labyrinth is thoroughly known; we have only to follow the thread of the hero-path. And where we had thought to find an abomination, we shall find a god; where we had thought to slay another, we shall slay ourselves; where we had thought to travel outward, we shall come to the center of our own existence; where we had thought to be alone, we shall be with all the world. — Joseph Campbell
In this JCF.org exclusive, we are sharing the foreword and the first section to Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces.
We hope that you enjoy this introduction to Campbell’s themes, in which he lays out the thesis that he would restate throughout the rest of his life — that “myth is public dream and dream is private myth.” One thing that it may help to remember: when Campbell wrote these words, there was no field of comparative mythology, and his readers would have been more likely than those today to be surprised at Campbell’s assertion of the equivalency of psychology, of myth, and of religion. (See Campbell’s sidebar about Professor Toynbee’s drawing a distinction between myths and Toynbee’s own Christianity, for example.)
In his later work, Campbell would say, “Myth is other people’s religion, and religion is misunderstood myth.” Thus, in the opening paragraph of this piece, Campbell evokes in his midcentury American reader’s mind as foreign (and as stereotyped) an image of other people’s religion as he could: “the dreamlike mumbo jumbo of some red-eyed witch doctor of the Congo.” His point, elaborated through the rest of the piece, is to break down his reader’s “aloof amusement” at this outré figure and to show that, whatever the societal surface, all myth, dream, and religion flow from the same universal underground source. This is the subversive premise of The Hero with a Thousand Faces, even more radical than its laying out the structure of the monomyth, the Hero’s Journey® schema, for which the book is so justly lauded.