cover image A Fire in the Mind

A Fire in the Mind

Stephen Larsen. Doubleday Books, $30 (636pp) ISBN 978-0-385-26635-2

Tinged with reverence, this monumental but inert biography loosely measures Joseph Campbell's thought and achievements against his own self-defined quest for a personal Mythos. Psychotherapist Stephen Larsen ( The Shaman's Doorway ) and art historian Robin Larsen ( Emanuel Swedenborg ) recreate Campbell's boyhood enriched by Native American lore, his fateful meetings with Jung and Krishnamurti, his rivalry with John Steinback, his late sexual awakening and happy marriage to dancer Jean Erdman. They chart his little-known trajectory from budding Communist short-story writer in the 1930s to largely apolitical interpreter of the world's mythic heritage. Though it intermittently throws shafts of light on Campbell's inner journey, the book's first half, based largely on his journals and letters, stays too close to his own version of himself, while the second half, tracing the eminent mythologist as a public figure, feels hollow. Photos. (Dec.)