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Hero of a Thousand Faces

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  • Hero of a Thousand Faces

    So, I saw that this was mentioned in alot of places on this forum, so I decided to order and start reading this book, so that I could attempt to understand what everyone was talking about.

    Let me just say that it did not leave a very compelling impression.

    The introduction by the author already told me that not only did he misunderstand the meaning of the Vedas but that he has not been exposed to very good examples of medicine and health considering his poor analogy in relation to myth. Clarissa Pinkola Estes does a slightly better job by starting with her own personal story, which was interesting and compelling, but she loses my understanding when she attempts to create separation and cateogory where none are needed.

    Then there was the first chapter on myth and dreams. I admit that references to Freud and Jung were things I have little understanding of, but I am nevertheless flabbergasted by the notion of universal archetypes and the Oedipus Complex as described here. Boiling down all humans to act and behave in this fashion is not what the Vedas meant by Viveka.

    Now, considering my background, perhaps it shouldn't be surprising that I don't really understand, but I am having a hard time figuring out why this work is considered seminal. What's so good about it? Does it get better later on after chapter 1? I would be curious to know what others have taken from it and why it might be important to running a game of Scion.


    How can I know if what I claim I know to be true is rejecting the idea that there is something I might not know? How can I know if what I claim I don't know to be true is rejecting the idea that there is something I do know?
    -Zhuangzi

  • #2
    Consider that it is over half a century old, and also note that most of its cultural signifigance is the fact that it gave us Star Wars.


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    • #3
      Understanding how two things are different requires prior framework of how two things are similar. Especially when the people who have to do the understanding have no extensive expertise on the subject, and thus are unable to glance at two things and readily point out the differences that are, to experts, painfully obvious.


      MtAw Homebrew: Even more Legacies, updated to 2E

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      • #4
        Originally posted by Ostarion View Post
        Now, considering my background, perhaps it shouldn't be surprising that I don't really understand, but I am having a hard time figuring out why this work is considered seminal. What's so good about it? Does it get better later on after chapter 1? I would be curious to know what others have taken from it and why it might be important to running a game of Scion.
        Ah yes, Campbell. So, right. Big thing about Campbell, Campbell's work is very important, and also really quite out of date. It's like how Freud's works are important in Psychology, not because everything he said was right, but because he started the conversation, and that then informed a lot of later conversation. A lot of that conversation happens to be throwing rocks at Campbell and Freud though. Same with Jung actually.

        The Hero of a Thousand Faces was written in the forties, it's more than half a century old. At the time it was huge, he was connecting all of these diverse ideas of human history, showing common ideas, common threads, and was doing some work proposing Ur-Myths. The world has, however, moved on from Campbell. He's like an academic granddad, big in his prime, but the world's moved on. Comparative Mythology was the thing for a while, it was all-that, and then people started self-reflecting on it. Myths have connections, sure, we can see common themes, but, well, does it matter? What is this actually informing us? And, importantly, were we being selective in our evidence gathering? That question moved like a scythe through a field of grain. There were issues, especially ones of Euro-centrism in some Comparative Mythology works, 'favoring' cultures, dismissing others as simply 'copy-cats.'

        Comparative Mythology has, now, kind of become a dinosaur in the room. Can it be helpful? Absolutely, it can highlight how human we all are, it can be used to show how similar geographic environments result in similar observations about the world, and it can show us how some imagery is incredibly common. Potentially my favorite is how on a large scale we have connected human sexual reproduction with plants. Gods of growing things have a habit of having very, very, comically large 'Growing Things' themselves. It also lets us see areas of potential tomfoolery, Lugh, for example, is very suspiciously like the biblical David at times. But, should Comparative Mythology be standard, and king? Well... probably not. Cultural Relativism, seeking to understand a culture on its own terms, has clashed a bit with ideas such as Campbell's. Compare the Welsh, and Irish mythological traditions, that can be valuable. Contrast the Hittite and early Greek? There are benefits there to understand the sharing of ideas. But, comparing everyone to the bloody Babylonians, and that's where you get old stuffy Victorians insisting that 'Bel' (who might not even have ever existed as a Deity and might have originally been made up by Irish monks) shows that the Canninites had a direct connection to the Irish because Bel is clearly Ba'al. Or, the foul-racist tinted version insisting that Nyame of the Ashanti Pantheon is simply a degraded Abrahamic God fueled by a belief that the local Ashanti peoples couldn't have come up with something so similar themselves, and must be simply copying things because Racism.

        So, in short. Campbell's a bit out of date. The research he was drawing on was also a bit out of date. I don't exactly know off the topic of my head about the Vedas and Viveka, but the work is old. Misconceptions rife, Western Academia was really bad at bothering to realize that they might be failing to understand the rest of the world. You wind up with a single mistranslation of a Japanese mythic text resulting in Susano-O being believed to be a Storm God by Academia for a while until someone gets around to double checking that and realizing that he's not at all.

        Reading the work isn't a bad idea, but understanding that it's a bit dated now, and it is a product of its time is important. The basic idea of a Hero's Journey can be... interesting for running a Scion game. It's sort of like plot beats? You don't need to read Campbell to understand the basic premise, it's sort of like the skeleton of a story, it's in Starwars, Lord of the Rings, all over the place.

        TLDR: Academia is like a family, someone comes up with an idea, they have children (students) who learn from it, and change it, and then have their own children (more students). Two generations later, you might all think your Great-Grandparents were a bit odd, and dated, but were doing their best, more or less. Campbell, and Freud are like that, to different degrees.
        Last edited by Watcher; 07-21-2017, 12:41 AM. Reason: I was doing that thing where I don't complete my ideas and change subject rapidly in a sentence, fixed it.

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        • #5
          Originally posted by Watcher View Post


          Reading the work isn't a bad idea, but understanding that it's a bit dated now, and it is a product of its time is important. The basic idea of a Hero's Journey can be... interesting for running a Scion game. It's sort of like plot beats? You don't need to read Campbell to understand the basic premise, it's sort of like the skeleton of a story, it's in Starwars, Lord of the Rings, all over the place.
          .
          Well, thank you for your explanation. I am trying to ignore the obvious imperialistic notions and matter of fact tone, but I guess I didn't expect a dated work to be so blunt about its position on Heroes. I had recently read Orientalism by Edward Said, and although I found that to be dated as well, I was able to appreciate why that was considered a seminal work, right from the introduction and first chapter. I guess those 30 years difference is quite big here.



          How can I know if what I claim I know to be true is rejecting the idea that there is something I might not know? How can I know if what I claim I don't know to be true is rejecting the idea that there is something I do know?
          -Zhuangzi

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          • #6
            Originally posted by Ostarion View Post
            Well, thank you for your explanation. I am trying to ignore the obvious imperialistic notions and matter of fact tone, but I guess I didn't expect a dated work to be so blunt about its position on Heroes. I had recently read Orientalism by Edward Said, and although I found that to be dated as well, I was able to appreciate why that was considered a seminal work, right from the introduction and first chapter. I guess those 30 years difference is quite big here.
            I'm glad I could be of some help! And yeah, those thirty years between Said and the Hero of a Thousand Faces are huge in History / Anthropology, things start shifting at a breakneck pace. I don't do a lot of post-colonial stuff, though recently I read an interesting suggestion to look at early Ireland as a more colonial experience which I have been utterly tantalized by. If you're interested in Post-Colonial works more recent than Said, Sacerdos might be able to suggest some things though.

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            • #7
              I haven't read Campbell specifically because I've heard the above about him. I was like, "I already suffered through early Victor Turner, I can't do this again."


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              • #8
                The other experience I've had in this vein is the Golden Bough by James Frazer. Useful for an overview of magical thought around the world, but Frazer definitely had a worldview of "primitive peoples use magic and religion to explain what we enlightened people do with science" that he can't seem to get past. But at least he's not Robert Graves' level of just plain wrong.


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                • #9
                  It's been about 20 years since I've actually seen Campbell discussed, but the biggest criticism of his work was, IIRC, that he had this bad habit of sandblasting away (or in some cases outright altering) fine details until he could say that two vague concepts resembled each other.

                  Also something about him believing that polar bears were vegetarians.

                  However, the idea of The Hero's Journey as a story structure is interesting (even if White Wolf beat it to death in nearly every Storytellers Handbook they did for the World of Darkness back in the 90s).


                  What is tolerance? It is the consequence of humanity. We are all formed of frailty and error; let us pardon reciprocally each other's folly. That is the first law of nature.
                  Voltaire, "Tolerance" (1764)

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