I sought this book for years thinking it would be right up my alley, as a writer and independent student of epic literature, mythology, religion, and human nature. I was surprised to have to admit that I derived little value from it on my own - it seems the kind the of thing, for me anyway, that necessitates the involvement of a teacher and class to fully explore.
It's a comparative look at mythology from ancient cultures around the globe. And upon reading, it's not just their similarities to each other that are striking, but all the way up to the famous books and movies of our own time that follow this pattern Campbell frames. It begins with the hero stepping outside of the realm of his (or her) familiar, daily world and having an adventure in one of deeper wisdom and danger that they triumph to return as an enlightened hero of his time. The most intriguing part, came not from simply comparing and contrasting, however, but from Campbell's psychoanalytic explanations of why these patterns come into being. Heavy Freudian influence here, to be sure. And from it, Campbell theorizes not only on the roots of story-telling, but of society, religion, enlightenment, even on life itself.
It has a reputation for being controversial that, upon finally reading the Hero, I have a suspicion was started by people who didn't actually read it. There isn't a whole lot to argue about, as Campbell stays professionally neutral throughout, and isn't so much trying to persuade you of an opinion as sharing an observation he came to in his studies. There are things I disagreed with here or there, but the main points were broadand honestly, hard to disagree with even if you tried: find happiness, find enlightenment, and treat others equally. I'd say it's an insightful and worth-while read for anyone who can work through the long tedium of his detail. Ever since reading, I can't watch a movie or hear a story without stopping to consider the "hero's journey" specific to it.