THE JOSEPH CAMPBELL CONNECTION

 

Extraordinary Hero is described by composer/playwright Dr. John McDonnell Tierney, as...

 

“...inspired by Joseph Campbell’s work in the field of Mythology.” 

Joseph John Campbell (March 26, 1904 – October 30, 1987) was an American professor of literature at Sarah Lawrence College who worked in comparative mythology and comparative religion. His work covers many aspects of the human experience. Campbell's best-known work is his book The Hero with a Thousand Faces (1949), in which he discusses his theory of the journey of the archetypal hero shared by world mythologies, termed the monomyth.

Since the publication of The Hero with a Thousand Faces, Campbell's theories have been applied by a wide variety of modern writers and artists. His philosophy has been summarized by his own often repeated phrase: "Follow your bliss."[6] (source)

DEDICATION

Joseph Campbell was a teacher, a great teacher. And like all great teachers, he was able to organize a profoundly complex body of knowledge and “teach” from it eloquently and artistically. A body of knowledge influenced by some of our greatest thinkers, Adolf Bastian, Friedrich Nietzsche, Sigmund Freud, Carl Jung, James Joyce, Thomas Mann, and Arthur Schopenhauer,  to mention just a few.

 

His words have inspired literally generations of writers and artists. And now, with profound gratitude and appreciation for the gift of Joseph Campbell, this work is dedicated to his memory and continuance.

 

ME & JOE: My Story

by John McDonnell Tierney, PhD
 

ABOUT ME

My name is John McDonnell Tierney. My friends call me “Jack;” my students called me “Dr. T.” I am a 76 year old retired music and psychology professor with a life-long record of peace and social justice activism. As a composer and playwright, I have tried to embed these principles in my work.

 

Following retirement in 2012, I began composing musicals with peace and justice themes. The first, titled “Humanity’s Child: The Dream,” was premiered in Hartford, CT in 2016. The second, titled “Humanity’s Child: A Musical for Today,” made it all the way to New York City and Off-Broadway with a four week run in August of 2019. The third, titled “Humanity’s Child: More than a Musical,” was produced in 2020 as a “Radio Musical” (a fully audio version of the show) because live productions were not possible during the pandemic. This version was featured on the prestigious Atlanta Fringe Audio Festival thru May 2021. These previous musicals were very highly influenced by Joseph Campbell’s work but somewhat indirectly. That said, reading my old scripts would leave Campbell Scholars thinking about him.

 

MEETING "A MENTOR"


I am 76 years old. Some forty years ago I found myself in a life crisis. My wife, Patricia, suggested that it might be a good idea to “get away for a while;” and I did. I went where I’ve always gone to “get away,” the woods. I rented a cabin in the North Woods of Heath, Massachusetts for a week. When I arrived and unpacked my bags, I found a little book Patricia had apparently slipped in without my knowledge. That book was “A Joseph Campbell Companion.”  She had inscribed it thusly, “Participate Joyfully!”  It seemed an odd wish for someone knowing I was so deep troubled, but I soon learned why she wrote those words of infinite wisdom for me, words that literally changed my life.
 

This is what I read; these are Joseph’s words,

 

“Participate joyfully in the sorrows of the world.
We cannot cure the world of sorrows, but we can choose to live in joy...
find a place inside where there’s joy, and the joy will burn out the pain.”

 

I have never met Joseph Campbell in person. Nevertheless, I consider him to be a mentor.

My first interaction with Joseph’s philosophies opened many doors for me, “...doors where there were no doors before.”
I was in need and a mentor showed up. Venturing through those metaphorical doors, I found the literature: the books, the videos, the tapes, the interviews...I read them and watched them all. As a result, many of Campbell’s insights found their way into my subsequent scripts and lyrics.

  

All that brings us to today as I commence production of Extraordinary Hero, the fourth show in the Humanity’s Child series. While all of the previous scripts focused on “The Hero” encountering external demons and threats, my latest “hero” encounters internal demons. My foundational idea is that before we can deal with external demons, we must first deal with our internal demons and, by doing so, establish a solid foundation on which to stand as we deal with the outside world. We can all become our personal heroes! I’ve named my hero, “Sara” (after my mother, Sara McDonnell).  Sara is a young woman deeply distressed by the external world while simultaneously enduring the fires of self-discovery as she experiences the process of transformation from an innocent “child” into a mature adult. I set my play in what Campbell described as a “profound dream state...a place of strangely fluid and polymorphous beings, unimaginable torments, superhuman deeds, and impossible delight."

  

 

THE BACK STORY

Dr. Tierney proposed the idea for this “play with songs” aka, “musical,” to The Joseph Campbell Foundation, Michael Lambert, Rights and Permissions Office in April of 2021 to which Mr. Lambert kindly responded, “I congratulate you on your past success as a playwright and, yes, encourage you to proceed with this project.” (Email: 4.15.21)
 

Dr. Tierney’s intention, at the start, was to try to bring Joseph Campbell’s words to life by incorporating direct quotes from his body of work into the script. Unfortunately, due to copyright restrictions, that turned out to be problematic. Mr. Lambert wrote, Paraphrases aren't a concern, but direct quotes will need approval...” (Email: 4.11.21). Achieving that “approval,” if achievable at all, would, at best, take months. And so, John, with some regret, opted to paraphrase “Campbell’s ‘ideas.”

 

 

JOSEPH CAMPBELL’S IDEAS

 

There are a few phrases, so universally associated with Joseph Campbell,
that they are thought of as his original “ideas.”

 

Things like “follow your bliss,” and, “participate joyfully,” and,
“The Hero’s Journey” are well-known, especially among Campbell fans. 

 

 

 

 

In fact, these ideas are so ubiquitous that they appear on tee-shirts, coffee mugs,
and literally hundreds of “inspirational” posters and bumper stickers.

 

 

 

It should be understood that these and many of the “ideas” articulated and taught by Professor Campbell have deep roots.


“Follow your bliss,” is an idea baked into American culture and history.
"Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness" (Declaration of Independence). 

 

 

Established research in the social sciences long ago recognized that optimists
live longer, heathier, and generally happier live than do pessimists. (source)

In other words, optimists “participate joyfully in the sorrows of the world.”

 

 

And, with regard to “The Hero’s Journey”
story structure, it is everywhere...in myth and movies.

 


 

Consider, if you will, what one Joseph Campbell
blogger has to say about that...

 

 

“Ever notice that many stories seem to have a similar pattern? There’s always a protagonist who goes on an adventure, makes new friends, encounters road-blocks, fights a bad guy, and returns home a changed person. In fact, we can sum it up for you in two words: Hero’s Journey. This story structure is as old as time. From Theseus and the Minotaur to The Lion King, so many narratives follow this pattern that it’s ingrained in our cultural DNA today.” Source

 

 

And so, with all the above in mind,
audiences will find in the play fundamental ideas
that resonate deeply in our cultural paradigm
while remaining familiar to Campbell fans
and accessible to new ones.

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