A Kinrowan Estate story: Mythologist John Campbell

2C543E11-A245-4D39-B1E1-8507614B4A2AI was watching a New Years Eve gig and it was clear to me how tribal it felt. Good communities are tribes. They have rituals and myths and those kinds of deeper realities that light up everyday reality and give it some substance. I felt like I was looking at a tribal ceremony, and I liked that. — attributed to Joseph Campbell

It’s no wonder that it’s so hard to tell fiction from fact these days.  Astrid, who’s one of my Several Annies, the Library Apprentices (well sort of though they’re really a whole lot more than that but tradition gives them that appellation but I digress as I oft times do) was deep in the net researching her presentation on contemporary traditions regarding New Year’s Eve when she stumbled upon the quote above.

It certainly sounded like something that Campbell would have said but she quickly discovered that though it was widely attributed to him, no one actually said where it was from! So she asked me if I knew where it came from. I thought it sounded familiar so I first checked several online resources that I trust and no, Wikipedia was not one of them, as anything full of self appointed wankers with shite for brains who edit at will with no regard for the truth is not to be trusted ‘tall.

So I decided to assign all of the Several Annies the task of combing through the published works of Campbell to see if they could spot that quote. I know that it’s a large corpus of work but they were all concentrating on him and his works for the Winter when this question raised its head, so I figured that they’d find it if actually existed.

(Digression for a minute: it’d be really, really useful if the Joseph Campbell Foundation, who’ve been doing superlative new editions of his works, provided an online searchable database of his works. Alas they don’t.)

Months passed and not one of them found anything close to it. Indeed they didn’t find anything on him that might have formed the basis of that quote, however much it got bastardized, in much the same manner that a tune can get changed as it passes from one musician to another. And it’s entirely possible that some other writer said something akin to that and it got attributed to him in the same manner that the reverse happens with composers who, by the time that a tune passed from session to session, gets his tune considered to be trad arranged. Just ask Irish fiddler and composer Phillip Varlet, who composed ‘The Philadelphia Reel’, which was the name that the House Band recorded it under as they were told it was a trad arranged composition! Not his name but he gets royalties for it now.

I’m imagining that someday we’ll have folks on sites like Wikipedia listing lines of dialog created for Peter Jackson’s films which are based rather loosely on Tolkien’s works as being actual text by him. Don’t laugh — I’m serious as similar things, as I’ve noted here, do happen. In an odd sense, the Internet harkens back to the era before printed works somewhat supplanted the oral tradition, in that texts are now as fluid as they were then as they passed from storyteller to storyteller.

So can I interest you in afternoon tea? Mrs. Ware and her Kitchen staff promised that they’d make tarts with those Border strawberries that turn white as they ripen after starting out red if I’d read The Hobbit a chapter at a time in the mornings to them, a trade I willingly agreed to.

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About Iain Nicholas Mackenzie

I'm the Librarian for the Kinrowan Estate. I do love fresh brewed teas, curling, English mysteries and will often be playing Scandinavian or Celtic  music here in the Library here in Kinrowan Hall if the Neverending Session is elsewhere. I'm a violinist too, so you'll me playing in various contradance band such as Chasing Fireflies and Mouse in the Cupboard as well as backing my wife Catherine up on yearly Christmas season tours in the Nordic countries.
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