A Skeleton Key to Finnegans Wake

A Skeleton Key to Finnegans Wake

Unlocking James Joyce's Masterwork

Book - 2005
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Since its publication in 1939, countless would-be readers of Finnegans Wake -- James Joyce's masterwork that consumed a third of his life -- have given up after a few pages and dismissed it as a "perverse triumph of the unintelligible." In 1944, a young professor of mythology and literature named Joseph Campbell, working with Henry Morton Robinson, wrote the first "key" or guide to entering the fascinating, disturbing, marvelously rich world of Finnegans Wake. The authors break down Joyce's "unintelligible" book page by page, stripping the text of much of its obscurity and serving up thoughtful interpretations via footnotes and bracketed commentary. A Skeleton Key was Campbell's first book, published five years before he wrote his breakthrough Hero with a Thousand Faces.
Publisher: Novato, CA : New World Library, c2005
ISBN: 9781577314059
Characteristics: xxvi, 402 p. ; 23 cm
Additional Contributors: Robinson, Henry Morton 1898-1961


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Apr 06, 2017

Perhaps an example of overthinking (of course, some have accused the Wake itself of that crime). Campbell takes everything very seriously, and explains hundreds of neologisms, histories, folktales, myths, etc. etc. etc. which appear in the Wake. However, I think sometimes he’s simply missed the point that, however multi-layered and carefully composed, the Wake is in many ways a joke. For example, early on he mentions a minor character “locally known as Mildew Lisa”, and goes on to explain that this is a pun from the German in Wagner’s opera “Tristan und Isolde”, which tells the same story as a sub-plot in the Wake – but he fails to mention the obvious, that this is poking fun at the name of one well-known Mona Lisa. Or maybe he simply thought it would be better to leave the obvious stuff to the reader? "There’s a lot of fun at Finnegan’s Wake", but this explanatory exposition doesn’t really add to it.


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