Explore the magic of the Arthurian legends
The first collection of Joseph Campbell’s writings and lectures on the Arthurian romances of the Middle Ages, a central focus of his celebrated scholarship, edited and introduced by Arthurian scholar Evans Lansing Smith, PhD, the chair of Mythological Studies at Pacifica Graduate Institute.
Throughout his life, Joseph Campbell was deeply engaged in the study of the Grail Quests and Arthurian legends of the European Middle Ages. In this new volume of the Collected Works of Joseph Campbell, editor Evans Lansing Smith collects Campbell’s writings and lectures on Arthurian legends, including his never-before-published master’s thesis on Arthurian myth, “A Study of the Dolorous Stroke.” Campbell’s writing captures the incredible stories of such figures as Merlin, Gawain, and Guinevere as well as the larger patterns and meanings revealed in these myths. Merlin’s death and Arthur receiving Excalibur from the Lady of the Lake, for example, are not just vibrant stories but also central to the mythologist’s thinking.
The Arthurian myths opened the world of comparative mythology to Campbell, turning his attention to the Near and Far Eastern roots of myth. Calling the Arthurian romances the world’s first “secular mythology,” Campbell found metaphors in them for human stages of growth, development, and psychology. The myths exemplify the kind of love Campbell called amor, in which individuals become more fully themselves through connection. Campbell’s infectious delight in his discoveries makes this volume essential for anyone intrigued by the stories we tell—and the stories behind them.
Campbell (1904 1987) is well known for his belief that all the myths of humankind derived from basic prehistoric experiences. Whatever one thinks of Campbell's pseudo-anthropology, this collection on Arthurian myth cobbled together from lectures and other archival materials from the Joseph Campbell Foundation is rife with misreadings, historical inaccuracies, and non sequiturs. Perhaps out of respect for Campbell, editor Smith failed to check many of the historical facts in his notes. There are simple slips, such as identifying Marie de Champagne as the granddaughter of Eleanor of Aquitaine, rather than her daughter. But other, more significant errors undermine Campbell's work. For instance, a discussion of the Roman Empire rests on the outdated belief that Christianity caused its downfall. A consideration of Gawain and the Green Knight rests on a misreading of the Middle English word "gyrdel" as "garter" rather than "belt." Attempting to tie the medieval story of Parzifal into Eastern history, Campbell insists that historical characters interacted in ahistorical ways. Most of the book is made up of Campbell's retelling of the Arthurian legends, giving them his own spin. Perhaps if Campbell had edited the essays himself he would have corrected the errors, but this inaccurate collection will do nothing to help his reputation.