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Our review of The Power of Myth: 25th Anniversary Edition, published January 25th, 2013, is also available.
An engaging dialogue about mythology and its ongoing role in the human experience.
I've been fascinated by mythology for many years, even going so far as to take classical mythology courses during my university career. The stories of heroes, monsters and legends beyond myself have given me both an escape from the mundane and a window into the civilizations and cultures that have come before my own.
When discussing the topic of world mythology, it's not usually long before the name Joseph Campbell is mentioned, as a scholar and a source of inspiration for both students and artists around the world. His 1949 book "The Hero with a Thousand Faces" is a seminal work on the topic of mythology and covers the archetypal role of the hero in great detail. Originally broadcast on PBS in 2008, one year after Campbell's death, The Power of Myth is a collection of six one-hour conversations between Joseph Campbell and award-winning journalist Bill Moyers and it was this series that widely increased Campbell's profile and recognition.
All six episodes of the miniseries are spread over two discs as follows:
The Power of Myth boils down to two great men sitting together, chatting about some of the most enduring concepts and stories of human civilization. Moyers serves as our guide through Campbell's fascinating and nearly limitless knowledge; Campbell uses no cue cards or notes of any kind, transitioning seamlessly between stories, across cultures and concepts. As I watched the series, I found that Moyers asks most of the questions that arose for me, calling for Campbell to clarify concepts where necessary, and prompting him to share more whenever possible. It's easy to see that without a skilled journalist like Moyers at the helm, this complicated and intensive journey would likely have strayed off course quite quickly, or at the very least, become bogged down by the complexity of the content.
It's fascinating listening to Campbell as he talks about Christ, Buddha,
tribal shaman and ancient legends and stories with the same reverence and
respect. He doesn't seem to personally ascribe to any one philosophy or
religious belief, but instead sees them all as parts of a greater sum that has
something to offer each of us at any point in our lives. He seems to see myths
and mythology as roadmaps that have something deeper to teach us as we pass
through a transitory temporal life. For Campbell, a society without any myths or
rituals breeds children and youth without any direction who find themselves
complacent and coddled. With no structure or greater sense of belonging, younger
generations become disenfranchised, losing respect for their culture and
society, and as Campbell sees it, contributing to the criminal acts we see all
While it's nice to have The Power of Myth on DVD finally, the only real value is the content itself. The full-frame source material really shows its age, with a soft image and muted colors throughout the presentation. The presentation is also very distracting at times as the framing is constantly readjusted and the camera often seems to be bumped, jarring the image. The 2.0 audio mix is also below average, adding nothing to the overall experience.
The bonus features are spread over both discs and feature additional video content, text-only content and photo galleries. The most valuable features are an additional video conversation between Moyers and Campbell from Bill Moyers' Journal and a short excerpt from The Mythology of Star Wars, an interview between Moyers and George Lucas. It's too bad this set wasn't expanded to include the full Lucas interview, as Lucas credits Campbell as both his mentor and one of the inspirations behind the Star Wars saga. The set also includes a thin "Viewer's Guide" with additional information about Campbell and other miscellaneous content.
While The Power of Myth is certainly not for casual consumption, it is an excellent insight into the role myths have played throughout human history and how they helped our ancestors explain the unexplainable. I'd also argue that if the retelling of myths played a more active role in modern society, we'd likely all be better off.
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