Joseph Cambell has long been regarded as one of *the* people who transform so-called dead myths into vital commentary and discussions relevant to psychology and spirituality. Although he died in the mid '80s, the foundation he created has done an excellent job of curating his many works (writing, lectures, etc.) and occasionally collaborates with an editor to delve into a specific topic. Romance of the Grail: The Magic and Mystery of Arthurian Myth, edited by Evans Lansing Smith, is one such work.

Divided into three sections, we are first shown the historical climate in which the Arthurian myths were developed. Although Campbell later traced the roots of the Arthurian mythos to the Middle East and to the Orient, he establishes that the height of the Arthurian Romances was between 1150 and 1259AD - a period that coincided with the building of Europe’s great cathedrals. Part two of the 'Romance of the Grail' book opens with Campbell's personal synopsis of the Parzival story, along with an explanation of the story’s historical settings and consideration of that aspect of the tale that is focused upon Gawain. Part three opens with a commentary on ‘The Waste Land’ - a mythic world in which its inhabitants are living under the tutelage of a Wounded King with no ability to live lives that are reflective of their own unique natures. Here, Campbell observes that "Each hero must disenchant himself before he is able to disenchant the Waste Land." This is a lovely book, capturing much of Campbell's ability to be a great lecturer (which he was) and his excellent prose. Of special interest was (of all things) the Editor's Forward wherein Smith recounts  encountering Campbell and sharing the day with him.

I'm not sure that anyone who is a devotee of the Grail legend will find new treasures here. All of the pieces have been published previously after all. And I really wouldn't start with this if you haven't read anything else by Campbell (start with The Hero with a Thousand Faces or The Masks of God instead).

But I enjoyed reading Campbell's perspective of the Arthurian legend, knowing the scholarship and research were impeccable. Recommended.

~review by Lisa Mc Sherry

Author: Joseph Campbell
New World Library, 2015
pp. 304, $24.95 (hb)