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Joseph Campbell

Joseph Campbell

George Lucas called Joseph Campbell a person of magic. “If it hadn't been for him,” he said, “if it's possible I would still be trying to write Star Wars.” Born in New York City, Joseph John Campbell, mythologist, writer, teacher, and lecturer, was first inspired by a performance of Buffalo Bill's Wild West show and by visits to the Native American collection at the American Museum of Natural History. He soon became versed in Native American culture that led to his lifelong passion for myth and to his mapping of the similar threads in mythology that appeared to exist among different human cultures.

In 1913, the Campbell family moved to New Rochelle where as a boy he read through the entire collection of Indian mythology in the children's section of the public library. By the age of eleven he was admitted to the adult stacks to continue his studies. In 1919, fire destroyed the family home, killing his grandmother and destroying his collection of Indian books and relics.

Campbell was fascinated with basic, universal truths, expressed in different ways across different cultures. In the preface to The Hero with a Thousand Faces (1949), he indicates that a goal of his was to demonstrate similarities between Eastern and Western religions. In his four-volume series The Masks of God (1959-1968), he tried to summarize the main spiritual threads common throughout the world.

A world traveler, the author of A Hero's Journey nevertheless spent 35 years (1934 to 1972) as a professor of literature at Sarah Lawrence College in Yonkers, New York where he met his wife, dancer-choreographer Jean Erdman. The most memorable contribution of Campbell's career was the six-part television series Joseph Campbell and the Power of Myth with Bill Moyers, first broadcast in 1988.

In 1987, he died at his home in Honolulu. An obituary read, “Campbell has become one of the rarest of intellectuals in American life: a serious thinker who has been embraced by the popular culture.”

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Posted By: Ray Gurganus


Updated: 7-24-2020