Something, Something, Freud
Sometimes I feel like reading this is a futile effort. I think Joseph Campbell knew a lot of myths and really wanted an excuse to tell them, and they are fascinating. It comes, however, that more of the book is dedicated to telling the myths in completion than talking about them. In the case of this weeks subchapter, Supernatural Aid, that is especially apparent.
Last week Campbell started a story about a prince in the middle east that refused to get married and a princess in China that also refused to get married. Long story short, neither of their parents were happy about it, so they were both imprisoned in luxury. This week, the majority of the subchapter continues that story. Both parties are visited by Jinn that proclaim them to be the most beautiful people ever made, and the two Jinn argue about it and you can see where this is going. The subchapter ends with the one Jinn making the other go get the princess, so they can lay the prince and princess beside each other and settle the argument of which is more beautiful.
I like these old myths and stories. I really do enjoy reading them. What I don’t enjoy is that once again, Campbell never really gets to the point except to say, and I paraphrase, “most stories have a guardian for the people that do answer the call, it’s often an old man or woman, and they offer the hero amulets and protection for their journey.” He talks very briefly about the supernatural aid representing Nature being on the side of the hero, but it’s caged in so much vague and frankly nonsense language that it’s hard to suss out. Which is, as I’ve mentioned before, one of this books biggest flaws.
We’re also going to be discussing “Crossing of the First Threshold”, something I read and think “That could have been shorter,” which is really just a microcosm of this whole lovely book.
I doubt Columbus’ sailors feared dragons and mermaids as much as they did starving to death and running out of water in the middle of the ocean and the slow, agonizing deaths that came with it. Just a point of order.
As an aside, I sometimes wonder if sailors didn’t talk about these kind of supernatural things as euphemisms for real dangers because it was easier to give them a face and conscious. Maybe I’ll write a story sometimes where the sailors talk about dragons as a metaphor for bad storms, and all their superstitions have a grounding in reality. Partly because superstitions usually did.
If you’re keeping up on your Joseph Campbell drinking game, he’s talking about incest again, so take your shot.
He talks about the Russian “Water Grandfather”, who I won’t go into in detail, but basically reminds me of Old Greg. If you never saw that on. . .well I saw it on YouTube, but I can’t remember what it’s actually from. Either way, drink Bailey’s from a boot. I’ve seen it done.
We are, of course, wandering off on Campbellian tangents and there is nothing that can stop this mans drive to tangent.
I have also begun ignoring all the dream shit for the purposes of this blog. I’m still reading it, but you can just assume it annoyed me at this point and, as usual, added nothing else.
The important part of this subchapter is, again, found on the first page. Campbell talks about a passage from the normal to the mystical, or “zone of magnified power”, through which the hero must pass. There comes, after Supernatural Aid, a trial the hero must pass. I don’t have any examples off the top of my head, but I think I’m going to add an alarm to my phone to remind me to do a follow up to this post.
I know I’m not doing this book justice, partly because I’m reading it in very small sections at a time, but, big but, Campbell has a problem getting to the point. Reading about the myths, and the comparisons is great fun, yes, but he cherry picks a bit. Each subchapter he uses different myths (other than the prince and princess one, I’m getting to that) that illustrate the point he’s making for that chapter. A subchapter about passing a trial has myths about passing a trial, but that don’t contain the other aspects of stories he’s talked about before, which is a shame. It gives a sense of disconnection between these various ideas that cheapens the overall effect.
The pretty prince and princess story. He doesn’t even touch on it in the Crossing of the First Threshold. I was very let down and further blue balled.
As I’ve noted before, I’m no academic. It still seems this book would have been more effective if he had selected a handful of myths, printed them at the front as required reading, then used them as his examples through the rest of the book, adding in other myths and stories when necessary.
That’s it for this week, although I am going to try to post a follow up by Friday going into a little more depth about my problems with how this book is organized.
My Patreon launches on April 2nd, and I hope to see some of you there. I think it will allow me to make some neat additions to my offerings here and elsewhere. We’ll be back next week with another couple subchapters and, again, hopefully a follow up to this post by Friday.