“Throughout the inhabited world, in all times and under every circumstance, myths of man have flourished; and they have been the living inspiration of whatever else may have appeared out of the activities of the human body and mind. It would not be too much to say that myth is the secret opening through which the inexhaustible energies of the cosmos pour into the human cultural manifestation.”
Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces, first published in 1949, may be the greatest treatise on mythical archetype ever written. I hesitate to even bother describing the work, as it is known so well. I include this entry only for the sake of completeness, but I will be brief. Campbell’s work is chiefly concerned with symbols and their recurring power over the human experience. To that end, he documents the Monomyth, or the Hero’s Journey, in some seventeen steps, ranging from the Call to Adventure at the start to the Freedom to Live at the end. For Campbell, these patterns resonates with metaphysical truths, but more importantly (at least for my own purposes) he establishes the importance of fluency in the language of symbolism.
The Hero’s Journey itself is a form that many, if not most, stories follow to one degree or another, and it is comprised of myriad symbolic elements. Understanding the power of these symbols and the way they may be used is of chief interest to my own work, though I do not treat these symbols as static or absolute. Campbell’s observation of trends in human thought and storytelling are insightful and, indeed, useful, but awareness of this language of symbols may be of even greater importance. Fluency in the kind of symbolism Campbell examines may be acquired through the course of ordinary human exposure to culture, but awareness of this familiarity may be of great importance when considering the potentially empowering elements of Tolkienian Mythopoeia and fantasy in general.
Campbell, Joseph. The Hero with a Thousand Faces. 3rd ed. Novato: New World Library, 2008. Print.