Book Notes: Where we read and condense books down to their main takeaways for creatives.
It’s no secret that I am a big Joseph Campbell fan. I’ve written about it in Muddy Colors before. Multiple Times. And I’m not the only one who has. I don’t want to go back to basics, so if you haven’t heard of JC before, and this article interests you, then go read those articles. And if you want to start with a Joseph Campbell primer, read Myths to Live By. His most famous book, The Hero With a Thousand Faces, is a fine jump-on point too, and you’ll certainly quickly realize how much of modern SFF is written by people who have highlighted the shit out of that book. Anyway, go check those out. I’ll wait here.
“Follow your bliss and the universe will open doors for you where there were only walls.“
…or you can check out the notes page below, which is his breakdown of myth and some of his most famous quotes.
So in a nutshell, Joseph Campbell is a philosopher, writer, and researcher into comparative mythology, picking up where Carl Jung left off with his archetypes (which reduced all of humanity’s stories down to their basic — and infinitely repeated — elements) and focusing mostly on the Hero story. In short (I’m massively paraphrasing) the Hero’s journey (Superman, Luke Skywalker, Thor, Beowulf, etc.) is really a metaphor for the Artist’s journey. The Hero is one who is called to challenges and face themself and make their way into the underworld and bring back a great treasure for mankind. The Artist is one who is called to challenges and face themself and make their way into the subconscious and bring back a great treasure for mankind.
Most of Campbell’s books are academic studies about the cultural comparisons among myths, and about the underlying structures of the stories we tell. But he rarely comes out and speaks more bluntly about how the Hero story is really the Artist’s story. It’s broken up into bits and pieces in his other books. This book, The Inner Reaches of Outer Space, contains his lecture “The Way of Art” which is where he lays it all out. And it is mandatory reading for every artist.
Background on the “notes” part of Book Notes: When I am reading a book, I am a obsessive underliner (especially of non-fiction books). After I’m done, I copy anything I want to remember into my sketchbook. It’s kind of like making a personal cliff’s note. This column started because many of the people who have seen my sketchbooks over the years wanted access to some of the pages on books or lectures they were interested in (I make the same kind of pages for classes or seminars or talks too). Since I am reading books through the lens of an artist, I wanted to start sharing these notes and condensed reviews with other artists. If you lil the tone of the notes, then pick up the book.