Author and adventurer Drew Jacob recently released his first novella, Lunasa Days, this last December, and because I like to check out and support new authors, I picked up his e-book on Amazon. Billed as a “novella of corn, fate, and the end of summer,” the writing is succinct, pithy, and “slice of life”—with a little magic thrown in to keep you awake. Well, actually, quite a bit of magic, only it’s not “TV magic,” or so we're told.
The protagonist, Bailey, is a wandering adventurer biking through the land meeting with various farmers and gas station owners in rural areas attempting to summon bounty and rain for those he encounters with his more attenuated form of wizardry. It is explained that “magic does not grant wishes. It does not slay demons or change the color of the sky. Magic is very subtle.”
Bailey goes through the motions of attempting his not-so-sensational spells with sigils, pleas to his “familiar” and patron God, Apollo, all resulting in not so much, because, of course, it's subtle. The story wanders around like its main character and climaxes with, evidently, one of his incantations actually making rain for a thirsty farm. Bailey then has sex with a schizophrenic girl—“he pinned her to the land, and they made grooves in the earth”—and then makes his escape like a kind of magic-using, Lone Ranger. That’s it. Not much of a narrative arc, more like a short story or perhaps a few chapters from an unfinished novel; like I said, “slice of life.”
To better understand where this author was coming from, I checked out his blog Rogue Priest and learned Drew Jacob is quite the adventurous young man. Much like his protagonist Bailey, he’s also on a journey of wandering and discovery, biking his way from the headwaters of the Mississippi to South America. In fact, the plot of Lunasa Days sounds nearly autobiographical. There was one article on his blog that stood out, but in my opinion not in a good way.
Around the time he decided to “[bike] 8,000 miles to South America,” Drew Jacob penned a missive on his blog entitled, Why I Don’t Like Joseph Campbell, and, by my lights, the tone seemed haughty and overly critical in an arrogant manner. In it, he attempts to denigrate the work of a very important scholar in the field of comparative mythology and religion, and although it’s okay to dislike something as a personal peccadillo, to do so in a hypocritical fashion is disingenuous. It's hypocritical because Drew Jacob embraces many of the ideals that Campbell promotes, but won't acknowledge it. In fact, he seems offended by the overlap. He lives by a self-defined “heroic philosophy,” but sadly feels the need to drag down the work of another. I dunno, it all just seems a little over the top.
"Why I Don’t Like Player Haters"
Joseph Campbell’s critically acclaimed Power of Myth has exposed comparative mythology to millions. He has amassed a significant body of work among numerous books, papers, and scholarship. Admittedly, I am a fan. I have great appreciation for Campbell and his works of discovery and adventure which explore common themes in humankind’s myriad belief systems and mythos—Campbell has inspired me and countless others.
Although Drew Jacob's attack on Campbell is creatively crafted, his arguments and criticism fall flat. —and, perhaps, his motive to criticize is not coming from a sincere place but rather from an inner competitive animus born of jealousy. After reading the anti-Campbell post and follow-up comments, I think Drew comes off more like a “player hater,” than a thoughtful critic.
Drew says his problem with Campbell is that, he [Drew Jacob] “want[s] to be an actual hero.”
Really? Putting the non-sequitur aside for a moment, why does the work of an inimitable scholar in comparative mythology impinge on Drew’s purpose-finding, bike-riding pursuit to be an “actual” hero? One can’t help but feel his critique is grasping—and it’s really more of a cynical play for market share.
On his blog Drew Jacob has assumed the mission of discovering what heroism is—real heroism, “a philosopher’s journey to understand heroism," is how he puts it. —and being that Campbell is a recognized expert in said such field, well, find the flaws in his scholarship to elevate your own. It’s kind of like an exercise in ego-centric, confirmation bias. Something about Campbell’s “call to adventure” must have really upset him. Because, surely, Drew Jacob is following some sort of call, son of a coal plant worker, at age 14 he “began to follow the gods of nature,” later founding the Temple of the River as a polytheist priest, and even later living with hunter gatherers—sheesh, that’s awesome. Seriously. After all, Bailey, the protagonist from Lunasa Days, is in the midst of a quite similar journey. A Hero’s Journey? Sounds Campbell-esque. But no, Drew rejects Campbell because Campbell's scholarship was reading and writing and inspiring and teaching, and that’s not what real heroes do. Real heroes actually do something. They go places. Like Drew.
His critique of Campbell tries to suggest that even attempting to find similarities between peoples and cultures smacks of ethnocentrism and is somehow inherently disrespectful, "when you universalize myth, you don't."
And in a later comment, “Differences between cultures are more than just “symbols” we ought not get stuck in: they’re the keys to understanding people unlike ourselves."
Even the most basic function of understanding comes in part from universality; to wit, people are people. To comprehend something or someone, both past experience and comparative analysis always have roles to play. Understanding foreign cultures at its core level must be based on basic needs and the common laws of nature that we all experience as human beings; life, death, children, families, the tribe, and narrative. The entropic effects of time, beginning, middle, end; the stuff of stories. People use narrative to share, teach, entertain, and there are common threads to the human experience that are reflected in Campbell’s syncretical analysis. Campbell was energized by these common themes and used them to illuminate the hero’s journey, what he calls the “monomyth.” To be sure, there is value in identifying differences, but there is just as much value in being witness to unifying themes.
It’s like music—you have tension and release in music. In many ways musical phrasing is a journey over time that elicits emotional response (or not, in the case of it being particularly bad). These are universal principles governed by the laws of nature and how we as human beings experience sound, harmony, dissonance, etc. The V (five) chord with its inherent dissonances is akin to the hero’s walk through wilderness, while the prodigal protagonist coming home echoes the I (one) chord’s place of rest. To not employ subjective experience when attempting to understand foreign sources of music would be self-defeating, and in all reality, impossible.
Narrative, likewise, exhibits universal characteristics, as wiki quotes a Campbell observer:
"To an extent, all theories about mythology follow a comparative approach: as the scholar of religion Robert Segal notes, "by definition, all theorists [of myth] seek similarities among myths."
Unpacking these similarities in a fascinating journey of discovery of other peoples and other cultures is much of what animated Campbell’s work. And unifying themes, like in music, bring people together; surely, an heroic enterprise. The list of stories and movies using some or part of the monomyth are endless. Contact, Avatar, Aladdin, Rocky, Thelma & Louise, Wizard of Oz, Princess Bride, The Silence of the Lambs, Star Wars, The Matrix, and of course classic tales of antiquity, The Iliad, Moses, Jesus, Buddha, Tammuz and Ishtar, and on and on. To connect these themes is to build on the concept of shared destiny, surely in the wake of events recently transpired in Ferguson, Missouri, a key tool to help stave off violence and conflict; ironically, one of Drew Jacob's stated objectives—"to save lives."
In conclusion, real heroism has no tolerance for bald faced hypocrisy. Drew Jacob’s hunt for his inner hero should not ride the coattails of “player hating” real heroes like Joseph Campbell. I give Lunasa Days and Drew Jacob's blog one star, but I must also say his courage and verve are exceptional, but perhaps, misplaced.
Reviewers statement: A e-book copy of "Lunasa Days" was purchased from Amazon.com. Rogue Priest blog was visited online.