Saturday of Book Reviewing – Campbell’s The Power of Myth

Disclaimer:This book is far closer to Stevie’s wheelhouse than mine!

                Review: Seems a safe wager, that when people hear ‘The Power of Myth’, the PBS special between Bill Moyers and Joseph Campbell pops up before thoughts of the book that followed it does. Which is cool, only I never saw that special, soooo we’re exclusively discussing the written today. With the exception of right now, when I mention the serendipitous timing of my completion of this book falling mere days before I watched an episode of Gilmore Girls where Yale attendees Rory and Paris spend a night watching the special, instead of enjoying spring break in Florida. My, oh, my do I wish the book inspired that kind of avid attention. It did not.

               On Goodreads, I posted: 

                I did not love this novel as others have loved this novel. After reading reviews, on this site mostly, I was convinced that I absolutely needed to read this book; that my worldview would be forever changed, as would I be, by Campbell’s undiluted wisdom and wit. Spoiler: I remain the same as ever.
                Perhaps it was the repetitive nature of the chapters? Certain notes were hit multiple times, each to put forth a different elevation of myth in today’s daily life. And I get it. Really, I do: there’s a comfort in believing that myths, stories and meditation, can change the world. It’s naïve and lazy, but completely understandable. I found this book to be… OK.
                Why? Because Campbell was clearly brilliant, his research and knowledge of different culture’s mythology unparalleled, however, I don’t love where his conclusions fell. In the vein of many former Catholics, current atheists I find all the willingness to blame a lack of belief and adherence to invisible forces a little… wimpy. The strong take responsibility for themselves; they don’t blame a lack of puberty rituals for not ‘growing up’ on time, or resort to hiding behind religion as a ‘second womb’ to bring them to maturity. This is all an excuse to not have to rely on yourself.
                Pretty early on Campbell said something I found spectacular, I just wish he would have stuck to it throughout his talk with Moyers instead of going on to contradict himself later on. It was this: “The virtues of the past are the vices of today. And many of what were thought to be the vices of the past are the necessities of today. The moral order has to catch up with the moral necessities of actual life in time, here and now. And that is what we are not doing. The old religion belongs to another age, another people, another set of human values, another universe. By going back you throw yourself out of sync with history.” This was on page 16.
                I guess perhaps I believe this one point that he didn’t: that all religion is the old religion, belonging to a previous age. We don’t need a superhuman controlling power. We, the people, are so very lucky to control ourselves. Maybe, I don’t understand why that isn’t enough. Can’t people and life in every incarnation be worthy of respect and awe based purely on their own existence, without being propped up by a ‘higher power’?
                Faith is tricky. This book does little to validate its use. In conclusion? The myths included were lovely and poignant and amusing, but not necessary to lead a noble life. Campbell wishes to give them power that should be reserved for human agency alone. … if there is a god he or she created truly miraculous things all around us that we take for granted. And if there is no god? There are still truly miraculous things all around us that we take for granted. Gods, and myths of such, are not necessary anymore.

             Right o. So I suppose if the goal of an educational text is to make its reader think, this one succeeded in that end at least. Oftentimes, I find myself looking for texts to re-convince me of my lost faith, and perhaps that’s what I was searching for within these pages. Its failure to convert me backwards says less about the text itself and more about my own perspective, so I apologize if this review was harsher than need be, on the basis of my own disappointment. Blind faith is comforting and I miss it dearly sometimes, so I understand why many cling to it, but in this case it felt… forced. And I have little stomach for that sort of thing.

 Jessie Gutierrez

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