Kirkus Reviews QR Code
THE MYTHIC IMAGE by Joseph Campbell


by Joseph Campbell & M.J. Abadie

Pub Date: April 1st, 1975
ISBN: 0691018391
Publisher: Princeton Univ.

This is a beautifully mounted and exquisitely illustrated, learned expedition through the worlds of myth and dream. "Imagery, especially the imagery of dreams, is the basis of mythology." The illustrations range from Michelangelo and Blake to Van Gogh and Jackson Pollock; many of the photographs are in color and all are striking. The underlying psychology is Jungian, the Oriental discipline accompanying it is that of Yoga, and the intellectual conception throughout focuses on the interleaving of the nonliterate or primitive traditions with the highly literate and convoluted traditions of Buddhism, Christianity, and Islam. Joseph Campbell's concern with comparative religions has always been weighted in favor of the mystical elements inherent in any creed rather than the ethical or social values which are also a part of religious formulations. His mammoth Mythic Image naturally follows this familiar trajectory. The book is dazzling but frankly a bit difficult to follow if not to grasp. It has an air of academic psychedelia. Everything is forever flowing into everything else: the Gospel account of the Last Supper is related to the last meal of Buddha, a few lines from Wordsworth are juxtaposed against lines from the Chhandogya Upanishad. Or everything is being balanced by some opposite: "male and female, active and contemplative, light and dark." And there are so many variations on the theme of "unity in duality," so much talk of gods and fertility cults, cosmic wheels and cosmological views, the four elements and the four seasons, that the reader is soon lost in reverie. Not surprisingly, the most interesting writing doesn't come from Campbell at all, but is to be found in a long extract he presents from Captain Cook's eyewitness account of a bloody sacrifice in the South Seas. Much thought and preparation went into this laudable undertaking; unfortunately it never quite reaches the level of significance its subject warrants.