FLIGHT OF THE WILD GANDER is a collection of essays that were written over a twenty-four years - both from before the publication of The Hero with a Thousand Faces and after The Masks of God, making it, perhaps, an interesting chronicle of the evolution of Campbell's thought, though, honestly, I felt that there was a remarkably consistent message throughout the course of the book. Since this is the first work by the author that I've read, I can't compare it to his others, but I wonder if this isn't, in effect, a good introduction to Campbell's ideas on myth - his other works could only serve to broaden the themes he presents here. If FLIGHT OF THE WILD GANDER doesn't spark your interest, then I can't believe you would have much interest in the others. I think the reverse is also true - I know that I started HERO WITH A THOUSAND FACES many years ago, and gave up due to its density. I found that same density in GANDER, though I feel better equipped to absorb it now. If you thought of turning to FLIGHT OF THE WILD GANDER with the idea that it might be easier, I can only say that I found it to be a challenge at some points. Rewarding, but challenging - indeed, there were a few times I thought I was hanging on by my mental fingernails.
It isn't that Campbell's ideas are that impenetrable - but that he writes in a way that demands my focus. If you, like me, are not consistently reading prose that forces you to narrowly focus your attention, you may find some passages in GANDER to be difficult. With perseverance, they can be worked out.
The collection comprises of six essays: the first, dealing with the Grimm brothers, outlines the beginning of comparative mythology and a search for meaning behind the tales and myths. The next, BIOS AND MYTHOS, explains Campbell's views on the biological function of myth. Building on that, PRIMITIVE MAN AS METAPHYSICIAN details myths as the cure for what metaphysically ails us, MYTHOGENESIS how it is possible one myth (the monomyth, to borrow from his other work) is the forerunner of all the world's variations, and THE SYMBOL WITHOUT MEANING illustrates how myths mutate in order to satisfy the needs of the society based on what sort of society that it is (hunter-gatherer, agricultural based), and that when a society moves beyond these stages, the old myths no longer satisfy. The last, THE SECULARIZATION OF THE SACRED, shows how, in medieval Europe, myth and legend did evolve to satisfy a changing society.
Unfortunately, my short summaries do little to reflect the entire scope of Campbell's essays - I don't think it is really possible to sum up his ideas in a few sentences. Still, this may give someone an inkling as to whether FLIGHT would be of interest or not. And also, I don't believe it is necessary to swallow the whole pill of the author's philosophy to be able to appreciate his writing - in many cases, Campbell is writing about the unknowable, but his arguments are lucid and logical, and he certainly evokes - in me, at least - a powerful feeling of resonance.
So for all that, I feel good about recommending GANDER if your interests coincide with his 'explorations', or if you've enjoyed Campbell's other works. My only quibble is that I think he takes some potshots at Christianity that were unnecessary. It isn't so much that I agree or disagree with his conclusions, but that it seems that those particular observations were fueled by personal feelings, where most of the rest was either objective or appreciative. To ridicule the myth of Mary's assumption by using modern science after describing the shamanistic visions of Black Elk as wonderful seems to me to be applying two different standards to similar cases. Although the author does distinguish between the two, and uses the monotheistic desert religions as an example of how myth solidifies and becomes dogma, it felt to me as if an element of spite were encroaching. Devout readers may be offended.
My name is Firecat Hat and I am a writer. Campbell greatly inspires me.
I am a huge Campbell fan and would recommend to anyone to read this book. There are many lessons to be found here, and I have much of the book highlighted with lots of notes written in the margins.
I am delighted that there was a Joseph Campbell, and I really enjoy reading almost everything he wrote. As well as the videos that are available where he is speaking. He is a genius like few others, in my opinion.
From this particular book I learned that it is important to let go of disappointments. As he explains, many ancient peoples knew that the key to happiness was letting go of disappointments and living in the now. This sounds easier said than done, but Campbell explains how the symbol of the moon shedding its shadow and the ambrosia offered by the gods both have to do with this. So that to be in 'heaven' metaphorically speaking, involves accepting and looking forward to our lives the way they are now, not the way we wanted them to be that didn't happen.
It is an ancient collection of symbols that stressed this fact for ancient peoples, and I have no doubt that it helped them overcome their hardships.
I would recommend anyone interested in such spiritual and psychological insights take a look at this book.
The writing is sophisticated, and this may daunt certain readers who do not want to bother 'thinking that hard.' But for those who do, it is worthwhile.
I recommend reading this book in a quiet atmosphere. It requires concentration. But the rewards are worth it.
For devoted fans who cannot get enough of Joseph Campbell's thoughts, I highly recommend THE FLIGHT OF THE WILD GANDER. Although the book was first published in 1969, Campbell's thinking on the subject of religion and shamanism was well formed by then, and many of the ideas he discussed with Bill Moyers in the famous PBS interviews are more fully developed in this text. Also, if you have read his HERO WITH A THOUSAND FACES you will find much of what he has to say in GANDER further distills and elaborates those ideas. GANDER includes several related essays. Essays of greatest interest to me were also the most difficult to follow - `Primative Man as Metaphysician' `Mythogenesis' and `The Secularization of the Sacred' the latter essay summarizing and complementing the earlier essays.
Campbell describes first step of the process of individuation, as a growing awareness of a higher power accomplished by traveling a singular path versus merely accepting and acting on the teachings of a `religious' tradition associated with one's social group. He suggests that truly coming to know God is a frightening prospect(other people may persecute you as a heretic to say nothing of the sheer awe of the experience) and lonely experience(no one, neither priest or medicine man/witch doctor can do it for you) that one can only carry out by letting go through a `Shamanistic' experience comparable to those expeienced by American Indians, Eastern yogis, and other traditional people. Even after you have got yourself out on a limb, so to speak, you will only know finite things because `that which stands behind' the Masks of God is unknowable by humans.
Any summarization of this text I might provide is trite. You owe it to yourself to read this book and find your own path. BTW, if you are searching for more material to continue your "Da Vinci Code" experience you will find that Campbell was aware of the search for the grail long before many of today's popular writers.