Meet Joe Campbell
Insights into the ideas of a mythologist
(more about Joseph Campbell)

Meet Joe Campbell

In the pages that follow, I will offer smatterings of the thoughts of Joseph Campbell. It won't be a comprehensive look at his thinking; for that you'll have to read his books. Rather it will be the ideas from his speeches and books that have hit the wall of my mind--and stuck.

First, let me toss out a few biographical snippets for those of you who have never heard of "Uncle Joe":

The capsule biography of Campbell in his Penguin publications reads as follows:

Joseph Campbell was interested in mythology since his childhood in New York, when he read books about American Indians, frequently visited the American Museum of Natural History, and was fascinated by the museum's collection of totem poles. He earned his B.A. and M.A. degrees at Columbia in 1925 and 1927 and went on to study medieval French and Sanskrit at the universities of Paris and Munich. After a period in California, where he encountered John Steinbeck and the biologist Ed Ricketts, he taught at the Canterbury School, then, in 1934, joined the literature department at Sarah Lawrence College, a post he retained for many years. During the 1940s and '50s, he helped Swami Nikhilananda to translate the Upanishads and The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna. The many books by Professor Campbell include The Hero with a Thousand Faces, Myths to Live By, The Flight of the Wild Gander, and The Mythic Image. He edited The Portable Arabian Nights, The Portable Jung, and other works. He died in 1987.

A more thorough biography can be found at the Joseph Campbell Foundation homepage. For our consideration here, however, a few key points will do:

  • 1924: Young Campbell meets Jiddu Krishnamurti on a trans-Atlantic crossing; the two young men become close friends.
  • 1933: Campbell spends one year reading (in several languages) and writing.
  • 1934: Campbell takes a position teaching literature at Sarah Lawrence College, where he will remain until his retirement in 1972.
  • 1943: Indologist Heinrich Zimmer dies; his widow asks Campbell to see several posthumous works into print, including Myths and Symbols in Indian Art and Civilization, The King and the Corpse, Philosophies of India, and the two-volume The Art of Indian Asia.
  • 1949: The Hero with a Thousand Faces presents the pattern found universally in hero stories. George Lucas would later find in this work inspiration for his Star Wars films.
  • 1954-1955: Campbell spends one year traveling in India, Southeast Asia, and Japan.\1959-1968: Campbell publishes his magnum opus, The Masks of God, in four volumes: Primitive Mythology (1959), Oriental Mythology (1962), Occidental Mythology (1964), and Creative Mythology (1968).
  • 1988: PBS first broadcasts Joseph Campbell and The Power of Myth with Bill Moyers, a six-hour series of interviews created in the last years before Campbell's death in 1987.

So follow me on this "hero's adventure" as I give you my two cents' worth on the great Joseph Campbell.

Everything on these pages is © 2009 by James Baquet