ed. Robert A. Segal, Routledge, ISBN 0 415 19944 1 (pbk)
This volume appears in a series of selections from Jung under various titles, such as Jung on Active Imagination and Jung on Synchronicity and the Paranormal, which seems to be designed to help students through the Collected Works thematically. This volume on Mythology has a solid introductory essay by the editor explaining the fundamental importance of mythology in Jung’s work and offering some helpful comparisons with Freud. It also includes some selections from followers of Jung in the final chapter of the book which are particularly useful and interesting as developments of his work. The inclusion of extracts from James Hillman’s writing in this section brings the volume very much up to date.
The editor has chosen a series of topics under which to marshall passages from the Collected Works, such as ‘Myth as a Way of Thinking’, The Origin of Myth’, ‘Myths and Primitives’, ‘Myths and Moderns’. The most substantial chapters are on ’The Origin of Myth’, ‘The Function of Myth’ and ‘Kinds of Myths’, so that although a good deal of Jungian theory is covered, there are important areas which are not specifically related to myth which are only mentioned in passing or incompletely. For example there seems to be no mention of the ‘animus’ and only three passing references to the ‘anima’ although the anima is also included under the heading of ’archetypes’. In fact the archetypes which are covered in this volume are purely mythological and in some ways they miss the real psychological importance that they have in the context of the original writings. Inevitably, the gain in clarity and concision by focusing so strictly on one aspect of Jung’s work is offset by losses in terms of context and organization.
However, the gain in clarity is very striking at times; the editor has picked passages which stand out with exceptional power, sometimes perhaps exceeding the effect they really should have. I am thinking particularly of a passage he selected where Jung is talking about Wotan, the Teutonic god, whom he sees as coming vividly to life in the Hitler Youth Movement.
“The coincidence of anti-semitism with the reawakening of Wotan is a psychological subtlety that may perhaps be worth mentioning.”
But it is inevitable that some distortions should appear when the huge volume of Jung’s work is divided up in this way. Other passages appear to very great advantage by being so specifically focused upon, especially I felt some passages from Jung’s late autobiography, Memories, Dreams, Reflections: “I cannot experience myself as a scientific problem.” Having passages which one is used to viewing more as reminiscences presented in the context of theory is very helpful and interesting.
There are excellent accounts of the mythical archetypes, carried in the passages and assisted by helpful introductions and notes. Though not over-academic, this volume would certainly be a very useful introduction for a student needing to overview the subject. Of course, the extracts tend to be rather short, though there is very good coverage particularly of the importance of the Child archetype, and (in contrast with most accounts of Jung’s mythological thinking) as much or more space is devoted to the Dual Mother as to the Hero – a welcome adjustment.
In spite of the necessary shortcomings of presenting Jung in this rather fragmented form, there are huge gains in making his work accessible outside the daunting format of the Collected Works. I feel this is a far more useful contribution to the study of Jung than any number of explanatory texts for there is nothing so challenging and exciting as to read him in his own words.