The Power of myth

by Joseph Campbell

Other authorsBill Moyers (Contributor), Betty Sue Flowers (Editor)
Book, 1988



Call number


Call number



New York : Doubleday, 1988.

Original publication date


Physical description

xix, 231 p.; 28 cm

Local notes

The Power of Myth launched an extraordinary resurgence of interest in Joseph Campbell and his work. A preeminent scholar, writer, and teacher, he has had a profound influence on millions of people--including Star Wars creator George Lucas. To Campbell, mythology was the “song of the universe, the music of the spheres.” With Bill Moyers, one of America’s most prominent journalists, as his thoughtful and engaging interviewer, The Power of Myth touches on subjects from modern marriage to virgin births, from Jesus to John Lennon, offering a brilliant combination of intelligence and wit.

This extraordinary book reveals how the themes and symbols of ancient narratives continue to bring meaning to birth, death, love, and war. From stories of the gods and goddesses of ancient Greece and Rome to traditions of Buddhism, Hinduism and Christianity, a broad array of themes are considered that together identify the universality of human experience across time and culture. An impeccable match of interviewer and subject, a timeless distillation of Campbell’s work, The Power of Myth continues to exert a profound influence on our culture.

User reviews

LibraryThing member Osorio
When you read The Power of Myth you will better understand humanity past and present and you will better understand yourself. Written as a conversation between Campbell and Moyer, you can follow the exploration of myth through many different topics and threads of conversation. Rather than a
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polished piece of scholarship, it's more like a stroll through Campbell's mind and his lifetime of looking at human experience through the lens of myth. I recommend it to anyone who is searching for meaning and knows that finding it only requires searching.
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LibraryThing member DieFledermaus
This book is a transcription of a wide-ranging interview between Bill Moyers and Joseph Campbell. They discuss all sorts of myths and rituals - worldwide, past and present (even, famously, Star Wars) – and their meaning and relevance to modern-day life. While Campbell is unsurprisingly erudite
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with piles of interesting stories, there was too much jumping around for my taste.

The book is loosely divided into chapters with a guiding topic but the pair tends to go off on tangents. The myths that Campbell describes are interesting – I did like his narration. However, because it’s a discussion, he often only adds a quick aside of what the myth meant or how it relates to something they’ve been talking about. Other times he talks about the meaning in rather opaque, abstract terms. I thought the best parts were the extended discussions of a theme – hunting myths vs agricultural myths or the chapter on the hero’s journey. I had to read this pretty quickly as it had to go back to the library so this may have interfered with my enjoyment of the book. Most of the time I didn’t feel like I really wanted to read it though it was interesting enough while I was reading. Also, it irritated me that Campbell repeatedly attributes gangs, drugs and alcohol to the fact that myths are no longer as influential as they once were. He says this in a very simplistic, cause-and-effect way and Moyers never contradicts him. However, I have heard that Campbell should be taken with a grain of salt. There was enough of interest here that I bought Hero with a Thousand Faces.
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LibraryThing member DubiousDisciple
Why do we need our folk tales, anyway? Why can't our religious icons be accepted at face value, instead of lifting them up higher than life? How do phrases like "Son of God" spring so easily and meaningfully from our lips? Why must we idolize our heroes, why do we embrace our rituals?

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Bill Moyers interviews Joseph Campbell to learn why mythology is so important to us. This is sort of a compilation of Campbell's work. Says Campbell, mythology is the "song of the universe, the music of the spheres." It is what turns each little cluster of believers, with their own heritage, into the world's Chosen People. From Dante's Divine Comedy to Native American rituals, Campbell has plenty of opinions. He's an intellectual who is simply fun to read...he's got a way of just making sense, like a sort of Feynman for philosophers, that leaves you feeling like maybe you finally understand something.

This isn't a new book, but it's one of those must-reads that we shouldn't forget. I don't think Campbell means to trivialize religion, culture or customs; rather, I dare say, you might even find God in these pages.
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LibraryThing member PamelaDLloyd
An amazing book. Despite the obvious level of intelligence and knowledge demonstrated by Bill Moyers and Joseph Campbell, it's very readable and made me feel that I was witness to a conversation--as, in many ways, I was, since the book is based upon their taped interviews.While there were points
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that I felt Campbell spoke with too much certainty, it's difficult to criticize him due to the extraordinary breadth and depth of his knowledge, which certainly outstrips mine. Far more often, however, my response was one of recognition, accompanied sometimes by a sense of agreement, other times by thoughtful contemplation of something new or profound.I enjoyed reading this very much and will probably read it again; I also hope to watch the taped interviews some day.
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LibraryThing member ryry9379
Just fucking mind-opening and amazing.
LibraryThing member TommyElf
The book is the written version of the DVD of the same name. There is material in the book that is not in the DVD, just as there is material on the DVD that is not in the book. As Moyers explains in the foreword, the two are meant to be companions of one another. The premise is that these encompass
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a series of discussions between Moyers and Campbell on how myths and mythology are conveyors of Life and its meaning within the lives of people, eve in today's society. Campbell points out that today's myths and mythology are brought along through the movie industry, where actors and actresses portray the myths on the screens people watch them on.

Throughout the book, Campbell comes back repeatedly to one theme: "follow your bliss" - which had a resonance for me throughout. When one follows their bliss, their dreams, their hopes and desires - one tends to achieve a center of happiness in what they do. They may not find monetary gain to achieve success in today's modern, consumer-centric world, but they find a center of happiness and contentment in what they are achieving through their bliss. In my own personal estimation, if people would follow their bliss - rather than being sucked into the perception that "happiness" is achieved through consumer consumption patterns - the world would be an environment of far less strife, sarcasm, and scorn.

At the very end of the book, Campbell makes the following point: "That's what people are doing all over the place - dying for metaphors. But when you really realize the sound, "AUM," the sound of the mystery of the word everywhere, then you don't have to go out and die for anything because its right there all around. Just sit still and see it and experience it and know it. That's a peak experience." (p. 286). I believe that this point sharpens the focus of following one's bliss, that the bliss is not only attainable, but one merely needs to turn off the distractions of our modern world for a short time, and open up to the natural world around ourselves to truly find it. And that moment of bliss, the moment of being attuned with the AUM, is well worth the experience - no matter how long it is held.

Lastly, I do believe that this book and its companion DVD should be required material for students in High School. Campbell continually points to literary works as footsteps towards the concepts he brings up in these conversations. Not only is he a signpost to these mythological and spiritual concepts, but he serves as a gateway towards literary classics that are worth the exploration of students in the high school environment.
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LibraryThing member tloeffler
I love what Joseph Campbell has to say, but the interview style of the book was distracting.
LibraryThing member
I highly recommend Joseph Campbell's books to anyone who loves reading about mythology. He's an extremely intelligent man.
LibraryThing member LTW
Among his many gifts, Joseph Campbell's most impressive was the unique ability to take a contemporary situation, such as the murder and funeral of President John F. Kennedy, and help us understand its impact in the context of ancient mythology. Herein lies the power of The Power of Myth, showing
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how humans are apt to create and live out the themes of mythology. Based on a six-part PBS television series hosted by Bill Moyers, this classic is especially compelling because of its engaging question-and-answer format, creating an easy, conversational approach to complicated and esoteric topics. For example, when discussing the mythology of heroes, Campbell and Moyers smoothly segue from the Sumerian sky goddess Inanna to Star Wars' mercenary-turned-hero, Han Solo. Most impressive is Campbell's encyclopedic knowledge of myths, demonstrated in his ability to recall the details and archetypes of almost any story, from any point and history, and translate it into a lesson for spiritual living in the here and now
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LibraryThing member ngabriel
Changes the way you view stories and story-telling.
LibraryThing member Czrbr
Book Description: New York, NY, U.S.A.: Doubleday Publishing, 1988. Very Good/No Jacket. 4to - over 9�" - 12" tall. Black pictorial soft cover. 231 pages.
LibraryThing member libraryclerk
Could not finish it. Got through the first section with difficulty and decided not to finish. I think it was the format of it being a dialogue from the televised series.
LibraryThing member drbubbles
I read this over the course of about 4 weeks, so I've lost my sense of the early chapters and thus can't fairly discuss it as a unified whole. In any case, the fact that it was (according to the introduction) cobbled together from 24 hours' worth of interview means the book isn't really an
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organically unified whole anyway. That said, there are bits and pieces through all of the chapters that I thought particularly interesting, ideas expressed particularly clearly or (in the case of ideas new to me) even at all. I don't agree with everything, but the shape of Campbell's ideas seems fairly well articulated.

Many of the examples are similar to those Campbell adduced in The Inner Reaches of Outer Space, so nothing new there.
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LibraryThing member amaraduende
This is an extended interview, which is at times interesting and at times a little jumpy and scattered. I imagine it would be great to listen to. It's a decent low-key introduction to Campbell's thoughts.
LibraryThing member hrissliss
The transcript from the PBS (I think) special, basically. Organized into six parts, each with its own broad focus, eg the Hero's Adventure.

I found this to be a very significant work; it addressed certain issues I, as a proto-adult (read: teenager) have been confronting. Such as the lack of a
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coming-of-age ritual in order to demonstrate that the individual has become an adult. They also talk about our modern lack of mythology, and how it has affected modern mankind.

Joseph Campbell and Bill Moyers are obviously very intelligent, well read, thoughtful individuals, and it comes through in a stupendous way in their discussion of myth and myth's psychological and sociological significance. Of course, since it's only roughly structured, many of the issues discussed are rehashed several times, though in slightly different contexts. Sometimes, it seems as if they're giving myth a somewhat inflated weight, but generally I found their observations to be accurate. Highly recommend for anyone interested in mythology, as it's very accessible and has enough theory to keep it from sinple myth-retellings. 8/10
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LibraryThing member deldevries
This is a true classic!
LibraryThing member multiplexer
A good overview of the collected works of Joseph Campbell. If you are interested in comparative mythology and comparative religion, this old interview with Bill Moyers distills much of his work into small, high quality, manageable chunks.
LibraryThing member mindyshalleck
Mandatory reading for any fiction writer.
LibraryThing member DengLaoshi
Great read! ;)
LibraryThing member Castlelass
Myths are stories of our search through the ages for truth, for meaning, for significance.”

Joseph Campbell’s views on mythology were presented in a six-part series on the Public Broadcasting System in 1988. I have not seen it. I was curious to find out more about what he said. This book is
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structured as an interview, with Bill Moyer asking questions or making statements, and Campbell responding.

Campbell’s ideas portray the role of myths in human societies and identify the ways that the diverse religions of the world utilize core beliefs and stories that are quite similar. They have provided a basis by which modern humans can compare experiences to people in the past. Campbell emphasizes common elements such as compassion. He advocates a metaphorical approach to religion. His explains what lies behind his advice to “follow your bliss.” Some of the most impactful segments are observations about how myths have broken down in our current culture. It emphasizes how much people have in common regardless of our time or location.

“It’s important to live life with the experience, and therefore the knowledge, of its mystery and of your own mystery. This gives life a new radiance, a new harmony, a new splendor. Thinking in mythological terms helps to put you in accord with the inevitables of this vale of tears. You learn to recognize the positive values in what appear to be the negative moments and aspects of your life. The big question is whether you are going to be able to say a hearty yes to your adventure.”
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LibraryThing member being_b
"There's an old romantic idea [...] which says that the ideas and poetry of the traditional cultures come out of the folk. They do not. They come out of an elite experience, the experience of people particularly gifted, whose ears are open to the song of the universe." -Campbell, the Power of
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Because "the folk" can never have their ears open to the song of the universe? What kind of unjustified garbage is this? The delight of listening to an old white man make unsupported generalizations about "the elite" and "the folk" palls quickly.
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LibraryThing member brendanus
Campbell's reflections on the role of the 'vision' in human society.
LibraryThing member porch_reader
Bill Moyers interviewed Joseph Campbell for a 6-hour PBS series on The Power of Myth. But there were many more hours of footage that were not used in the series. This book provides more of their conversations in interview format. Campbell describes his work as finding "the commonality of themes in
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world myths, pointing to a constant requirement in the human psyche for a centering in terms of deep principles" and that "myths are clues to our deepest spiritual potential." This book is filled with wise conversation that unearths the power of myth layer by layer.
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LibraryThing member patl
A very good set of interviews, but I wouldn't recommend them in audiobook form. There's visual content referenced throughout that I'm missing that would have been very helpful.
LibraryThing member etxgardener
I know I'm supposed to find this book profound, but as I waded through Campbell's Jungian excesses, all I could think of was Freud's apocryphal assessment of Carl Jung: "Jung was meshuggah:
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