Joseph Campbell and the Power of Myth with Bill Moyers

Joseph Campbell and the Power of Myth with Bill Moyers

Sun, 03/11/2012 - 2:00pm

Pictured: Joseph Campbell

Revisit the extraordinary dialogues that fired the imagination and intellect of millions a quarter-century ago.

When Bill Moyers sat across from Joseph Campbell in the library of George Lucas’ Skywalker Ranch a quarter of a century ago to begin a series of conversations that would continue over two summers, neither of them could anticipate the extraordinary impact their collaboration would produce. Campbell, who had collaborated with Lucas on the film director’s Star Wars trilogy, was the foremost interpreter of the world’s great mythologies — the stories told by humans since the dawn of history to explain the mysteries of the universe. Despite his vast learning, his almost 40 years as a remarkable teacher and the scholarly acclaim for his major works (The Masks of God among them), only a relative handful of people had ever seen or heard him in person. That changed when Joseph Campbell and the Power of Myth with Bill Moyers was broadcast on PBS, firing the imagination and intellect of millions of people and becoming a phenomenon. Now the six-part series has been updated and will be broadcast on PBS stations nationwide. In celebration of its 25th anniversary the two-part Joseph Campbell and the Power of Myth with Bill Moyers program airs Sunday, March 11at 2 p.m. and concludes Sunday, March 18 at 2 p.m. on WXXI-TV/HD (DT21.1/cable 1011 and 11).
The New York Times called the original broadcast “fascinating … proving there is a significant and thoughtful audience looking for something beyond a steady diet of sitcoms and music videos … . Captured vividly is Campbell’s legendary talent as a storyteller.” The Los Angeles Times wrote, “If you crave exhilaration, here’s your fix … In hearing [Campbell and Moyers] describe the story of creation in Genesis, it occurs to you that those who control television often ignore the crucial mandate underlying their own medium’s creative process: Let there be light. Let there especially be more series like this.”  

The Miami Herald called the series “‘talking head television’ at its most sublime …What an enrichment …Wow!  Wow!” The Philadelphia Inquirer wrote: “Moyers has accomplished something almost unimaginable on current television: a six-part, six-hour series of conversations — intelligent, exciting talk that will make you look at the world differently.” And the critic Marvin Kitman wrote, “Moyers is a true hero in mythological journalism. He goes out on adventure … .The result (with this series) is a historic piece of television.”

Joseph Campbell was many things: Mythologist. Teacher. Translator. Interpreter. Ethnographer. Athlete. Author. Editor — and more. As a young boy he visited the American Museum of Natural History, where he was mesmerized by the giant totem poles. His imagination was sparked again when he saw Indians ride into Madison Square Garden with “Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show.” He had found his passion — his “bliss.” And over a lifelong pursuit, he read and traveled widely to examine the origins and meanings of mythology, folklore and religious teachings around the world, including American Indians and ancient Greek, Hindu, Buddhist, Mayan, Nordic and Biblical cultures, among others. Like the hero of his youth — Leonardo da Vinci — he was imbued with myriad talents and a keen mind, enabling him to create a stunning and inspirational body of work.

“If it hadn’t been for him,” George Lucas told a New York City crowd gathered to honor Campbell at the National Arts Club in 1986, on the eve of the first interviews with Moyers, “it’s possible I would still be trying to write Star Wars.”

The series with Moyers brought Campbell’s theories into popular culture and led to a bestselling companion book. The initial broadcasts not only exposed his work to millions of viewers, it broke new records for attracting new members in PBS’s pledge drives.
Joseph Campbell and the Power of Myth with Bill Moyers is more than a tribute to the ideas of a remarkable author (Campbell taught for almost 40 years at Sarah Lawrence College). It is also a vibrant collection of extraordinary stories spun by a great storyteller, teacher, and lecturer. In lively, expansive dialogues, the two men discuss how myths are clues to the spiritual core of human nature and open vistas into the human experience across the ages. They may vary from culture to culture, but at their deepest level they reveal the innermost dreams and aspirations of men and women for self-fulfillment, social collaboration, and the possibility of  transcendence. 

“Joseph Campbell agreed that the guiding idea of his work was to find the common themes that run through the world’s myths,” says Moyers. “His most profound teaching was that each of us can slay the inner dragons that imprison us — especially the savage dragon of the narcissistic ego — so that we might experience fully the rapture of being alive.”