Re: Travel Narratives in Glorantha

From: John Hughes <john.hughes_at_eG9tYUnFj-Ak6HNdEExWME0WiTc64zeaMF8-ZYfqsyLXmkbPSKGg2PIMAfmYPvr3>
Date: Tue, 05 Feb 2008 15:01:28 +1100

Another brief note, with apologies that it will be a few days before I can respond in full ...
> > At 7:27 PM +1100 30/1/08, John Hughes wrote:
> >These limitations are worth stating explictly. Among them are
> >Glorantha's simplistic and unreflexive view of religion (albeit, one
> >shared by many western roleplaying games), its over-reliance on an
> >universalistic and discredited model of mythology (Campbell) that denies
> >much of what is interesting about real mythological processes, its
> >creeping essentialism, gender bias, and deeply conservative 'boys own'
> >seventies masculism. All of these have both positive and negative
> >aspects, of course, but all of them constraint the types of stories that
> >can be imagined and told, and by whom.

Yes, it was me. In context, I intended it as a corrective to the somewhat optimistic earlier essay I pinned to the tale of my post. As always, it is my hope that, agree or disagree, it will lead to some thoughtful and creative discussion that can deepen our insight and enjoyment of the Gloranthan experience.


: I disagree with just about everything you've said here.

Kool. I claim no imprimatur: there are many perspectives and many ways forward. What's important is the discussion.

>Campbell we wouldn't have heroquesting would we?

Yes we would, its a common theme in myth. But we wouldn't think of it in the strict terms of the Campbellian monomyth. Personally, I think the Campbell has been a fantastic model for building stories in Glorantha. As a genre idea, its great. But every model simplifies, and every model hides and distorts. Hence the questions.

As a genre gamer, I know that genres tire and die, and that they can also expand. One of the ways that a genre *can* expand* is to explore areas previously rendered invisible by genre conventions.

>As a feminine antidote try

>Pinkola Estes (I think I got that right?)

Yip. Clarissa Pinkola Estes, Women Who Run With Wolves.

>I think the attacks made against him and others such as Robert Bly are > even more reactionary than their "boys own seventies masculinism".

I had been thinking only of Campbell's (lack of) academic standing: I guess the attacks you're referring to are part of the wider cultural critique. (I had a big 'Iron John' phase myself). I'll say a bit more when I get a chance to respond more fully.

I have discussed Campbell and myth in other forums, and to save a bit of time I am appending my response to a similar exchange on another, non gaming list.

The questions, and answers, are slightly different here of course, but it sets the ground. When I do get a chance to respond fully, I will try and at least start a brief 'Gamers Guide to To Myth and Mythography', a project I've been thinking about for some time.



A Previous Discussion On Joseph Campbell by John

Campbell is a metaphysician and a populariser, not a mythographer. He seldom deals with evidence, or notes his sources, and he even less seldom deals with critics or alternative viewpoints. His work is masculinist, essentialist, often circular, and significantly biased in many areas. It is a myth about myth.

In essence, Campbell is the last of the nineteenth century single theory universalists, using a mishmash of Jungian and Freudian themes (though with important differences from both) and a literary approach to myth to build a quasi-religious, mystic appreciation in which 'myth builds people' rather than 'people build myths'.

Campbell has no standing in the social sciences, and only a fleeting recognition in the humanities, where he is taught in some folklore and english lit classes.

The history of mythography began with strong input from nationalism, occultism, and romanticism, and the Jungian schools (including Campbell, though he's too eclectic to be included as a mainstream Jungian) often wrap themselves uncritically in all three. It was only with the beginnings of ethnographic, cross-cultural research in the early twentieth century that mythography entered the realms of social science.

Myth is rooted in the power relationships of a particular society at a particular time. it changes and evolves, it has many variants, many uses and many interpretations. It both serves and subverts the existing social order. It points to answers for particular questions, but equally stops you from asking other questions. Campbell ignores most of these nuances to push his own metaphysical musings about 'archetypal unity'.

To explore modern appreciations of myth, let me recommend Foamy Custard:


As to Lucas, yes he did use Campbell as a source, but he was equally indebted to nineteen thirties matinee features. If Star Wars is so universally mythic, why are all of the later movies so appallingly bad? And what are we to make of Lucas' bizarre fascist subtext, explored by David Brin and others?



and later ...

I'll try and answer a few of your queries. Forgive me if some of my responses seem a little offhand: I find a close discussion of Campbell about as relevant as a close discussion of Frazer or Aquinas: interesting only in a historical sense. The scholarship moved on long ago.

To understand the analysis of myth you need to have a broad understanding of a range of approaches and streams of scholarship: semiotics, structuralism, post-structuralism, cognitive science and psychology, anthropology, history, folklore: Durkheim, Marx, Geertz, Levi-Strauss, Lakoff, Foucault, Derrida, Cixous .... You need to balance these approaches and use them critically in combination. The age of Uncle Joe's Universal Solvent, or Uncle Carl's Mythsterious Archetypes, of simplistic, one-size-fits-all metatheories divorced from social and cultural process, is over.

Most of your questions are answered in the introductory essays at Foamy Custard, let me repeat the link again:


Hi John, can you begin by defining metaphysician as it applies to
>Campbell in your view?

Campbell is constantly sermonising: pushing his own metaphysical musings and 'mystic unities' at the expense of the actual myths. His message is essentially religious and ideological. He systematically distorts data to fit his own prexisting categories - his musing on Asian religion are one fairly blatant example. He does not engage with wider C20 scholarship or with the many criticisms of his work. As Segal complained, Campbell spends "too much time revelling in myth and not enough time analysing it."

Also, I was wondering how you came to the conclusion he wasn't
>a scholar where the study of myth is concerned? He seems to have
>gained quite a reputation during his life for just that.

He was a certainly a scholar, but his scholarship proved unsound.

>"He seldom deals with evidence or notes his sources,"
>Are you saying Campbell didn't provide references in his writing?

Very few from the C20, very few from non armchair scholars. As an example, the hero and the heroes journey was explored prior to Campbell by Lord Raglan, Rank, Tyler and others. No mention of them in H1KF.

>Can you provide some examples of when he was challenged, by whom,
>and provide some references?

It was a non-event. The first anthropological reviews of H1KF essentially asked, 'where is the evidence, where are your examples?' No answer ever came.

Campbell provided examples of different *sections* of his 'monomyth' from different myths, but never gave an example that contained them all. If you're looking for critical evaluations of Campbell's work, and the state of play of myth studies generally try the excellent 'Mythography' by William Doty (2nd edition), or 'Theorising about Myth' by Robert Segal, or the essays on Foaming Custard.

>"His work is masculinist"
>Can you provide a reference in his work that what you would describe
>as "masculinist"?

The (male) Heroes Journey as the lynchpin monomyth. His general disinterest in myth complexes that stray from this theme

>Can you also explain how you're using the term here as applied to
>his work and provide an example from his writing?

Essentialism refers to the belief that all members of a class of objects (people or things) have unchanging characteristics that are essential to what they are and which distinguish them from other classes. At its crudest, essentialism is a brute kind of biological determinism that denies variation, change, or social or cultural construction. A certain type of people are better (or worse) at doing certain types of things: thinking, running marathons, running countries, doing housework. Women for instance, might be seen as 'naturally', nurturing, passive, and unsuited to public life, while men as a class by comparison are aggressive, active and natural leaders. So different genders are by their very nature suited to certain roles, and no amount of empowerment or education or social change will change that 'essential' identity. Other examples of essentialist thinking involve race, class, or sexual orientation.

Take my point above, and the fact that Campbell confuses white, educated, middle class, mid century American ideals with 'universal values', and think about this yourself. The examples should be obvious.

>"often circular"
>Once again can you provide an example of a 'circular' area of his
>work and provide an example?

Archetypes. Intrinsically circular reasoning.

>"and significantly biased in many areas."
>Can you provide some specific examples of a biased statement in
>Campbells work? What specifically was he biased about?

See above, and the references noted. Campbell seemed to share with Eliade a particular dislike of the Jewish religion, though I'm sure for different reasons.

>"It is a myth about myth."
>What do you see as mythical in Campbell's study of myth?

The idea that the power of myth comes from the depths of the psyche and the dawn of humankind. That unverifiable psychological abstractions matter more than social and historical process, that myths are not changed or created to promote ideological objectives. That myths do not change in form or meaning over time. That late, literary readings of myth are more important and pure than the wide variations recorded in any mythic complex and the myths as shared and experienced by actual people.. That square facts can be fitted into round holes with just a minimum of rhetoric.

>Are you saying that there are no universal myth motifs?

LOL. define what you mean by universal myth motifs. There are near-universal story motifs, there are near-universal dramatic motifs, but the interpretation and use of these motifs is always highly specific culturally and historically. There are evolutionary predispositions to religion and belief determined by the types of bodies and brains we have and the way they evolved. Cognitive science, evolutionary psychology and cognitive anthropology are producing much exciting new work in this area.

>Also, I think one of the key concepts of both Jung and Campbell is
>that all myth motifs have their origins in the human mind and are
>externalized in various art forms so the unifying factor is the
>human mind (what else?) so I am interested in knowing where Campbell
>stated that myth builds people. Also it is obvious that people build
>myths so I don't see the contradiction, perhaps you can explain?

its a shorthand for distinguishing the two main schools of mythic interpretation. Alleged universal, archetypal forces manifesting eternally across a range of cultures means essentially that myth builds people, builds values, builds meaning. Some one who studies real people's use of real myth in everyday situations, by contrast, has few illusions about how great a role ideology and hegemony and social power and control have in creating and replicating and mutating myth.

Everything human originates in the human mind. Jung's (and Campbell's) ideas of the original and content of such processes have not been borne out by science. An appeal to Jung or Campbell is an appeal to authority. Freud is a little more amenable to falsification, and being tested, has largely been shown to be false.

>"Campbell has no standing in the social sciences, and only a
>fleeting recognition in the humanities, where he is taught in some
>folklore and english lit classes."
>Actually a brief synopsis of his life and studies can be found here,
>just so we don't run the risk of trivializing his scholarly

Hagiography by his own literary estate. Education and scholarly worth are very different things. See the references above.

>"The history of mythography began with strong input from
>Can you provide some references in his work that exposes
>the 'Nationalism' you're mentioning here?

You've misunderstood. I was talking about the origins of mythography in the late eighteenth century, and the particular streams to which Campbell et al. are heir. Nationalism was one very important background influence. Various 'Folk' were expected to have their own myth cycles to be a 'real' people, which led to created epics like the Kalevala, German volkisch reworkings of Norse myth, and the renewed appropriation of Arthurian mythology by the English (the Arthur cycle is of course at base anti-Anglo Saxon).

Occultism was strong in the idea
that myths contained a secret language and power of the past, and that 'my gnosis is bigger than your gnosis' :). The Romanticism links should be obvious. All these come together in Jung especially, and in Campbell's uncritical debt to Jung. If you want to explore these influences, influences not shaken off until the mid twentieth century, let me recommend Andrew von Hendy's 'The Modern Construction of Myth'. Of course, these three streams also persist strongly in the modern new age movement, which holds both Jung and Campbell dear.

>"it changes and evolves, it has many variants, many uses and many
>interpretations. It both serves and subverts the existing social
>order. It points to answers for particular questions, but equally
>stops you from asking other questions."
>I would agree that it serves the the social order -i.e. the hero
>figure as a source of cultural inspiration - but subverts? Can you
>explain and give an example?

Think of the widely different ways the hero myth has been appropriated by extreme political movements. Think of the widely different ways the Christ myth has been used as a source of social power *and* as a symbol to overthrow it throughout western history.

John Hughes
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