"Men of few words are the best men." - William Shakespeare, King Henry V, Act III, Scene II

Sunday, August 29, 2010

QMBC VI: The Hero With A Thousand Faces


The purpose of these minutes is to serve as a permanent record of the proceedings of the sixth meeting of the Quincey Morris Book Club on the evening of the 29th August 2010 in Lott’s Bar, Off Liffey street, Dublin.

The list of attendees at this meeting (in alphabetical order by surname) were:

William Clay (WC)
Carl Jameson (CJ)
Atticus McCarthy (AM)
Tiger McGavin (TM)
Xavier Paddington (XP)
Whitby Syme (WS)
Mycroft Webb (MW)

Although this constituted another full house attendance for the QMBC, it was overshadowed by the club’s recent good run of punctuality coming to an ugly and abrupt end as the dynamic-duo of WS and WC were spectacularly late for the appointed 6 O’clock start.

During the unwelcome interlude caused by their tardiness, the other members had ample time to conclude that the collective horse powers of Clay’s newly-acquired, precision-engineered, German automobile cliché must have been inadequate to ensure a timely arrival at Lott’s bar that evening.

Upon their eventual arrival, WC attempted to take sole responsibility for their tardiness as apparently it was his fault for driving like a Chinese nonagenarian through north-inner city Dublin and WS was merely an innocent passenger. The purpose of this plea was to spare WS another poor show rating and although this was certainly an honourable suggestion, every member knew it was bound to be a pointless one.

QMBC justice is a harsh mistress but she can also be a fair one ….. Just not in this case. Accordingly, poor show demerits for tardiness are minuted here for both Clay and Syme.

The evening proper began when all members were in situ in the comfortable alcove on the mezzanine level and the customary platter of sweet meats and deep-fried whatnots was dispatched with the usual gentlemanly gusto.

At this juncture, Mycroft mourned the absence of the pretty Uruguayan waitress present at QMBC IV but immigration rules are there for a reason and he had felt honour bound to report her to the authorities for being in breach of her visa. However, in her absence, the group was comforted to see that she was replaced by an Irish waitress who was highly efficient albeit built like a Suffolk Punch.

The Call to Adventure

The flabbergab regarding “The Hero with a Thousand Faces” that had preceded this meeting (http://www.qmbc-online.com/2010_07_01_archive.html) was unprecedented and the many informal occasions in the preceding weeks where the strict rules on discussion outside of QMBC meetings were, if not violated completely, definitely fingered a bit.

Because of this MW invited members to bring out their dead and admit whether they had all actually managed to finish reading the entire book. In summary, all stated that they had managed to finish reading the book with various degrees of attention to the footnotes with the exception of QMBC bad-boy William Clay who stopped 38 pages short of completion.

He ensured his fellow members that he was going to finish the remaining pages in the coming days but this did little to stop him being diminished as a man in the eyes of his QMBC brethren who had made significant efforts on their own heroic journeys of self-knowledge through THWATF and it saddens your minute taker to have to bestow upon him a second poor show rating from one meeting – a new low for the QMBC.

The Refusal of the Call

It would have taken a fairly dim-witted man not to have picked up on the groundswell of negativity towards THWATF among most of the QMBC in the run up to this meeting.

Whether this had affected the independence of the individual viewpoints at this meeting is hard to say but WC, TM and AM all started the ball rolling with the frank statement that they did not enjoy reading the book and that they did not “get the book” at all.

XP was particularly cutting in his criticism of THWATF as he felt that the book was for people who want to think that they are clever. Take that Whitby!

MW owned up to having been crestfallen, when, upon the reaching the section of illustrations and pictures of mythical characters in the middle of the book and finding out that these pages were not numbered. WC felt his pain in this regard. This meant that the easy pages that he had counted on during his journey to the end of the book were actually a mirage, and probably the work of some tricksy Jinni.

The introduction to the book includes a section on interpreting dreams and Jungian psycho-analysis with its Oedipal complexes and phallic symbols. This was found to be too flaky for most QMBC appetites and the suggestion that Jung (and hence Campbell) could interpret such examples to show anything he wanted and not be disproved was undeniably true.

There was a general disappointment about the lack of importance assigned to the universality of myth and that there was too much waffling about Freud/Jung instead. Perhaps, the world navel was not as ubiquitous as Campbell thought after all.

WC claimed that he did not subscribe to psycho-analysis anyway because most of his dreams were similar to Inception or SWAT 2. This was deemed by the QMBC to be sufficient evidence to dispatch with the section on psychoanalysis of dreams and the links to myths completely.

Crossing The Threshold

The QMBC preferred to spend its valuable time discussing the presence or otherwise of interesting or sexy myths in THWATF. They were not to be disappointed.

TM was to the fore here, immediately recalling the creation by the crafty Daedulus of a machine to allow the Queen of Minos to be mounted by a bull and eventually conceive the Minotaur. In response to this, CJ passed some salacious comment about Catherine the Great being very fond of horses too, like in the sexy way. TM also mentioned the story of the remarkably chaste, St Bernard, who was constantly at risk from beautiful female thieves trying to steal his little treasure.

Your minute taker wonders whether the group was too quick to dismiss psychoanalysis as Mr Jung might have had a few things to say about why these passages were of such interest to the gentlemen.

MW noted that he could not think of a single instance where Norse mythology was mentioned in THWATF, this he found quite unusual, given the vast number of obscure tribal mythical anecdotes which were belched forth with such apparent ease by Campbell.

CJ believed that the Irish mythology was fairly well represented in THWATF, this point was agreed to by all in attendance. Indeed, the QMBC approved of how Campbell appeared to be particularly interested in the “vivid Irish Warrior Cuchulainn – Chief Hero of the Medieval Ulster Cycle” and the description of Cuchulainn’s paroxysm or distortion during his battle rages was for many in attendance the high point of the book and a small excerpt of this sequence is included here for reference:

"he became a fearsome and multiform and wondrous and hitherto unknown being. Over him, from his crown to the ground, his flesh and every limb and joint and point and articulation of him quivered. His feet, shins, and knees shifted themselves and were behind him. The frontal sinews of his head were dragged to the back of his neck, where they showed in lumps bigger than the head of a man-child aged one month. "One eye became engulfed in his head so far that' 'tis a question whether a wild heron could have got at it where it lay against his occiput, to drag it out upon the surface of his cheek; the other eye on the contrary protruded suddenly, and of itself so rested upon the cheek. His mouth was twisted awry till it met his ears . . . flakes of fire streamed from it. The sounding blows of the heart that pounded within him were as the how! of a ban-dog doing his office, or of a lion in the act of charging bears.

The randiness of Cuchulainn was also a considerable surprise to the group as it turns out he was a bit of an auld swordsman. He would be the first man up on an evil witch or a rival queen as he was touring-and-hooring around Ireland. An excerpt from a section on how to end one of Cuchulainn rampages is included below:

Very quickly, a method had to be contrived to abate his heat; and one was found. One hundred and fifty women of the castle, and Scandlach their leader at the head of them, "reduced themselves critically to nature's garb, and without subterfuge of any kind trooped out to meet him." The little warrior, embarrassed or perhaps overwhelmed by such a display of womanhood, averted his eyes, at which moment he was seized by the men and soused into a vat of cold water. The staves and hoops of the vessel flew asunder. A second vat boiled. The third became only very hot. Thus Cuchulainn was subdued, and the city saved."'

Related to this, WC thought that the vast majority of the myths in THWATF were very well-researched academically, however, he had garnered the impression that maybe Campbell had just heard some of the Irish ones from some lad in a pub based on their style of telling. It should be noted that, if true, this would have raised Joseph Campbell in the estimation of practically everyone in attendance.

Perhaps, the most gruesome section from THWATF which staggered all the members that evening was the section on the Australian aboriginal ritual of subincision (pg 154). The idea of a penis-womb was so noteworthy that it has been given its own illustrated section in QMBC history. (http://www.qmbc-online.com/2010/09/subincision.html).  QMBC members were right to be irritated that this important piece of aboriginal culture was omitted from both Crocodile Dundee I and II, which forms the cornerstone of an average Irish male's view of Australian culture.

The Road of Trials

AM then brought the story of the Water Jar-boy the attention of the group, as it made little or no sense on any level. A poor pueblo village girl immaculately conceives and gives birth to a thing that looks like a jar after getting some mud splashes on her leg after wading in a spring. Many years later, the Jar-boy with no legs or arms, hops off in search of his unknown father and an excerpt of his adventure is shown here:

“He was coming close to that spring, he saw somebody walking a little way from the spring. He went up to him. It was a man. He asked the boy, 'Where are you going?' —'I am going to see my father,' he said. 'Who is your father?' said the man. 'Well, my father is living in this spring.1— 'You will never find your father.'—'Well, I want to go into the spring, he is living inside it.' —'Who is your father?' said the man again. 'Well, I think you are my father,' said the boy. 'How do you know I am your father?' said the man. 'Well, I know you are my father.' Then the man just looked at him, to scare him. The boy kept saying, 'You are my father.' Pretty soon the man said, 'Yes, I am your father. I came out of that spring to meet you,' and he put his arm around the boy's neck. His father was very glad his boy had come, and he took him down inside the spring.”

Clearly, this conversation must have been the inspiration for the “Who’s on first?” sketch as seen in Rain Man but it goes to show the quality of the nonsense that Campbell uses to draw some conclusions from later. Apparently, the Water Jar-boy story teaches us a lot about atonement with the father, an important part of the monomyth.

Both XP and TM found that there was far too much focus given to Oriental mythology as the Krishna, Buddha and Bodhisattva were covered in nauseating detail at times.

MW and AM felt that the book was poorly structured and that it seemed at times to be a “cut and paste” job of dozens of myths from across the globe one after another and that it was difficult to read as a result.

CJ poured scorn on some of the verbose language by citing the “contraries of phenominality” mentioned by Campbell and AM thought that he felt like Campbell’s writing style was to wank out a thesaurus.

MW felt like some of the excellent and pervasive ideas were let down by the way they were put forward in this book and at times it was a chore to read.

WC felt that THWATF was an “ambitious book to read” for the club, and behind this seemingly throw away remark, your minute-taker could see from this man’s tired eyes that he hoped that this book would forever be the high-water mark of the QMBC’s literary and intellectual vanity. It did not take any medical training to realise that Clay had been physically weakened by reading THWATF and he looked like he needed a 200-page injection of Jack Reacher. Stat.

XP then appeared to weaken on his earlier stance somewhat by accepting that the book was not boring –he just found it to be impenetrable. TM admitted that he had also had little desire to finish reading the book and he had derived the same satisfaction in it, as he imagined MW would, in reading one of his malformed electronic mails. Mycroft nodded ruefully in ascension at this remark

At this point, a shell-shocked WS launched a timid but earnest defence of his nomination by declaring that he had really enjoyed the book and its ideas were important and that he did not feel the book was overly academic in nature. He stopped short of further plaintiffs here though as he could feel that the day was already lost and that an ignoble QMBC majority would have its way with THWATF when it came time to rate his nomination.

The Return of the Heroes

At this point in the proceedings, MW then produced a copy of the entertainment section The Irish Times from two weeks previous which referenced THWATF in an unusual article with Sylvester Stallone about his new film “The Expendables”:


Interviewer: Do stars matter as much as they used to?
Sly: “No. Stars really don’t matter that much,” he says. “Concept matters. The overall originality or reinterpretation of a classic situation is what matters. We go back to that famous philosopher, erm . . . The Hero With a Thousand Faces? What’s his name?”
Dolph Lundgen: Joseph Campbell?
Sly: “Yeah, yeah, him. It’s all variations on that. When Dolph and I started – back when Jason was just a concept – they would just surround you with guys and the guys would develop a character. You can’t do that now. There is a lot at stake today. You’ve gone from 400 films a year down to 250. The stakes are very high. It’s a science now. It’s no longer about having a gut feeling or taking a chance. Every actor is weighed against what he is going to attract in each territory. It’s like a math project.”


MW was impressed that such 1980s action movie luminaries as Stallone and Lundgren were so up on THWATF but found it unusual that the book had such a reputation in Hollywood screenwriting circles, particularly so after having read it.

During his pitch at the last QMBC, Whitby had cleverly made reference to some of the films that were believed to be based on the monomyth structure put forward in THWATF including: Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, The Matrix and of course Beverly Hills Ninja but a book recommendation from the stars of Rocky 4 trumps all that.

After a long and winding discourse on the book, of which, only a fraction of the insights uncovered are actually contained in these minutes, the QMBC decided to move on to the one-sentence summaries and the formal rating of THWATF.

For most, this was ground they had covered before but the agenda also contained a section of the evening set aside for TM to chair a sub-committee on ratifying a new set of QMBC rules.

Your minute taker has tried his best to repress the memories of this chaotic section of the evening with the aid of cheap Gin and the huffing of cans of Deep Heat with dozens of Silkwood showers but the memories will likely haunt him forever. Therefore, the details of this section will have to be provided at a later date.

THWATF in a Nutshell: One Sentence Summaries

Whitby Syme:

“I will be unravelling this book for some time.”

Xavier Paddington:

Ironic; a badly written book about writing books and something that teaches us about another thing, a market failure or rather those markets can fail … i.e. that we can buy this book.

Tiger McGavin:

“Campbell should have stuck to making soup.

Carl Jameson:

“Tedious, intellectual, finger-banging.”

Mycroft Webb:

“A great big pile of …... myth. I am glad that I did not buy the hardback.

William Clay:

“Unpleasant. I think it might have actually ruined reading for me forever.”

Atticus McCarthy:

“A cornucopia of concepts.”

The Scores on the Doors

After a heated discussion, the stage was nicely set for a bloodbath when it came to the rating of “The Hero with a Thousand Faces”. The scores from each member are outlined below:

Whitby Syme: 63 / 83
Characters: 15 / 20
Plot: 18 / 20
Execution: 14 / 20
Food for Thought: 10 /10
Extra Points: 6 /13

William Clay: 11 / 83
Grapes of Wrath was 3 Times as Good as THWATF.
⇛ THWATF = 33 ÷ 3 = 11

Carl Jameson: 33 / 83
Interestingness: 17 / 20
Quincey Morrisness: 8 / 15
Well Written: 0 / 20
Unputdownableness: 0 /20
Food for Thought 8 / 8

Atticus McCarthy: 50 / 83
(No breakdown provided)

Xavier Paddington: 16 / 83
Interestingness: 8 / 20
Quincey Morrisness: 2 / 15
Action: 0 / 10
Execution 0 /20
Unputdownableness: 1 /10
Discussableness: 5 / 13

Mycroft Webb: 32 / 83
Quincey Morrisness: 6 / 16
Action: 3 /15
Well Written: 4 /15
Interestingness: 12 /15
Unputdownableness: 7 / 22

Tiger McGavin: 25 / 83
Quincey Morrisness: 2 / 15
Well Written: 0 /20
Interestingness: 18 /20
Unputdownableness: 0 / 20
Discussableness: 5 / 8

The Hero with a Thousand Faces earned a QMBC rating of: 32.86/83

The Nominations for QMBC VII

Carl Jameson:
Titus Groan by Mervyn Peake
Murder at the Vicarage by Agatha Christie

Xavier Paddington:
The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Frederick Forsyth
The Cobra by Frederick Forsyth

Tiger McGavin *:
Waiting for the Barbarian by JM Coetzee
Shantaram by George Roberts

Whitby Syme:
No recommendation – although the QMBC’s most succinct rule “He who wins wins not next time” was dropped at this meeting .Whitby was so bruised by the battering of THWATF that he was reluctant to nominate.

Atticus McCarthy:
Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
God is not Great by Christopher Hitchens

Mycroft Webb:
Alone in Berlin by Hans Fallada

William Clay:
Matterhorn by Karl Marlantes

* It should be noted that that TM’s voting slip actually contained votes for Manhore, Fredick Foset, Agatha Criste – use of a decryption algorithm has allowed your minute taker to convert this to English.

Next: The Cobra by Frederick Forsyth

Nearly: Matterhorn by Karl Marlantes

Appendix - Click to enlarge pictures

Figure 1 - Statistical Analysis of Historic QMBC Ratings

It should be noted that the QMBC gives its ratings out of 83, which is the atomic number for the element Bismuth. The QMBC is proud to have a spiritually, but sadly not financially, rewarding arrangement with Bismuth – the most misunderstood and most naturally diamagnetic of all metals. Historically, Bismuth compounds were used to treat syphilis and today Bismuth subsalicylate and Bismuth subcitrate are used to treat peptic ulcers. Also, Bismuth subgallate is used as an internal deodorant to treat malodour associated with flatulence and faeces – truly a wonder drug for these most gentlemanly of afflictions. Again, the usual health warning is issued with regard to the drawing of conclusions from small samples (i.e 6 data points) but Quincey Morris would have just rubbed a little bit of Bismuth into such a complaint and cracked on, we do the same.

Figure 2 - Graph of Historic QMBC Ratings

Figure 3 - Linear correlation coefficients between QMBC members’ ratings

It would seem natural to expect that a side effect of the regular gathering of like-minded individuals would be a trend towards increasingly shared views. The increased prevalence of strong positive correlations between members is evidence of this point. However, the state of almost perpetual disagreement between WS and WC seems to be simmering nicely with another set of polar-opposite ratings. The strong negative correlation between the QMBC’s very own Cain and Abel duo is well documented in these minutes but Whitby’s recent positive review for the divisive THWATF against a backdrop of mostly negative reviews has meant that he is rapidly becoming the most contrarian QMBC member – being negatively correlated with 4 out of his 6 fellow members (albeit weakly so in 3 of these cases).