After the bitter disappointment of The Power of Myth, I wanted to try Joseph Campbell's original work, The Hero with a Thousand Faces. I hoped it would be more illuminating than the pretentious nonsense of Campbell/Moyers collaboration.
If anything, it was worse. I managed to slog through about 50 pages before giving up. There isn't enough time in the world to waste on this.
I was expecting an analysis of myths from around the world to show how they fit Campbell's pattern, but what I got seemed like fragmentary stream-of-consciousness ramblings. Though his "nuclear unit" of story construction made sense, nothing else did.
That nuclear unit posits three main parts of a myth or story. The hero begins in his/her ordinary world, then leaves that world to have some kind of adventure in a non-ordinary world, and finally returns to the ordinary world with some special knowledge or talent or gift that fixes whatever was wrong in the first place. Boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl again - that sort of thing.
If he had taken that core and expanded it into the more detailed structure of Call to Adventure, Refusal of the Call, Threshold Guardian and so on, I might have felt there was something of value. But his examples of myths rarely illustrated his premise. The last one I bothered to read was about the Chinese prince who didn't want to get married, but Campbell ended the chapter without explaining what the point of it was!
The other negative for me was the inclusion of dreams, either from Freudian or Jungian psychoanalysis. First of all, I'm not all that impressed with either Freud or Jung, though Freud really rubs me the wrong way. But second, and far more important, was that I just don't feel random dreams, taken completely out of context, are a valid foundation on which to build a theory of story structure.
A few nights ago, I had a dream that a volcano was opening up under a portion of my house. In the dream, I was trying to keep certain objects from falling into the volcano, but they were relatively valueless objects. As I came to the realization that there were far more valuable objects to be saved, and that I did have the means to save them and escape the path of destruction, I exited the house and began to select items to be packed and taken away with me. As I did so, however, I discovered that someone was cutting down all the trees and big cactus on my property, with the explanation that he was doing so to stop the volcano. At that point, I woke up.
Because I'm aware of the context in which that dream developed, I know that there's not a whole lot of Freudian bullshit involved. Were the dreams cited by Campbell also taken out of an everyday context? Not knowing for sure, I just brushed them aside as meaningless.
That, of course, made much of the rest of the discussion equally meaningless.
The book was definitely not what I expected, and I really didn't find it useful at all as a basis for analyzing story structure.