The Flight of the Wild Gander by Joseph Campbell

The Flight of the Wild Gander by Joseph Campbell

In his essay titled ‘Primitive Man as Metaphysician’ the universally-acclaimed mythologist James Campbell makes the following statement.

Under the subheading ‘Theology as a Misreading of Mythology’ he observes that, “Unless the myths can be understood–or felt–to be true in some such way as this, they lose their force, their magic, their charm for the tender-minded and become mere archeological curiosities, fit only for some sort of reductive classification. And this, indeed, would appear to be the death that the heroes of the myths themselves most fear.”

In making this observation Campbell so succinctly encapsulates the primary challenge of this age. Do we keep our primary archetypes alive, vibrant, and fertile within our collective consciousness or do we watch them, like outcasts in a desert of blandness, shrivel and die: taking our essential psychic energy with them?

A Campbell Collection

‘Primitive Man as Metaphysician’ is just one of the essays that have been included in a new collection from the Joseph Campbell Archives titled Flight of the Wild Gander. Each one was written by Campbell between 1944 and 1968.

The book opens with with ‘The Fairy Tale’ – an examination of the mythical folk stories of Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm (1785 – 1863 and 1786 – 1859) – two of the most significant and influential adapters and archivists of German folk tales. Very few of us will have been unaffected by their stories as children with their inclusion of archetypal characters of both light and dark: usually read by engaged parents who were, in the main, quite unwittingly, seeding the young subconscious with an appreciation of the mythic.

Later on in Flight of the Wild Gander Campbell further qualifies his unwavering belief in the power of mythology to strengthen, test, grow, and develop the human psyche at any age.

He states that, in his opinion, “Mythological cosmologies, it now must be recognized, do not correspond to the world of gross facts but are a function of dream and vision; and therefore, the meanings (if any) inherent in or implied by the propositions of of theology and metaphysics are not to be sought at the other end of either the microscope or the telescope.”

Throughout this collection Campbell demonstrates his abiding belief in the power of the myth to enrich and enhance our life experience as well as a way of following the signposts that lead to a deeper understanding of the Divine.


Other essays in this collection includes,

  • The Fairy Tale
  • Bios and Mythos
  • Primitive Man as Metaphysician
  • Mythogenesis
  • The Symbol Without Meaning
  • The Secularization of the Sacred

Flight of the Wild Gander closes with appendix, acknowledgements, notes, index and author bio.


Lovers of any published works by Joseph Campbell will always attest to the sheer depth of attention that the writer applies to his topic of choice. This proves to be the case in this publication.

Flight of the Wild Gander is, much like its title suggests a flighty affair and as a reader you need to hang on and thoroughly immerse yourself in his close attention to details to get the best out of it. Following Campbells’ flight path is not always easy as he shifts from one train of thought to another and back again in quick succession but, once again, students of Campbell already understand and make allowances for this!

Whilst I feel that Flight of the Wild Gander is not really a comfortable starting point for those who are to new to Campbell’s work; or style of commentary, those who are long term students of his will pick up on the fact that these essays are from Campbells later period – a time in which his conclusions and observations are more matured and refined than his earlier work.

As with other titles in the Collected Works Series, Flight of the Wild Gander is a well though-out selection of essays forming a cohesive trail of analysis rather than just being a collection of disparate thoughts. As always, the result speaks for itself and Flight of the Wild Gander is, for me anyway, a powerful reminder of the sheer intellectual powerhouse that was Joseph Campbell. Like the Gods of the old mythos we need need to keep his message alive in this dark age of growing banality and superficiality. Flight of the Wild Gander is a powerful indicator of why this is the case. Highly recommended!