Never look at Star Wars in the same way again

George Lucas claimed he’d structured the movie around Joseph Campbell’s idea of the monomyth, that there was a universal human story that underpinned all legends. He should have been more skeptical, because as Maggie Mae Fish explains, Joseph Campbell was dishonest and a colossal asshole. A nazi sympathizer? Yuck.

I don’t think white men are intrinsically bad (I better not, since I am one), but one of the only human universals I’ll believe in is that if you grant any subgroup particular privileges and power, they’ll work like mad to consolidate that power, and will enthusiastically support anyone who can persuasively rationalize their status. Campbell was a Gríma Wormtongue for white middle-class Americans in the mid-20th century. As time grants us the distance to see what a cultural nightmare that time was, it shouldn’t be surprising that the sycophants who built the American myth are looking uglier day by day.


  1. mastmaker says

    I always thought Star Wars was stupid: Take a medieval action fantasy, replace ship with spaceship, islands/countries with planets, swords with lightsabers and you get Star Wars. I mean, does it tries to explain how people walk on different planets with varying gravities without difficulty? Breathe air in different planets without difficulty? Travel from one to another in a hurry? Make PHONE calls and hold two-way conversations across light year gaps? BS!

    When the stage is a galaxy, make up a meaningful story of events that can take place at galactic level. Don’t just stretch your old yarn galaxy-wide.

  2. lotharloo says

    I don’t know anything about Joseph Campbell but that video set up all major bullshit detectors in my head. She might be right but that video is a prime example of bullshit arguments and I personally would not watch any content by her.

  3. says

    OK, we should be skeptical about everything. What exactly triggered your bullshit detector, though? I thought she was careful about backing everything up with quotes directly from Campbell.

  4. weylguy says

    #1 Mastmaker
    I wholeheartedly agree with you. After listening to my friends rave about the movie in 1977, I went to see it. It was the first time I paid $4.50 to see a stand-alone film (it was at Graumann’s Chinese Theater in Hollywood), and its “space western” aspect turned me off. I subsequently saw the sequels, hoping they would fair better, but no luck. Like E.T., Yoda and the other puppet aliens simply don’t do it for me. Sadly, like a zombie the Star Wars franchise just won’t die.

  5. raven says

    I’ve never heard of Joseph Campbell despite being awake since the mid-20th century.
    For anyone who cares:

    Joseph John Campbell was an American writer. He was a professor of literature at Sarah Lawrence College who worked in comparative mythology and comparative religion. His work covers many aspects of the human experience. Wikipedia
    Born: March 26, 1904, White Plains, NY
    Died: October 30, 1987, Honolulu, HI

    Mostly a bit before my time but there is nevertheless a lot of overlap.

    A nazi sympathizer?

    This might be why.
    I’m a Boomer meaning born not too long after World War II.
    Our parents fought in that war and lived through it.
    World War II was still fresh in everyone’s memories and the Nazis were still known for a lot of crimes against humanity notably the Jewish Holocaust.

    It was not a good time and the USA was not a good place to be…a Nazi sympathizer.

  6. raven says

    George Lucas claimed he’d structured the movie around Joseph Campbell’s idea of the monomyth, that there was a universal human story that underpinned all legends.

    There might be a commonality that underpins a lot of legends.

    The eternal battle of Light against Dark.
    The eternal battle of Good against Evil.

    We see it in most of our religions. Zoroastrianism, Manicheanism, Islam, Judaism, xianity. We’ve all heard about xianity since many of us were…xians at one time. God the Trinity is pure good and is opposed by satan and the demons who are pure evil.

    It echoes in our myths as well.
    The Norse Aesir fight a battle at the end of the world, Ragnorak, against the forces of chaos and evil.

    It is the plot of many of our movies, such as Starwars, most war movies, cop shows (yeah, I know, fantasy), Westerns (more fantasy), and so on.
    It is the plot of our political system these days.
    The Democrats versus the Fascist, reality denying GOP.

    It is what we see when we look at the Russian imperialists trying to genocide the Ukrainians.
    This war is one of the clearer examples of the forces of Light battling the forces of Dark, and so far, amazingly enough, we are on the right side.

  7. raven says

    Never having heard of Joseph Campbell, I looked him up on Google.
    No wonder and I didn’t miss much.
    Some quotes.

    He excludes women from the category of ‘hero’. As he’d explained to Maureen Murdock, later the author of The Heroine’s Journey, women can’t be heroes. They’re just the mothers, goddesses, seductresses, etc., just waiting to be found, apparently, by heroes on journeys.
    “The bigotry that Campbell displayed toward blacks, Hispanics, and other minorities was so irrational that one hesitated to believe he was in dead earnest.”
    His anti-Semitism was particularly startling.
    Campbell was given to spouting off about Jews, saying things like: “I can always spot a Jew” or “not all of the Nazis’ ideas had been so bad.”

    I’ve seen enough.

    Joseph Campbell was a misogynist, racist, antisemite, and a white supremacist and Nazi sympathizer.
    Not wasting any more time on him and glad I never heard of the kook.

  8. microraptor says

    My mom was a huge fan of Joseph Campbell when I was a kid so we would end up listening to his books on audio cassette on long car trips. Even back then I felt like there were claims he was making about how stories went that just weren’t true.

  9. Dunc says

    raven, @ #6: Campbell’s claims are far more detailed and specific than that – he thinks that every myth is, at base a “Hero’s Journey”, with a number of specific features, characters and stages. He supports this claim with a combination of cherry-picking and over-interpretation, and then puts the final cherry on the top by claiming that if any of the people who’s myths he’s missapropriating tell you they mean something completely different, they’re engaging in what he calls “secondary rationalisation” because they’ve forgotten what their own myths “actually” mean.

    It doesn’t help that he bases it all off anthropology that was probably already at least a generation out of date when he was writing – i.e. dating from the late 19th and early 20th centuries, so you can probably guess as to the quality of it.

  10. StevoR says

    Pretty durn sure that Isaac Asimov’s first editor / publisher / mentor was Joseph Campbell and he discussed Campbell a lot in some of his works and especially many of his autobiographical asides & autobiographies – and Asimov disgreed with and took issue with some of Campbell’s views explaining why he very rarely wrote alien stories..

    Personally speaking I grew up reading (& loving) Asimov and Orson Scott Card among other SF writers* .. which in hindsight esp the latter ..yeah.

    .* Notably Arthur C Clarke, David Brin, Ben Bova, Ursula LeGuin, Olaf Stapledon, John Brunner, John Wyndham among so many, many more..

  11. chrislawson says

    The problem with Campbell, just from a writing point of view, is that the “monomyth” is somehow both overly constrictive and too vague to be useful and had an oversize effect on Hollywood storytelling because it convinced studio execs that there was a simple flowchart for story structure and nothing pleases execs more than thinking they know more about making their product than their workers do.

    I bought The Hero With A Thousand Faces with the view of improving my own writing only to find it useless and not even a good read, which is an important deficiency in a book about stories. The few things I learned from it (the “refusal of the call” is a powerful device that I had internalised as a reader without realising it) turned out not to have any relevance to the kind of stories I wanted to write.

    I didn’t know about his racism, sexism, or anti-semitism until now.

  12. chrislawson says


    As ridana says, that was John W. Campbell…who was a towering influence on mid-C20 science fiction, but awful in his own way.

  13. Rob Grigjanis says


    I thought she was careful about backing everything up with quotes directly from Campbell.

    I turned it off about a minute in, when she says that Campbell retroactively justifies Christianity, patriarchy and capitalism, immediately followed by a snippet of an interview in which he says “yeah, and they are magnificent”. Was he really saying that about Christianity, patriarchy, and capitalism? We’d have to watch the interview to find out. That’s bullshit, and when you start your “analysis” with that kind of crap, I’m not wasting any more of my time. Careful my arse.

  14. says

    Really? That’s one part I already knew, so maybe she didn’t go into it in any depth because she assumed everyone was aware of it. He was one of those reactionary hard-core Catholics who left the church in protest over the liberalizing influence of Vatican II.

  15. StevoR says

    @12. Ridana : Ah. Yes. You’re absolutely right. John W NOT Joseph Campbell. I had them mixed up there. Mea culpa. Dóh! (Blushes.)

  16. says

    I remember Joseph Campbell being kinda popular with some Pagans, and hearing some of his videotaped lectures about heroes’ journeys and great stories and such (this was in the mid-90s for me)…but 2BH, today I don’t really remember why he was considered so important. Maybe it was because he was an Old-School White Elite Academic acknowledging (or maybe just pretending to acknowledge?) the validity of ancient epic stories (“The Classics”) in human experience or progress or something…? He didn’t advocate any polytheistic religions, but he didn’t question them either; so maybe back then we took him as being relatively accepting toward today’s pre-Christian European beliefs? I don’t know. Certainly none of us mentioned any of his…retrograde opinions…

  17. raven says

    raven, @ #6: Campbell’s claims are far more detailed and specific than that – he thinks that every myth is, at base a “Hero’s Journey”, with a number of specific features, characters and stages.

    New to me and it already doesn’t sound right.

    There might be a commonality that underpins a lot of legends.

    The eternal battle of Light against Dark.
    The eternal battle of Good against Evil.

    The eternal battle of Light against Dark is a common theme in human myths, our everyday lives, and current events.

    But even this isn’t universal.
    Who are the good guys in the Greek myths and among the Greek gods?
    They just come across as superpowered humans who squabble a lot.
    Who are the good guys in the bible? The Jews genocide the Canaanites, fight wars among themselves often, and get overrun by the Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians, Greeks, and Romans.

  18. hemidactylus says

    I had heard of this interesting tidbit before:

    “The Empire wasn’t the only side in Star Wars that cribbed Nazi imagery, however. The final scene of the original 1977 Star Wars in which Princess Leia awards medals to Rebel heroes Luke Skywalker and Han Solo while soldiers stood at attention echoed the massive Nazi rallies in Nuremberg captured in Leni Riefenstahl’s 1935 propaganda film “Triumph of the Will.”

    With Campbell’s influence on Lucas’ with the hero’s journey there’s the potential for doing a genetic fallacy. I wasn’t aware of how bad Campbell was in relation to Nazis. His own hero Jung had some complicated history himself. He wound up an OSS asset though I suppose. He tapped into the same Wagnerian and Nietzschean waters as others in that era. Richard Noll had written a couple books focusing on Jung’s dark shadow self.

  19. says

    He was kind of huge in the 80s, perhaps because of the Star Wars connection. I certainly heard a lot about him, and it’s reassuring that so my people now have no clue who he was.
    He faded out of the popular consciousness fairly quickly, but remained a mainstay in conservative religious circles — note the quote from Peterson in the thumbnail — which only reinforced my antipathy to the guy.

  20. Rob Grigjanis says

    @16: Ah well, as long as you knew it, and she assumed everyone else did, that’s great! Barf.

    So I go a bit further. She sets the stage with Pearl Harbour. One gets the impression from her that Campbell’s lecture “Permanent Human Values” was written after that, perhaps even in response to it. Except it wasn’t. The lecture was delivered a year before Pearl Harbour.

    More bullshit. If she’s comfortable with her thesis about Campbell, why pull stupid shit like that?

  21. says

    @23: This is rather off of Ms Fish’s point… and one must remember that Ms Fish is not making detail-level errors as a scholar (if they are, indeed, errors — humanities scholars of the 1930s and 1940s notoriously revised honorary lectures, both between script and lecture and afterward for publication, to meet external political pressures and to advance personal feuds) in the way that Campbell was. Not to mention that the weight and purpose of “evidence” is different; Campbell’s BS† lends itself to refutation by counterexample, because he is making false claims of universality, while Ms Fish’s attack is doing the opposite.

    Campbell’s errors are even more egregious when placed in context with his hostility to the “great cultural scholars” of the late 19th and early 20th century, who were disproportionately high-Church-of-England pro-British-Empire pro-colonialism men who were also genteely hostile to Catholicism (doctrinally, politically, virtually everything). Maine and Fraser, to name two of them, celebrated the nonuniformity and the importance of difference within their respective perspectives. Campbell’s quest for an overarching theme/thesis that bore no exceptions, particularly when ignoring/discounting/overtly misstating counterexamples, was… not good scholarship, and almost certainly had multiple inappropriate outside influences upon it. That’s Ms Fish’s point. I welcome her to the party.

    † Something I’ve been railing against, quietly, in scholarly and literary-critical (and cross-cultural understanding) contexts, for nearly four decades now. Very little that Ms Fish is saying is news.

  22. hemidactylus says

    @22- PZ
    Star Wars may have played a small role by itself, but was perhaps more a spark. Moyers’ series of interviews Joseph Campbell and the Power of Myth may have put Campbell more widely into the collective consciousness though that came in the late 80s. Moyers lent that journalistic cachet to Campbell’s ideas. In that series they touched on the influence of Campbell upon Star Wars.

  23. birgerjohansson says

    I remember reading in Brian Aldiss Billion Year Spree that there were deplorable sides to Campbell.
    Or was it some of the other 1970s books about Science Fiction and its development? Anyway Campbell’s opinions were hardly a secret by then, anymore than Lovecraft’s racism.

  24. birgerjohansson says

    The exaggerated praise for Star Wars completely ruined the film for me, so I had big expectations and was disappointed.

  25. Rob Grigjanis says

    @24: I don’t think Fish is making errors. I think she’s being deliberately misleading. If she has a valid point (perhaps she does), why taint it with this kind of nonsense? It’s crap as scholarship, it’s crap as journalism, it’s even crap as polemic. But she’s saying approved things about Campbell, so she can join your party. I’ll pass.

    @26: I think you’re making the same misidentification as StevoR @10.

  26. says

    One gets the impression from her that Campbell’s lecture “Permanent Human Values” was written after that…

    I did not get that impression, and it wouldn’t really matter anyway: lots of people, on both sides of the Pond, were sounding the alarm about Nazi Germany, and demanding serious political and military action against them, LONG before Pearl Harbor. Both Churchill and Stalin, and millions of people reacting to Nazi brutality since 1933, were BEGGING the US to come in forcefully against Nazi tyranny and aggression. And lots of other people, including Campbell, were airily dismissing all those fussy liberal objections for just about as long.

  27. Rob Grigjanis says


    I did not get that impression…

    In the video, Fish “sets the stage”: “It’s 1941. Pearl Harbour has been attacked, and America can no longer remain neutral about the war. Campbell writes a lecture…”

    How could you not get that impression? Ah but never mind, because it doesn’t matter anyway, right? Except that, from Fish’s point of view, it does make a difference if you think Campbell wrote it after Pearl Harbour.

    And yeah, I think that was deliberate. She’s (“carefully”, according to PZ) prepared this video, but she’s not careful enough to know that the speech was written a year before Pearl Harbour?

  28. says

    Again, what difference does it make? Lots of people thought American “neutrality” was a bad thing long before Pearl Harbor (including Roosevelt himself); and Pearl only proved that the USA couldn’t stay out of the conflict. Campbell had dead-wrong opinions about the Nazis that predate that specific speech, and Pearl didn’t make them any less excusable than they were before.

  29. Rob Grigjanis says

    I’m not interested in excusing Campbell. I’m interested in pointing out crap videos. I get the impression that some people’s standards for presentation vary hugely according to the “message”.

  30. Pierce R. Butler says

    Star Wars succeeds only on the power of its visual imagery – as the first person to tell me about it said, “The plot is just another rescue-the-princess story.” Lucas cribbed from everything.

    As for Campbell* and the Nazis, I did a little search. Didn’t find much, but some of the comments from this Quora thread come from people who knew him and/or studied his works in depth, and show at least some degree of complexity, nuance, and depth. Campbell evidently embodied a lot of contradictions.

    *Just to complicate the confusion between the professor and the SF editor in several comments above, the former’s full name was Joseph John Campbell.

  31. says

    The book burning had happened in 1933 so whether or not the lecture had been given in 1940 or 41, Mann had decided it would not be safe to return to Germany in 1933. So Campbell had to know that.

  32. Walter Solomon says

    I never really liked Star Wars but I thought it was mostly influenced by the work Akira Kurazawa.

  33. says

    I also heard that Lucas had cribbed from a Japanese movie called The Hidden Fortress, which was almost as silly as Star Wars, starting with the Medieval-Japanese princess wearing 50s-style shorts and knee-socks. There were also a couple of dumb-but-well-meaning lower-class hireling-thugs who allegedly were the basis for R2D2 and C3PO.

  34. nomuse says

    chrislawson —
    Yeah, it is best to take all of those tools, like three-act, save-the-cat, and so forth, not as templates but as analytical tools. I intentionally wrote a “Threshold Guardian” scene in one book, and a “Refusal of the Call” in another, and called them out as such in my notes, but I was hardly trying to follow Campbell’s reductionist monomyth.

    Bit old news, really. Pretty well accepted that he did a lot of pick-and-chose and selective ignoring to try to make his particular spin sound as if it was culturally universal (it really isn’t — and many of his examples, when read in their own context, don’t apparently support it.)

    birgerjohansson —

    Been a while, and I read the expanded “Trillion-Year Spree,” but I mostly remember Brian’s harsh words about the editor. Although I don’t think he gave him the same brush as he did old Hugo (“worst thing to happen to science fiction” or words to that effect).

    Anyhow, re Star Wars, I personally enjoyed it as what it was; a Republic Serial on the big screen. The worst thing to happen to Star Wars was when it thought it was more than that. The movie (to some of us, there is no “episode 4.” There is just “the movie”) worked because it didn’t try to explain. Not the why and when of the Clone Wars, or the laughable galactic economy (and, please, don’t even start with midichlorians). When Alex Guiness is reading some vague bullshit of noble knights in some glorious past, that sonorous voice and awesome delivery is all you need to get emotionally invested for a couple of hours of fun; to, as Ernie Fosselius put it, “Laugh, cry, kiss five bucks good-bye.”

  35. says

    I was about to comment, “I think some other YouTube personality did a video on this very topic quite recently. I can’t remember who, though.” And then I see the “Part 2” in the title. 😶

  36. Rob Grigjanis says

    @35: I did, in #15 and #23 (and that was just from the first few minutes). You said it didn’t matter. So what if Fish plays fast and loose with some facts, right? As long as you agree with her message…

  37. Tethys says

    I tried watching, but the second incidence of her making a claim (Nazi supporter) followed by a video clip and edited sound bite that doesn’t prove her claim, and provides zero context for what Campbell has said is not compelling or honest.

    I’m quite familiar with The Power of Myth, and the study of various mythos was Campbells area of expertise. His ‘Hero with a Thousand Faces’ is basically an anthology that leans heavily on another book called The Golden Bough.

    The Golden Bough: A Study in Comparative Religion (retitled The Golden Bough: A Study in Magic and Religion in its second edition) is a wide-ranging, comparative study of mythology and religion, written by the Scottish anthropologist Sir James George Frazer. The Golden Bough was first published in two volumes in 1890.

    . The work was aimed at a wide literate audience raised on tales as told in such publications as Thomas Bulfinch’s The Age of Fable, or Stories of Gods and Heroes (1855). The influence of The Golden Bough on contemporary European literature and thought was substantial.

    It isn’t surprising that the scholarship of Joseph Campbell is biased by his white male social blinders. He is building from a base that is composed solely of other white men.

    There are plenty of books on comparative mythology by other authors, Campbell is merely one viewpoint. I fail to see any reason to smear Joseph Campbell now for holding some typical regressive ideas about race and sexism.

    Shunning a spaceship movie made by Spielberg because many of the plot devices come straight from Ancient Greek myths he was told by Campbell is just silly. He was not wrong about heroic quests in Greek and Roman literature having some common themes over millennia. Tolkien and George Martin have both freely plagiarized from ancient Germanic literature to write their books too.

  38. says

    …and provides zero context for what Campbell has said is not compelling or honest.

    That’s certainly possible. But what sort of context is being missed here, that should change how we interpret him?

  39. Tethys says

    If you watch the video she claims that he is “defending Nazis” while showing a swastika.
    Then she inserts a clip of Nazis that are about to have their faces melted off from Raider of the Ark, while explaining how Campbell glorifies war.

    Then she shows a clip of Campbell discussing the bonds of soldiers which developed after being drafted into Vietnam. I fail to see any defending Nazis, but I find her editing offensive.

    I stopped watching, because I’ve previously read his books and heard him lecture. However I’ve never once gotten the impression that Campbell was defending Nazis when he gets all misty eyed about military, brothers in arms, and heroes. He is just a typical boy of his era, who likes army men and weapons. That doesn’t mean he is defending genocide, or Nazis.

  40. marner says

    @44 A good place to start would be to read the lecture Fish quotes, “Permanent Human Values”.

  41. says

    #38 Raging Bee

    The only thing Star Wars takes from Hidden Fortress is that two bumbling oafs serve as viewpoint characters for parts of the movie. Although in Hidden Fortress the bumbling oafs are also of decidedly low moral fiber and the movie stays focussed on them throughout. Otherwise the plot is pretty very different as HF is about the two oafs helping to smuggle a disguised princess and her bodyguard through hostile territory.
    The actual inspiration for Star Wars is Flash Gordon with the blonde hero and his struggle against an evil space empire. It is said Lucas originally wanted to make a Flash Gordon movie but couldn’t get the rights for one reason or another.

    I’d argue the actual “original” contribution of SW to sci-fi is of a “worn” future, where ships and locations look actually lived-in rather than shiny and pristine. Otherwise the story is fairly cookie-cutter with practically no surprises (other than Han shooting first).

  42. says

    I have to admit I find Campbell’s connection to “Star Wars” to be tenuous at best. It may be precisely the sort of “hero’s journey” archetypal story Campbell talked about, and Lucas may have believed he had “structured the movie around Joseph Campbell’s idea of the monomyth;” but that’s only because Lucas just plain stole from pre-existing stories which already fit the “monomyth” — or rather, which the “monomyth” seems to have been tailored to fit.

    And to sort of answer my own question @44 about context, there was, in the 1930s, a lot of anti-war and anti-intervention sentiment left over from the bloody fiasco of WW-I; and that surely also fed into the idea that people should work on their own self-betterment and not get caught up in collective ideological frenzies like Communism, fascism, anarchism, tribalism, etc. Also, a lot of the people most bitterly opposed to the Nazis were Evil Godless Commies, so a lot of educated and cultured people took awhile to realize they were right, and the Nazis were worse. (And the commies in the USSR really were worse than the Nazis, at least up until about 1939-41.)

  43. Tethys says

    Campbell has long been criticized by others in the fields of Myth and Folklore for his myopic and sexist fixation on one type of hero story and his pet monomyth theory.

    Christopher Tolkien has recently translated a Norse saga with a female transgender heroine (Herviors Saga och Hedricks) into ‘The story of King Hedrick the Wise’.

    There are two Herviors in the multigenerational saga, (one of whom literally changes gender twice, among other heroic feats) but Tolkien decided to just use the sons name and erase his amazing Mother and her namesake Granddaughter from the Title.

    Is Christopher Tolkien a misogynistic Nazi defender too?

  44. ionopachys says

    Regarding Star Wars, to my recollection Lucas didn’t start talking about the Hero’s Journey until after the Moyers interviews and subsequent book, in which Cambell specifically singled out Star Wars as a modern form of his monomyth. Lucas has a history of lying about the process that led to the first film.

    There is an almost interesting point connecting Cambell to Richard Carrier. Part of Carrier’s theory is that Mark was written as an allegory with the expectation that the enlightened would understand it that way, and people who couldn’t understand the true message mistakenly read it literally. Cambell thought that this was true of mythology in general: someone has a numinous experience, composes a symbolic story to try to communicate the abstract “truths” he experienced, spiritually sensitive people contemplate/meditate on the symbolic story to achieve something like a numinous experience and hopefully perceive the same “truth,” the masses take the myth literally because they aren’t able to have the religious fit, and the society forgets the original meaning altogether. Now Cambell would say that the “truth” of the Gospel would be about the nature of reality, probably the universality of Man and the dichotomy of material and immaterial, not that there was some actual event encoded as a slightly different event in a different setting. However, the idea that the myth was meant to represent higher truths but this was forgotten immediately made me think of Cambell.

  45. says

    I have become a big fan of Maggie Mae Fish since Lindsay Ellis retired from media criticism. I thought that her videos on Twin Peaks were great! However, Ms. Fish does seem to be more concerned about comedy skills than pure sourced info.

    If you want pure sourced content, I recommend Folding Ideas videos, some of which have been featured on this channel.

  46. hemidactylus says

    @23 Rob Grigjanis

    Time-lining “Permanant Human Values” I found this authoritative source:

    Under Lectures:

    “ b. 80 f. 11
    “Permanent Human Values” 1941 December 10
    Transcript of speech at Sarah Lawrence College.”

    So the lecture took place on Dec 10 1941. The attack on Pearl Harbor was Dec 7 1941.

    Fish actually cited (which I can’t followup for accuracy because pesky paywall):

    By Brendan Gill which may have supplied the date she used for the lecture being
    Dec 1941 3 days after the attack. It’s in her transcript. Her timing of events sounds correct then no?

    This blog below says: “a lecture that Campbell delivered to one of his classes at Sarah Lawrence College (in early December of 1940) is often cited by those claiming that Campbell was antisemitic.”

    If you’re basing your date on that blog are Fish (quoting Gill) and the NYPL website both wrong?

    You asserted: “So I go a bit further. She sets the stage with Pearl Harbour. One gets the impression from her that Campbell’s lecture “Permanent Human Values” was written after that, perhaps even in response to it. Except it wasn’t. The lecture was delivered a year before Pearl Harbour.
    More bullshit. If she’s comfortable with her thesis about Campbell, why pull stupid shit like that?”

    Seems to me she got that one thing right. As for the rest…I dunno.

  47. marner says

    @48 Your link matches (except for the posters comments, of course) the printed speech in “Joseph Campbell: A Fire In the Mind by Stephen and Robin Larson. But I am not a Campbell scholar, so cannot swear to its veracity.

    As to being too short, it would be about a 10 – 13 minute speech. Ish.

    @53 Also according to the above biography, the speech was given on December 10th 1940 at Sarah Lawrence College. To further back this timeline, in Joseph Campbell: Correspondence 1927-1987, Thomas Mann’s letter replying to the speech was written on January 6th, 1941

  48. says

    So the lecture took place on Dec 10 1941. The attack on Pearl Harbor was Dec 7 1941.

    So it’s possible he wrote the lecture before the attack, and delivered it afterword, without thinking to change it in light of a very significant recent event. That’s not the same as writing it afterword, but it’s not that different either.

  49. hemidactylus says

    @54 marner
    Yeah maybe I placed too much on the archiving at NYPL or mistook what it meant. I found this just afterward:

    Which corroborates Dec 1940. It would be weird for Mann to reply in Jan 1941 to stuff Campbell wouldn’t say until the end of that year.

    So then maybe Brendan Gill got the date wrong and Fish had taken his narrative too seriously on that one point? It happens.

  50. imthegenieicandoanything says

    By chance, I’ve just re-watched the Moyers-Campbell interviews, having watched them enthusiastically when they were first broadcast.
    They haven’t aged very well at all, but taken in context and noting Campbell’s limited range of myths. they’re still OK. The anti-Semitic stuff was completely unknown at the time, of course. Completely. Fuck anyone even hinting at hating Jews, unpinned to a particular asshole who happens to be Jewish.

    I only write now because the disgusting taste of middle-class liberal puritanism is all over the place here, and while that’s way better than Christian puritanism (anything hinting at being racist and/or fascist is entirely to be opposed), it’s rancid as all fuck.

    It’s embarrassing.

    It’s the “us or them!” demand for conformity, a fucked, vanilla condemnation of all of someone’s work because they don’t conform to today’s taste choices – even when I fully agree with the current content of those choices.

    Puritanism is always fucked and stupid, even if it happens to be less fucked and stupid than particular portions of what it’s objecting to.

    Be pure all you want, but you’ll have to drive me out into the wilderness before I’ll applaud for smallminded prudery.

  51. hemidactylus says

    I just watched Fish’s stuff on Rambo and Fight Club. First Blood is coupled with another movie I’m not familiar with. She focuses on some of the shared humanity aspect or sympathetic portrayal of Rambo’s plight in First Blood such as being abused by the dickhead sheriff, but also on the shortcomings and ridiculous aspects. The subsequent movies lack that sympathetic aspect. Last Blood was a snuff film with more brutality than all the others combined. Maybe a worse depiction of Mexico than Man on Fire and borrowed some elements.

    It saw bits and parts of Fight Club at a friend’s in early 2000s. I was in my darkest depths of a Pitt-hating phase so didn’t take it seriously or pay much attention. I had more recently read analysis of the book and movie and have been procrastinating watching it for deeper study. Fish makes interesting observations about which of the two alters are real. I was skimming her at 2X so may have missed some stuff.

  52. chrislawson says


    I think Star Wars cribs a lot more from Hidden Fortress than that, but I agree with you that it owes much more to science fiction serials. Lucas only decided to film an original story because he couldn’t persuade Dino DeLaurentiis to sell the rights to Flash Gordon. SW is more of a Flash Gordon/Buck Rogers pastiche with structural elements taken from other films, including Hidden Fortress because Lucas is a Kurosawa obessessive. (Whatever one thinks of Lucas as a director, I think we should be grateful that he used his influence to raise funds for Kurosawa’s last movie. It would probably never have been completed without Lucas’s direct involvement.)

    I also agree that as a contributor to the history of science fiction, the two big things SW brought were (1) a lived-in feel very different to the shiny futures from the serials, and (2) the modern blockbuster film phenomenon (the other great contributor here is Jaws, which is horror/suspense rather than sf and didn’t get much of that sweet merch revenue) — although I would argue that the summer blockbuster model has been detrimental to the genre from a narrative point of view even if it has been great for studio profitability.

  53. John Morales says

    hemidactylus @58, about this:

    She focuses on some of the shared humanity aspect or sympathetic portrayal of Rambo’s plight in First Blood such as being abused by the dickhead sheriff, but also on the shortcomings and ridiculous aspects. The subsequent movies lack that sympathetic aspect.

    The movie was fine, but only if you don’t compare it to the book by David Morrell.
    The 1972 novel, that is. David was a niche author, but what he did he did well.

    The most significant difference is that in the novel Rambo dies, but there’s a shitload more tonal difference in the movie, fine movie as it may seem.

    (As usual, the book is far, far better and far, far more nuanced than the movie)

    I had more recently read analysis of the [Fight Club] book and movie and have been procrastinating watching it for deeper study.

    I’ve neither read not watched it, but I bet the book is better and the movie doesn’t do it justice.

    (Good heuristic, that)

  54. chrislawson says


    Agreed. I have no problem with the idea that there are recurring themes and narrative devices in mythology. It would be hard to imagine otherwise. And I have no problem with writers drawing on those devices. My annoyance with Campbell was his compaction of the huge and wonderful variety of ancient storytelling into a single, simplistic formula.

    He is like a carpenter who insists everything should be made from chipboard…and always has been. (Not denigrating chipboard here; it’s a good product if manufactured and used safely, but it’s not the mono-wood!)

  55. Erp says

    I have known libraries to make mistakes in cataloging. I’ve even given feedback to my institution’s library about mistakes in the catalog (usually typos in names though sometimes dates), and, they’ve fixed them. Note it is also entirely possible that Campbell gave the speech more than once (though the contents may have changed between versions). I’ve looked over the speech and it seems to be both siderism at it finest. Note even by the earlier date of 1940, Germany had invaded Poland (September 1939). However, if 10 December 1941 is the date of the talk; I would note that Germany did not declare war on the US until 11 December. I also looked at the Sarah Lawrence Campus newspaper for December 10, 1941; Joseph Campbell is mentioned as being involved in a drama production discussion that day. The next issue, December 17, contains a long article on the discussion on e.e., cumming’s play ‘him’, but, nothing that looked like the speech in question.

    I’m inclined to think December 1940 is more likely because to not even mention that the US had just been attacked by Japan would have attracted a lot of negative attention.

  56. hemidactylus says

    Given how much people are saying Star Wars borrowed from other stuff, it seems ridiculous they sued Battlestar Galactica for the same thing.

    Both are space westerns, BSG being Bonanza set in space. BSG could be accused of borrowing too heavily from Mormonism and Ancient Astronaut lore popular at the time.

    I was recently curious about Dirk Benedict given he was on Chopper One as one of the first shows I remember watching as a kid. Seems he’s actually a bit of a dick:
    “In 2006, he wrote an online essay criticizing the then-airing Battlestar Galactica re-imagined series and, especially, its casting of a woman as his character, Starbuck, writing that “the war against masculinity has been won” and that “a television show based on hope, spiritual faith, and family is unimagined and regurgitated as a show of despair, sexual violence and family dysfunction”.[6]”

    Katee Sackhoff kicked ass as Starbuck. Too bad she wounded Dirk’s manhood by surpassing him in badassedness. He needs a wambulance.

  57. hemidactylus says

    I would hazard Campbell’s tendency to shoehorn myth into an overarching superstructure stems from overzealous adherence to Papa Jung’s archetypes of the collective unconscious. I don’t know if Campbell’s oeuvre is reducible to merely being a more popularized footnote to Jung, but he seems more and more an…archetype or primordial image for Jordan Peterson developing as guru figure later. The eternal recurrence personified. I’m here all week folks.

  58. Silentbob says

    @ 66 John Morales

    Speaking of which, 2001: A Space Odyssey was much better than Arthur C Clarke’s The Sentinal. ;-)

  59. John Morales says

    Yes, because he wrote it in collaboration with Kubrik, and the book was a concurrent novelization of the movie based upon the 1951 short story.

  60. Silentbob says

    Somewhat off-topic:

    There’s a popular misapprehension that Captain America was a patriotic hero created during World War II to support the US war effort. In the modern Marvel movie, Captain America: the First Avenger we see Steve Rodgers desperate to sign up and do his bit for his country, but getting rejected over and over while his buddy, Bucky, goes off to war, etc.

    The reality is Captain America was propaganda to promote the US joining the war. He was created in 1940. The famous cover of him punching Hitler (included in the movie) was cover-dated March 1941 (and actually published Dec 1940). He was created by Jewish guys, Joe Simon and Jack Kirby, as basically symbolism to say, “hey wouldn’t it be great if the US stepped up as a hero and went overseas and defeated Hitler?”. The US didn’t actually join the war until a year later.

    So yeah, there were a lot of people urging American involvement in the war, especially Jewish people.

  61. lotharloo says

    The video includes very short quotations that are then interpreted by the narrator and since the context is completely omitted it is not at all clear if that’s what they actually mean. Some examples:

    At 2:04, Campbell says, “I don’t think it would help you change the system but it will help you live in the system as a human being”. The narrator then says this shows that Campbell lacks any analysis of structural power. She might be right but this type of criticism absolutely sets off my bullshit detector. First, it’s not clear what “it” refers in the quotation. Does it refer to a prior statement made by Campbell, e.g., “stories”, “myths” etc, or it’s a general “it” which means “you should never change the system”. I don’t know. The quotation is too short. But even if we grant that Campbell says “don’t change the system” it still does not follow that Campbell lacks any analysis of structural power.

    Then she moves to the Vietnam war and she says that Campbell saw war as a heroic endeavor but the quotations only support the claim that Campbell saw some actions of the soldiers as heroic, such as soldiers rescuing other soldiers at a risk to themselves, which by the way is factually true. Individual soldiers can do heroic actions in an unjust war. The quotations used by her does not support what she claims. This again sets off bullshit detectors.

    The part about the nazi connections also sets off bullshit detectors. Again, the quotations here support the claim that Campbell did not take Nazi threat seriously or did not want his students go to war. And it does not support the claim that he was a nazi or sympathizer. For example, there were a lot of people in the left who did not support the Iraq war and did not support going to war there. Were they “secret Baathists”? No, that’s bullshit. In fact, such claims were the weapon of choice of the pro-war crowd. Yet somehow this flawed logic shows up here and we find it acceptable just because we like the outcome.

    At this point I gave up. I prefer to read documents that have longer quotations and much better reasoned than a YT video, honestly.

  62. Rob Grigjanis says

    hemidactylus @53:

    If you’re basing your date on that blog are Fish (quoting Gill) and the NYPL website both wrong?

    The 1940 date is certainly there, but the point of linking to the blog was that it contained part of the lecture. I found a reference to the date in an excerpt of The Politics of Myth: A Study of C. G. Jung, Mircea Eliade, and Joseph Campbell by Robert Ellwood, here;

    Campbell was eminently affected in two ways: through a controversial lecture on values in time of war he gave on December 10, 1940, to which Thomas Mann responded; and through his association with two distinguished refugees from Germany, the indologist Heinrich Zimmer, and the publisher Kurt Wolff, who was to found the Pantheon Press.

    The talk, “Permanent Human Values,” was given at Sarah Lawrence in days that were dark indeed for the Western alliance, just after the fall of France and the Battle of Britain.

  63. Matthew Currie says

    I haven’t gotten through the whole video yet but will remark that my late sister got her BA and MA at Sarah Lawrence (BA in 1968, MA a few years later), and for the latter, her faculty advisor was Joseph Campbell. She delved quite deep into Welsh history and literature, and the meat of her thesis, as I recall, was that at some point in the deep past, Welsh law explicitly outlawed warfare on philosophical grounds. Campbell, an outspoken war hawk, tried very hard to counter the argument, rejected her thesis, (though she read Welsh and he did not) and attempted to prevent her graduation. Other faculty intervened, and the rejection was overridden. After all these years (and she died in 1976, alas) details are a bit sketchy, but my recollection is that Campbell’s objection had little if any factual basis related to the research done.

    That’s the short version of a story related many years ago. She started out with great admiration for Campbell, as many do, relishing the luck and privilege of studying with him, but after considerable personal interaction became convinced that he was, along with being an outspoken supporter of the then-current war, and war in general, indeed, a fascist and a racist, and beyond that, an egotist asshole who could not tolerate diversity of opinion, and swung his weight around.

    This story is, of course, anecdotal, so take it as you wish. I, though, am not inclined to be a Campbell fan, though once long ago I read The Hero with a Thousand Faces and thought it good. But I was a teenager then, and maybe that’s the best time for his stuff.

  64. StevoR says

    @67. Silentbob : “Speaking of which, 2001: A Space Odyssey was much better than Arthur C Clarke’s The Sentinal. ;-) ”

    The movie, the novel or both – there were some very key differences..

    @65. hemidactylus : “The eternal recurrence personified.”

    Say again? ;-)