Book Review: Gods in Everyman

I don’t usually post a book review here. I write them on Goodreads when I finish a book, usually, and leave it at that. Yet in this particular case I am posting it here because of a surprising connection to writers and writing.

Gods in Everyman: A New Psychology of Men’s Lives and Loves, by Dr. Jean Shinoda Bolen was first published decades ago. I came across my copy at a used book sale. It cost me a quarter. When a book costs a quarter, my threshold for justifying purchase is quite low.  In this case, part of the title, and the cover image of an ancient statue, generally called “Hermes and the Infant Dionysus,” was enough. (Hermes and Dionysus being two Greek Gods with whom I identify most right now, and each of whom I have invoked on numerous occasions.)

It wasn’t long after I started reading it, (out of sequence, as the nature of the sections allowed) that I came to appreciate my purchase; I’d have probably paid more than a quarter for it had I known.

The author is a Jungian psychologist. The premise of the book is that every man (and woman to an extent) has within their psyche the archetype, the appetites, goals, reactions of one of the gods of Ancient Greece. By coming to understand which deity one is by nature aligned with, one can, so goes the thesis of the book, work with one’s strengths, and “appeal” to aspects of the other gods within one’s self to find a more balanced, successful life.

In addition to some general psychological chapters about society’s patriarchy and other overviews,  the book is broken down into single chapters, each dedicated to one of the male Olympians.  The goals in love, leisure, sex, work, inner life and so on of each god is explained and explored by way of an overview of Greek myths involving the god. A comparison is then made to people who, consciously or not, are patterned in similar ways.

As I said, the book is about thirty year old now. Jungian psychology may have moved away from the author’s basic premise by now. It’s also possible that there have been understandings of Greek mythology that might have changed in that time, though I have no particular proof or examples of such. And modern pagans would probably not be pleased with the notion of their deities reduced to mere psychological tendencies. (Though this is done with respect, in fact.) Still, however, I got far more than a quarter’s worth out of this book for what it can offer my writing.

Yes, my writing. My fiction writing, specifically.

A Jungian self-help psychology book from the 1980’s would appear to be well out of its wheelhouse in the world of fiction writing at first pass. Yet consider that each chapter is dedicated to a god, and each one parses in detail the unique motivations of said god, as well as how they relate to others, their views on living, their strengths and weaknesses and their origins. It wraps up each chapter with how all of that informs the decisions, conscious and unconscious made by the god, and the mortal who has a psyche based on same.

In other words, fellow writers, it is am unintentional primer of sorts on character building.

Of course, the myths themselves have been told and retold, mined for material, interpreted, re-interpreted, borrowed and even at times profaned. I myself wrote Flowers of Dionysus, wherein the titular god visits an actor. Yet this book, although retelling several of the myths, is not a book of stories starring the Olympians. Rather an analysis of what propels the gods, and the mortal psyches that identify with same. That analysis, whether one be a Jungian or not,  is of interest to the writers out there. Or should be.

So you aren’t looking to rewrite a myth. And you are not out to determine how to proceed in your career with the help of an Apollo archetype. Your next protagonist may be doing so.

Or that antagonist you just can’t get right because you don’t know what he wants, or why he does what he does. Could be living a Poseidon archetype through and through. Or the other way around. The book is a quick reference to how such a person would react in a given situation.

One could of course research and determine such details themselves through original research. No doubt plenty of authors have used the Greek gods as character templates. But if one is looking for a compact, accessible reference for such knowledge, one could do a lot worse than this book.

In the preface, the author explains that the book came about by popular demand, after her previous book, Goddesses in Everywoman became a success. I’ve not read that one, but perhaps I will seek it out now. While the author is quick to point out that these god archetypes can in fact exist in women as well, there is still a bit of an afterthought to that concession. Product of its time that it probably is, I imagine more classically so called “feminine” qualities would be examined in the first volume. I’ll let you know if I find out.

In the mean time, consider this book officially recommended by me. The psychology and world view, though not exactly archaic does show its age in places. It is not a religious text, nor is it the place to delve deeply into the ancient adventures of the Olympians. Yet you might get some psychological insight from it for yourself, and if not you’ll have several literary skeletons on which to build, if you are not in the mood to start cold for your next story.

All writers could use a template now and again, don’t you think?


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