The Flight of the Wild Gander

Explorations in the Mythological Dimension
By Joseph Campbell 
New World Library, Novato, CA
Reprinted February, 2018.  Paper.256 pp. $21.25 CAD $18.95 US.
Kindle $9.99 CAD.
iSBN #978-1-60868–531-8


Publisher’s Promo:

In The Flight of the Wild Gander, renowned mythologist Joseph Campbell explores the individual and geographical origins of myth, outlining the full range of mythology from Grimm’s fairy tales to Native American legends. Originally published in 1969, this first collection of Campbell’s essays describes the symbolic content of stories: how they are linked to human experience and how they—along with our experiences—have changed over time.
Throughout, Campbell explores the function of mythology in everyday life and the forms it may take in the future. Included are two of Campbell’s first groundbreaking essays: “Bios and Mythos” and “Primitive Man As Metaphysician,” both of which examine the biological basis and necessity for story and mythology, and establish mythology as a basic function or fact of human nature. Campbell explores how the myth was born, as well as the personal experiences of the visionary medicine man through whose memory the myth was preserved. 

Author’s Bio:
Joseph Campbell (1904–1987) was an American author and teacher best known for his work in the field of comparative mythology. He was born in New York City in 1904, and from early childhood he became interested in mythology. He loved to read books about American Indian cultures, and frequently visited the American Museum of Natural History in New York, where he was fascinated by the museum’s collection of totem poles. Campbell was educated at Columbia University, where he specialized in medieval literature, and continued his studies at universities in Paris and Munich. While abroad he was influenced by the art of Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse, the novels of James Joyce and Thomas Mann, and the psychological studies of Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung. These encounters led to Campbell’s theory that all myths and epics are linked in the human psyche, and that they are cultural manifestations of the universal need to explain social, cosmological, and spiritual realities. 

He is widely credited with bringing mythology to a mass audience. His works, including the four-volume The Masks of God and The Power of Myth (with Bill Moyers)  rank among the
classics in mythology and literature.

Author’s Words:
(written for the first edition of this collection in 1969)The writing of these essays occupied, or rather punctuated, a period of 24 years, during the whole course of which I was circling, and from many quarters, striving, to interpret, the mystery of mythology…

(In earlier books) I have set forth my basic thesis – that myths are a function of nature as well as culture and as necessary to the balanced maturation of the human psyche as is nourishment to the body…

The common tendency today to read the word “myth” as meaning “untruth” is almost certainly a symptom of the incredibility and consequent inefficiency of our own outdated mythic teachings, of both the Old Testament (Hebrew Bible) and the New (Christian Bible); the Fall of Adam and Eve, Tablets of the Law; Fires of Hell; Second Coming of the Saviour, etc. and not only of those archaic Testaments, but also of the various, more modern secular (myths) that are being offered  today in their place… (but) neither a stale and overdue, nor a contrived, plastic mythology will serve (us).

(Here Campbell outlines how the various essays contained in this book help to recover what his understanding of true mythology is about.).

– from the Introduction


Review by Dr. Wayne Holst

My Thoughts:

Over the years I have appreciated receiving first or new editions of Joseph Campbell’s collected works  from The New World Library and the Joseph Campbell Foundation – which now number 17 volumes, plus e-books, lecture collections and other presentations  by a most prolific author and speaker. He has been dead for more than thirty years but many of his writings continue to be best-sellers.

It would now appear that most if not all of Campbell’s writings have been edited into the Collected Works and it is now possible to begin to think of his work as a complete oeuvre and not merely a disparate   “collection” of amazing erudition.

I have been a student of Campbell for almost thirty years and was drawn to him to help me understand the meaning of Canadian Indigenous People’s myths. I continue to learn from members of First Nations members in various parts of the country (e.g. Northern Canada, Northern Ontario, Coastal, and the Stoney, Blackfoot and Cree nations closer to my home on Alberta.)

Discoveries about myth from Canada’s Indigenous Peoples have helped me to better understand the mythologies of global cultures, so that when we travel to other continents today, I form a more complete sense of what Campbell was talking about more than fifty years ago. His whole life was spent expanding his mythological horizons and then discovering more about how the earth’s peoples are linked through shared stories.

I have used the book The Power of Myth (written and video-extended interview with Bill Moyers) with many of my university classes over the years, and still believe it is one of the best “introductions” to Campbell.

When I read the Bible with classes in church today, Campbell helps me to gain a better understanding of what my own Judeo-Christian myths might mean. Using models from Campbell gives me a clearer, more helpful sense of what my own tradition is telling me. Inter-faith dialogue can be enhanced by having a firm grasp of one’s own tradition as well as a mythological apparatus to listen to the stories from other religions and what they might mean.

Campbell’s The Flight of the Wild Gander is an example of one of his earlier works that focused on mythology inherent in nature and culture.

If I were to advise you on how to approach Campbell today, I would suggest you start with The Power of Myth, and then move next to The Flight of the Wild Gander.

Review Shorts:
“In this book, as in his other work, Campbell displays his immense learning, drawing evidence to support his case from virtually every branch of human knowledge.”
The New York Times Book Review


“No one in our century — not Freud, not Thomas Mann, not Lévi-Strauss — has so brought the mythical sense of the world and its eternal figures back into our everyday consciousness.”
— James Hillman

“Campbell has become one of the rarest of intellectuals in American life: a serious thinker who has been embraced by the popular culture.”

“In our generation the mythographer who has had the fullest command of the huge scholarly literature, the analytic ability, the lucid prose, and the needed staying power has been Joseph Campbell.”


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Dr. Wayne Holst teaches religion and culture at the University of Calgary and  helps  to co-ordinate Adult Spiritual Development  at St. David’s United Church in that city.

Colleagues List, Vol XIII. No.45. May 13, 2018

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