Wednesday, January 5, 2011

The Book Review Club - The Hero with a Thousand Faces

The Hero with a Thousand Faces
Joseph Campbell

I never thought I'd see the day I would review a craft book over a work of fiction or nonfiction. But here it is! Never say never. It's not that I don't read craft pieces. Or that they cause me undo pain (okay, maybe some). It's just that until now that I hadn't been moved so profoundly by one that I felt the urge to share. 

The Hero with a Thousand Faces changed all of that. Reading Campbell's book was more than an experience. It made me rethink the way I view literature, storytelling, the role of storytelling within humanity, religion, society, thinking. At one point, Campbell had exposed so much of what storytelling does so profoundly, I said to my husband, "All I've got left is Cogito ergo sum. That's it!" (And yes, even Aquinas appears in Campbell's work).  

Campbell's look at how storytelling affects us mortals alters one's perceptions on so many levels. In investigating the greatest stories of all times, predominantly those focused on creation, god, gods, the universe - those deeply moving issues we all struggle to comprehend and understand - Campbell shows so evocatively how important storytelling is, what role it plays, and ultimately, creates guideposts for today's writers. Why does a hero have to refuse the call to adventure? Why does he have to walk through fire? What is, ultimately, so important about experiencing the hero suffer?

I will readily admit, I don't always get things the first time around. And all of this stuff may be old hat for a lot of writers, but having it laid out, discussed, chewed, dissected, analyzed, evidenced and described really helped me to see how critically important each stage of the hero's journey is not so much to the hero, or to me, but to the reader, to her emotional experience of the story I am trying to tell.

In case you're like me and need a picture to understand it all better, Campbell gives one, laying out story in its circular nature, each part labeled meticulously so that the reader can also go to the section of the book that then describes that stage.

Reading this book made me rethink not only my writing style but the way I perceive the role of story within our existence. True, talking about religious stories can do that since religions try to answer the big, huge questions, but seeing that they all try in very similar ways and how all of their stories evoke emotions in similar ways by going through similar stages was nothing short of revelatory for me as a writer.

I know. I know. Revelatory? I'm getting carried away. But here is some fact to balance out my swooning. George Lucas used Campbell's work to craft Star Wars. Star Wars! Can anyone say amazingly successful story?

I'll stop there. I promise. But if you're up for rethinking your whole concept of story, writing, the importance of storytelling to our existence, grab this book! Go for it. It is so incredibly worth it.

For more great reads to put some skip in your 2011, hop over to Barrie Summy's website. You won't be disappointed!


pattinase (abbott) said...

This goes right to the top of my list. Sounds wonderful.

Sarah Laurence said...

Great review of what sounds like a very inspiring book. Thanks for sharing.

Anonymous said...

I have my list of favorite craft books but I love to find a new approach - and storytelling - what a perfectly fascinating angle!

kaye said...

this book sounds very interesting. you did a nice job with the review.

Sarahlynn said...

I love craft books, and it sounds like this one is a great one to read. (Circular rather than linear!)

I read an interesting interview with Lucas once about what he was trying to do with religion and Star Wars. Really fits with this discussion.

Thanks for the review!

Green Girl in Wisconsin said...

Hm...nice to read a review on a craft book. I don't often come across them!