Culturally-significant texts – Across genres, across the ages



The Power of Myth

The Power of Myth
Joseph Campbell

When George Lucas was putting together Star Wars, he didn’t just want to tell a good story or introduce some crazy special effects. He was reformulating some of the central myths of the western world, adorning their archetypes in new garb, and telling a tale that is as old as human memory. And in this, George Lucas was profoundly inspired and influenced by Joseph Campbell, a scholar and author who delved deep into comparative mythology and religion to understand how and why some stories last, how and why some stories differ according to time and place, and how and why some stories are near-universal, their central contours of plot, character, and meaning recurring again and again in human history. And so in the mid 1980s the creator of science fiction history invited Campbell and journalist Bill Moyers up to his ranch to talk about myth-making and why it matters. Those videotaped interviews played as a series on PBS in 1988, shortly after Campbell’s death, and were published in book form later that year – packaged asĀ The Power of Myth, the discussions became massively important, popularizing Campbell’s scholarship and significantly increasing cultural literacy around myth and ritual not only in the past but in the here and the now.

Continue reading “The Power of Myth”


Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus

Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus
John Gray

Nothing on this list has earned more objections than this little book. Dreck. Drivel. Garbage. Yup, I agree. But it ain’t about what’s good, it’s about what is significant, and while we can hope and pray that Men Are from Mars… will be thoroughly forgotten in the not-too-distant future, the fact of the matter is that today, 20 years after its publication, it is a part of the cultural landscape. It’s one of the best-selling non-fiction books of all-time, and though that may be a sad reflection on the state of the world, a reflection it is. TV shows, seminars, cruises, and a Broadway show have all grown out of John Gray’s pop-psychology on gender and relationships, not to mention the flood of equally-offensive books published in its wake. Continue reading “Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus”

The Characters

The Characters
319 BCE

Student of Plato, student of Aristotle, Theophrastus was chosen by the latter as his philosophical successor and inheritor of his writings. As with the other great thinkers of his age, Theophrastus’ writings run the gamut from biology and ethics to grammar and logic to physics and metaphysics, each informing the other. It is his botanical work that has been most influential in scholarly terms. But The Characters is the one of more general significance. Continue reading “The Characters”

Iron John

Iron John
Robert Bly

Iron John was resoundingly attacked by feminist scholars when it appeared in 1990, and Bly himself associated in many circles with pseudo-intellectual anti-feminist backlash. In this discussion of myth and gender, social psychology and the nature of strength, the well-known poet lamented the disappearance of manhood and the tendency to consider masculinity a four-letter word, and argued the time was long overdue for a movement by, for, and about men. The response was massive. A men’s movement did indeed begin to emerge with the conversation Bly initiated; or, more accurately, several men’s movements emerged – some of them thoughtful, reflective, and entirely consistent with the project as Bly himself understood it, but some articulating exactly the misogynist politics that feminist critics feared. Continue reading “Iron John”

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