One Last Time: Joseph Campbell wasn’t my father

When the first edition of my novel The Sun Singer was released, I began blogging from time to time about the hero’s journey. After a while, people started asking if the originator of the hero’s journey approach to comparative mythology, Joseph Campbell, was my father. The short answer is “no.”


In his day (1903-1987), my father Laurence R. Campbell was a prominent college journalism educator, focusing on the needs of high school journalism. He taught at many universities including Florida State in Tallahassee. I was born in California because that’s where my father grew up and was teaching at the time (UC-Berkeley) I showed up.


Joseph Campbell (1904-1987), taught at Sarah Lawrence College and was widely known for writing The Hero With a Thousand Faces that introduced the general public to the hero’s journey monomyth. He later came to even wider renown when PBS aired a series of interviews between Campbell and Bill Moyers in 1988. 

Both men had a huge influence on me though–in spite of the fact they were here on the earth plane about the same time–their areas of expertise and the circles they worked within were so disparate that they never met or had any reason to know of each other.

Dad’s influence was greater because I saw him daily and knew him as a whole person rather than a faraway writer I saw on TV or found on the title pages of books. I became a writer because of my father and became interested in mythology because of Joseph Campbell.

My father was a Scout leader, an elder in the church, had liberal views, had a mischievous sense of humor, and was a strong defender of the need for a free and responsible press. He wrote hundreds of articles, journalism textbooks, and worked with high school students at scholastic press institutes. He also climbed the mountains in Colorado that I would climb later during a University of Colorado summer session in Boulder.

My father married a highschool newspaper advisor. I married a journalist and taught college-level journalism. 

By the time I learned that Joseph Campbell was influenced by Carl Jung, I had already discovered Jung and his writing. Likewise, by the time I learned that Campbell was a fan of James Joyce, I was already a fan of James Joyce and became an even more intelligent fan by reading Campbell’s analysis of such books as Finnegans Wake

When one looks back on his/her life, it becomes obvious that what seemed to be a puzzlement at various defining moments was, in fact, part of a synchronistic unfoldment into the journey one was already taking. Both Laurence and Joseph would have agreed with that. 

My dad frequently said (usually when I’d done something wrong), “What I am to be, I’m now becoming.” Joseph often said, “We must be willing to get rid of the life we’ve planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us.” 

To sum up: I’m a bit of a rebel: I don’t know which man to blame for that. However, Laurence was my father. 


Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of “Fate’s Arrows,” available in hardcover, paperback, and e-book editions.