Articles written by Jack Adams
The articles published here are inspired by the work and life of Jack Adams with the intention of providing a wider context within which to view his publications. If there is to be one central pillar which supports that context then it has to be the relationship of Adams to Joseph Campbell and his understanding of Comparative Mythology as espoused by Campbell. Campbell’s work introduced itself into the life of Jack Adams in the form of the first book of The Masks of God series; Primitive Mythology. Jack was homeless in London at the time he picked up the book and his first impressions were not positive. Looking at the contents produced great scepticism, how is it at all possible to discuss the mythology of the palaeolithic? All we have from that period of human history are artefacts, paintings and a small insight into only the edges of a culture long dead and never written about in its contemporary. Surely a mythology of the palaeolithic could be nothing more than speculation. Opening the pages with such a critical beginning, Jack was not just surprised to find but absolutely startled by the erudite nature of the structure of analysis. Captured by the unfolding narrative the book instilled an obsessive desire to learn more about this viewpoint. By the last chapter, Jack was convinced that this was the work of a genius, a person of great insight into the workings of mythology as a process of human culture. Already committed to learning more, Jack was left completely floored by the last page of Primitive Mythology. In four words Campbell brought down the whole edifice of the human history of reality and left the world as a tabula rasa for the homeless Londoner to explore, define and describe. These words were and are: “Mythology; and therefore civilisation,…”
A bold statement for anyone to make but when it is backed up by a book so well researched and so insightful then not to take these words seriously would be just foolish. For Jack, any suggestion, as Campbell makes here, that mythology and civilisation possess an equivalence; that they are the same thing, had to be a ripping off of the blindfolds for any person who can rub two brain cells together and obtain a spark of insight. Our received history is one which describes civilisation, not one that describes mythology. The obvious question then stood like the brontosaur in the bedroom; why is the history and study of mythology relegated to a minority subject or even just ignored? The very word ‘mythology’ is reduced to a subset, the janitor’s department in the basement of the University of knowledge. The only conclusion Jack came to about this deliberate sectioning of myth as a top-level subject was that it was simply too dangerous to allow a more general understanding and knowledge of the chains which bind the minds of the human population.
In seeking to break free of such chains, Jack looked towards a university education as a mature student in order to provide an erudite foundation for his life. After Primitive Mythology, Jack set about reading every work Campbell had produced and this was not an easy task. Joseph Cambell is a great speaker (Jack edited these YouTube videos of Campbell’s last interviews) but as a writer, he fashions sentences like chess moves and paragraphs like labyrinths. Campbell is not a study for the lazy or the idle, to read Campbell you need patience and you need time. You cannot afford to turn the page until you are sure you have deciphered the meaning. Once you have then the scales should fall from your eyes in the opinion of Jack.
On finding that no university in the world offers an undergraduate degree course in Comparative Mythology Jack had to choose an alternative strategy. The most obvious course of action appeared to him to enrol in a course on history and then use that to study mythology. Accepted at Ruskin College Oxford on their 19th and 20th-century social history of Great Britain course, his tutor, Raph Samuel, was greatly amused by his first essay offering; “A Mythological Analysis of the Culture of Edwardian England using Joseph Campbell’s Four Prospects of Myth.”. As the first term progressed and the rigorous requirement of 10 essays a term weeded out those who were not serious, Jack threw himself into an occupation of study which he loved. Whilst Samuel was positive about Jack’s approach to history, the other tutor on the course, Dr Hilda Kean (a specialist in the cultural history of animals), was not so certain. At one point she questioned, “I am not sure why it is you are so interested in this mythological approach. Mythology is not really a serious subject. Why do you think it is so important?”.
Despite her reluctance about the approach she, and Raph, awarded a distinction for the dissertation Adams submitted on that course. As the lead tutor on the later M.A. at Ruskin, she also awarded three distinctions in the postgraduate certificate and a final distinction for the M.A. dissertation. This was in the day when a first class degree award was not made in connection with a university business plan and a distinction was an award above first class that was rarely given.
There is a lot more to tell about the biographical background of Jack Adams but here, our only purpose is to provide a frame of reference for the articles produced on this site.