Wednesday, October 27, 2010


Chapter 2: Literature Review Part 1

          In The Hero with a Thousand Faces, J. Campbell (1972) presented a compilation of myths and folktales from all corners of the world in order to illustrate the basic truths that are embraced by a large cross-section of humanity.  The opening sentence of this book expresses the far-reaching implications of this concept:

Whether we listen with aloof amusement to the dreamlike mumbo jumbo of some red-eyed witch doctor of the Congo, or read with cultivated rapture thin translations from the sonnets of the mystic Lao-tse; now and again crack the hard nutshell of an argument of Aquinas; or catch suddenly the shining meaning of a bizarre Eskimo fairy tale: it will be always the one, shape-shifting yet marvelously constant story that we find, together with a challengingly persistent suggestion of more remaining to be experienced than will ever be known or told. (Campbell, 1972, p. 3)

Campbell (1972) named this single, constant story that boils up from man’s unconsciousness the monomyth (pp. 36-37).  Campbell (1972) urged his readers to study the monomyth’s consistencies and examine its variations, “and therewith come to an understanding of the deep forces that have shaped man’s destiny and must continue to determine both our private and our public lives” (p. 256).

          One of these consistencies found within the monomyth is that of a virgin maiden who has fallen prey to an evil trick or has been put under a curse that has cast her in a bodily prison of eternal sleep.  Campbell (1972) categorized and entitled this reoccurring story motif as “The Lady of the House of Sleep” (Cambpell, 1972, p. 110). Campbell (1972) compared two tales, one from Norse mythology and the second from the Brother Grimm’s fairy tales as an example of this theme (pp. 62-63).  The first tale features Brynhild who slept in her virginity trapped in a circle of fire until the coming of Siegfried.  The second tale, “Little Briar-rose,” also known as “Sleeping Beauty,” similarly involves a young lady who “was put to sleep by a jealous hag” to be awoken later by a prince.  In the case of Briar-rose, she was not the only one inflicted by her curse, but her entire world also fell to sleep, even the animals, and a thick hedge of thorns engulfed her castle home (pp.62-63).  A similar fate is found in a Persian tale from One Thousand and One Nights in which a Persian city was turned to stone “-king and queen, soldiers, inhabitants, and all- because its people refused the call of Allah” (Campbell, 1972, p. 63).  

          The stories of Gautama Sakyamuni (6th century BCE, India) and Moses (Ancient Hebrew) are another comparison that Campbell (1972) used to illustrate the monomyth (pp. 31-35).  Gautama left his life of princely comfort to find the meaning of life, until he finally came to enlightenment under the Bo Tree.  In this state of enlightenment he became the Buddha and “went back into the cities of men where he moved among the citizens of the world, bestowing the inestimable boon of the knowledge of the Way” (Campbell, 1972, p. 34).  Moses likewise, according to Campbell (1972) led the Israelites out of Egyptian slavery and once in the wilderness he went up Mount Sinai and “[t]he Lord gave to him the Tables of the Law and commanded Moses to return with these to Israel, the people of the Lord” (p. 34).  At the conclusion of this comparison, Campbell (1972) stated the following:

Whether presented in the vast, almost oceanic images of the Orient, in the vigorous narratives of the Greeks, or in the majestic legends of the Bible, the adventure of the hero normally follows the pattern of the nuclear unit above described: a separation from the world, a penetration to some source of power, and a life-enhancing return.  The whole of the Orient has been blessed by the boon brought back by Guatama Buddha- his wonderful teaching of the Good Law- just as the Occident has been by the Decalogue of Moses. (p. 35)

          Campbell (1972) reasoned that the result of a complete hero cycle is nothing short of the “freedom to live” (pp. 238-243).  The hero is free from guilt but not free from his sins because he is good (Campbell, 1972, p. 238).  Instead, the hero finds his freedom in knowing “the true relationship of the passing phenomena of time to the imperishable life that lives and dies in all” (Campbell, 1972, p. 238).  At the heart of this ongoing, shape-shifting monomyth is the hero who Campbell (1972) described as “the champion of all things becoming, not of things become, because he is.  […] He does not mistake apparent changelessness in time for the permanence of Being, nor is he fearful of the next moment (or the “other thing”), as destroying the permanent with its change” (p. 243).  At this level of consciousness, freedom is gained as the “Prince of Eternity” brings restoration to all thins as he kisses the “Princess of the World” (Campbell, 1972, p. 243).  

          In the epilogue, Campbell (1972) asserted, “There is no final system for the interpretation of myths, and there never will be any such thing” (p. 381).  Despite this claim, Campbell (1972) explained that mythology has been interpreted in various methods from man’s effort to explain nature, as simple fantasy stories that were later misunderstood by the successors of the creators, as allegorical instructions for a society, the composite production pushed out of the recesses of man’s collective unconscious, a mode from which man’s metaphysical insights have arisen, to “God’s Revelation to His children” (p. 382).  Campbell (1972), however, insisted that the interpretation of mythology can and must be interpreted under all of these viewpoints depending on the current functional need of mythology today, since “mythology shows itself to be as amenable as life itself to the obsessions and requirements of the individual, the race, and the age” (p. 382).  

          It is from Campbell’s piecing together of the monomyth that I have derived the research question: Is there a well-known piece of Chinese Literature that can be used as a cultural starting point to present the Gospel of Jesus Christ?”  As a Christian theologian, I interpret mythology from the judging viewpoint that mythology is God’s revelation to the world.  Mythology is the unconscious truths concerning God’s nature and relationship to humanity, which have crept into man’s stories through recurring symbols and themes.  Just as creation points to divinity, mythology when pieced together as a monomyth, points to the highest truth and authority, the divine Trinity – Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.  Jesus is the prince of the monomyth and he has come to restore the cursed state of the princess and her world. 

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