The question Is there "required" background reading for "The Hero With a Thousand Faces"? got me part of the way there, but I'm still contemplating what the ideal would be in terms of Campbell or the actual epics (Beowulf, Gilgamesh, etc).

If going Campbell first, then I think it would allow me to get more out of the epics. I'm imagining it would give me a kind of framework to absorb the build-ups and other plot dynamics. However, my red line is spoilers. I have been saving Beowulf and Gilgamesh and a few others for a special day. So if reading Campbell first means that the whole story of Beowulf or Gilgamesh is spoiled in the process then I'm not on board for that. However, if there are just light references without explicit reveals in Campbell then I would be willing to read it first; if I'm saving them for a special day, I might as well do some legwork to get the most out of it.


Both orders seem to have their merit, so I suppose much will hinge on exactly what kind of spoilers / information is divulged that is specific to the epics. Can anyone with experience on these works recommend a suitable read-order? Would also be curious to see if that's how other readers also approach this work, i.e. what is the conventional read-order?

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    If you're worried about spoiling works that are thousands of years old, do not read scholarship about them first. Just read the texts first, then you can reread them when you finish Campbell.
    – cmw
    Aug 1, 2022 at 15:04
  • Read Joyce, not Campbell, if you want to understand the relevance of ancient myth to modern life. Campbell, Jung, that whole set, is nothing but pseuds. Aug 3, 2022 at 4:21
  • @cmw that looks like an answer - please put answer in the answer section, where they can be voted on
    – bobble
    Aug 3, 2022 at 16:35
  • Epic works such as Beowulf or Gilgamesh would originally have been heard and enjoyed by people who already knew the plot, and I sincerely doubt that spoilers would impair your enjoyment, but the choice is yours. Hopefully someone who's actually read Campbell will be able to provide more specifics, but I'd imagine a book on heroic journeys would discuss heroic journeys and adventures. (Seriously though, don't read Beowulf expecting a page-turning, tightly-structured adventure story in the style of Game of Thrones.)
    – Stuart F
    Aug 5, 2022 at 15:08

1 Answer 1


I recommend reading the epics first. If only because it will give you some perspective while reading Campbell, who overstates his case.

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    This answer would be improved if you could explain what case Campbell overstates, and how he overstates it. Aug 3, 2022 at 15:34

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