Campbell, Joseph(1904–87) mythologist, educator; born in New York City. A professor of literature at Sarah Lawrence College (1934–72), he entranced students with his analysis of comparative mythology, writing The Hero with a Thousand Faces (1949) and the four-volume Masks of God (1959–68). Although his scholarship has been criticized, he attained the status of a virtual guru through a series of television interviews by Bill Moyers in 1985–86.
Joseph Campbell (1904–1987) was a scholar and writer who, shortly before his death, became something of a pop culture phenomenon. Campbell was at the forefront of the group of thinkers through whose work the notion of “myth” was reevaluated by Western society, so that mythology, in the sense of “sacred story,” is now viewed as something worthwhile, and even necessary for human beings. Campbell’s now-classic early work on hero myths, The Hero with a Thousand Faces, was consciously appropriated by creative writers, and even by movie producers such as George Lucas, producer of the popular Star Wars series.
Campbell worked within the larger tradition of Jungian psychology, a school of thought that examines mythology for the light it throws on psychological processes. Carl Jung understood myths as manifestations of the collective unconscious, the part of the mind that acts as a storehouse of myths and symbols to which all human beings have access and which is viewed as the ultimate source of every society’s mythology. Much of traditional Jungian analysis focuses on the interpretation of dreams. Jung found that the dreams of his patients frequently contained images with which they were completely unfamiliar but which seemed to reflect symbols that could be found somewhere in the mythological systems of world culture. The notion of the collective unconscious was used to explain this phenomenon.
Campbell did not develop a new view of dreams and their relationship to mythology. He is, rather, responsible for popularizing the Jungian view, which can be stated succinctly as “dreams are individual myths and myths are society’s dreams.” In Campbell’s own words:
Dream is a personal experience of that deep, dark ground that is the society’s dream. The myth is the public dream and the dream is the private myth. If your private myth, your dream, happens to coincide with that of society, you are in good accord with your group. If it isn’t, you’ve got an adventure in the dark forest ahead of you. (The Power of Myth, p. 40—see Sources).