A FIRE IN THE MIND: The Life of Joseph Campbell by Stephen & Robin Larsen Larsen

A FIRE IN THE MIND: The Life of Joseph Campbell

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KIRKUS REVIEW

The Larsens (Stephen: The Mythic Imagination, 1990; Robin: a Swedenhorg scholar), longtime friends and students of Joseph Campbell (1904-87), team up--with Campbell family permission and full access to his papers--to deliver a hefty but hollow biography of the illustrious expositor of world myths. Plodding resolutely and diligently through Campbell's life, the authors begin with the early experiences that provided the impetus for their subject's research. Fascinated by Native Americans as a youth, Campbell, born in N.Y.C., absorbed their wood-lore and mythology through voracious reading and the guidance of an old naturalist neighbor. Early trips to the West Coast and Europe, plus later sojourns as a young scholar in Paris, Munich, and other cultural centers made Campbell a citizen of the world, and also brought chance meetings with other travelers who would become valued friends--the Indian mystic Krishnamurti among them. Another friendship led to John Steinbeck, Ed Ricketts, and their circle, while Campbell's studies eventually brought him, in 1934, to a teaching career at Sarah Lawrence, where he met future wife Jean Erdman, a student. A popular figure in the classroom, Campbell, with the 1949 publication of The Hero with a Thousand Faces, found his reputation spreading in scholarly circles as well, while encounters with other dynamic figures such as Maya Deren or Heinrich Zimmer in New York, and journeys to India and the Far East, added fuel to this mythological quest. Remaining decades of travel and meetings with the notable and famous receive equally lavish attention here, bolstered throughout by extensive quotations from Campbell's journals and correspondence--but, even so, the discussion is often rarely more than a calendar of events and an apologia for Campbell's apolitical nature and other traits. A lackluster offering, with an abundance of information but little critical distance or depth.

Pub Date: Dec. 1st, 1991
Page count: 656pp
Publisher: Doubleday