Skeleton Key to Finnegans Wake, A

By Campbell, Joseph |

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 poet 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 abstruse 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.


Joyce has found in Mr. Campbell and Mr. Robinson the ideal readers who approach his book with piety, passion, and intelligence, and who have devoted several years to fashioning the key that will open its treasures. — The New York Times

To say that Finnegan’s Wake is a difficult read is something of an understatement. At the time of its release in 1939, most contemporary critics and readers were quick to dismiss James Joyce’s complex novel for its seeming incomprehensibility. Even Joyce’s own brother Stanislaus, a longtime supporter of the author’s work, found little to praise in this “rout of drunken words.” It was in such a climate, in 1944, that Campbell (The Hero with a Thousand Faces) and Robinson (The Cardinal) first published this annotated, condensed, and simplified version of Joyce’s text, which tries to make the brilliance and breadth of Joyce’s volume accessible to average readers.

Now back in print as part of the “Collected Works of Joseph Campbell” series, this new edition features an introduction, corrections, and editorial additions by Edmund Epstein (English, Queens Coll. & CUNY Graduate Ctr.). Though it has had its detractors over the years, this landmark introduction to understanding the intricacies of Joyce’s final work is as valuable today as it was when it was first published more than 60 years ago. Highly recommended for all libraries. — Library Journal

This printing featured the new Collected Works cover.

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