An entertaining, if not completely convincing, exploration of the purpose of the hero myth.




A work of comparative mythology examines humanity’s universal hero myth.

Human cultures—and maybe even a few nonhuman ones—across history and geography possess the myth of the hero. Readers all know the archetype: A hero leaves home, performs courageous feats, and returns having won fame and glory. This archetypal story has been made famous through thorough studies by Joseph Campbell and others, but Ladewig (Odysseus: The Epic Myth of the Hero, 2015) attempts to dig one layer deeper. “Why is this particular story pattern the same, everywhere, always, pole to pole across the globe?” wonders the author. “What are the essential features of this sameness? Who made up these stories and what are they really about?” The author argues that the myth of the hero is the oral/literary manifestation of what he terms the Orion Complex, named for the constellation visible around the globe. The complex is a condition from humanity’s prehistoric past, when a person’s primary identity was that of the hunter-forager. Examining evidence from astronomy, archaeology, literature, anthropology, biology, and genetics, Ladewig attempts to discern the origins of humans’ myths, their reasons for telling them, and the underlying truth that their most ancient ancestors wished to impart to succeeding generations. The author’s prose is more literary than academic, which makes him an accessible tour guide as he takes readers through various disciplines: “A version of euhemerism was advanced by the Italian Renaissance historian Giambattista Vico. It has a taste of evolution and modern psychology to it. He held that mythology represented the infancy and adolescence of historical thinking.” Ladewig is an amateur scholar, though he argues his layman’s perspective is necessary for bringing fresh ideas to the field. In this case, he may be correct: The book is an idiosyncratic but intriguing amalgamation of data points, hunches, themes, and coincidences that fit into the fine tradition of the intuition-led scholarship of James George Frazer and Robert Graves. As is always the case with works like this, its persuasiveness will vary from reader to reader. But all fans of comparative mythology should enjoy the author’s take on an eons-old mystery.

An entertaining, if not completely convincing, exploration of the purpose of the hero myth.

Pub Date: March 17, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-62894-276-7

Page Count: 254

Publisher: Algora Publishing

Review Posted Online: Feb. 9, 2018

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...


Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

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