WHILE WE appreciate your review of our book, A Fire in the Mind: The Life of Joseph Campbell (Book World, Nov. 24), we feel there are certain factual inaccuracies and adverse assumptions in Martin Gardner's review. It is not difficult to discern that Gardner began -- and concluded -- his article with an animus that is not only anti-Campbell, but everything "New Age." But Campbell himself was hardly a "New-Age person." He was a scholar whose sources were primarily drawn from archaeology, psychology, philosophy, comparative religion, literature and the arts.

Gardner attempts to document his belief that there must have been a sinister side to Campbell, taking as his own dark gospel the New York Review of Books article by Brendan Gill attacking Campbell and accusing him of anti-Semitism. We feel that Gill's article was constructed on willful misunderstanding, innuendo and hearsay, and could easily have triggered a libel suit had Campbell been alive to defend himself.

Here are some examples of the inherent dangers in such journalistic gossip. Gardner quotes Campbell saying that he "moved to Bronxville to escape from Jews." But Campbell never moved to Bronxville because he never lived there (but he did teach at Sarah Lawrence in Bronxville for 38 years, commuting from his Greenwich Village apartment).

The sad fact that Gardner could not have read our biography closely is illustrated by his accusation that "although the book is crammed with facts and quotations, the Larsens offer little insight into what Campbell privately believed." We were worried that our book was too full of verbatim citations from Campbell's private journals and correspondence.

We owe thanks to Gardner for the kind things he said about the research that underlies our work. We ourselves will be as pleased as Gardner to see that "balanced portrait of Campbell covering his prejudices and inner beliefs, still to come," because we firmly believe that if the biographer is fair-minded, he or she, too, will find under this man's personal rug not dirt, but gold.STEPHEN AND ROBIN LARSEN New Paltz, N.Y. MARTIN GARDNER's review of A Fire in the Mind: The Life of Joseph Campbell, by Stephen and Robin Larsen, was nothing short of a McCarthyistic attack on one of the greatest men of our time. Gardner begins by accusing Joseph Campbell of "inexplicably" attacking Thornton Wilder (50 years ago) for outrageous plagiarism discovered in Wilder's play "The Skin of our Teeth." While Gardner admits the truth of Campbell's claim that Wilder indeed plagiarized Joyce, his insinuation that Campbell was morally obligated to disclose other instances of purported plagiarism by other authors is utterly absurd.

Gardner also brings into question Campbell's religious life by faulting him for abandoning the "church" practices of Roman Catholicism. But Campbell's departure from the Catholic Church was not an abandonment of the essential principles of Christianity, but a departure from the dogmatic doctrines that trouble many Catholics.

Lastly, Gardner's desire for sensationalism should earn him a job at the National Enquirer -- for to insinuate that Campbell was a racist and anti-semite is preposterous. A single thread does not make a suit and a statement or a line taken out of context does not validate a claim. Neither Campbell himself, nor his family and friends, ever claimed he was a saint -- as he might have said, not to have sinned is not to have lived. And live he did -- with an integrity achieved by few men of this century. TERRY PEAY Rockville Martin Gardner replies:

Stephen and Robert Larsen accuse me of animus toward the New Age. They are right. "New Age" is a fuzzy catch-all term for a cluster of diverse ideas. The reason Campbell's books are so enthusiastically embraced by New Agers is mainly because of his lifelong friendship with Krishnamurti, his preference for Hinduism over Christianity, and his emphasis on creating your own reality.

There can be no doubt about Campbell's racism. A more detailed reference on this than Brendan Gill's attack is "Moyer's Myth-Deeds," by Sharon Churcher, in Penthouse magazine (April 1990). Gill's article provoked a controversy that impelled Roy Finch, for two decades a philosopher at Sarah Lawrence, to tell the New York Times that Campbell was convinced western civilization was threatened by the decadence of "Christians, Communists, liberals, and Jews." When Campbell said in a lecture that it was natural for people to prey on "lower species of humans," a woman recalled: "I rose shaking from my chair and shouted, 'What about the six million who were gassed during World War II?' . . . . Mr. Campbell simply shrugged and said, 'That's your problem.' "

Churcher quotes a Sarah Lawrence alumna who told the Village Voice that when she informed Campbell she was Jewish and wanted to analyze the Old Testament, "he began to spew out this garbage about how the college was going Jewish and how he had moved to Bronxville to get away from the Jews." Perhaps he meant he had moved the locale of his teaching to Bronxville.

Of course I never said Campbell had no beliefs. Obviously he had thousands, including his beliefs in the inferiority of blacks, Jews, Christians and liberal democrats. The question I raised was about his deepest private beliefs. Did he share Krishnamurti's faith in reincarnation? Was he a theist, atheist, pantheist or agnostic? You won't find the answers in the Larsens


As for Terry Peay, I urge him to calm down and read some of my supporting sources: Brendan Gill, in the New York Review of Books (Sept. 28, 1989), and the letters it generated (Nov. 9); Mary Lefkowitz in American Scholar (Summer 1990); John Wauck in the National Review (March 18, 1990); Sharon Churcher in Penthouse and the articles in the New York Times and the Village Voice to which she refers; and Mortimer's Adler's strong attack on Campbell in Truth in Religion (1990).

For Campbell's mean-spirited attack on Wilder, see Edmund Wilson's defense of Wilder in the Nation (Jan. 30, 1943), and the discussion of this ridiculous charge in Malcom Goldstein's The Art of Thornton Wilder (1965). Goldstein put it crisply when he wrote that Campbell was "unable to discriminate between the assimilation of a source and downright theft." Man of Secrets I WRITE to protest the assignment of Athan Theoharis to review J. Edgar Hoover: The Man and the Secrets, by Curt Gentry (Book World, Nov. 3). As I am sure you know, Theoharis is himself the author of a new book on Hoover published in the same season as Gentry's. It is an honored tradition that to make such an assignment is tantamount to journalistic malpractice.

You will realize that this cry of outrage over Theoharis's self-serving review is made from a special pulpit; I was the editor at W.W. Norton in charge of Gentry's book. That, however, does not alter the principle involved. Not only should Theoharis not have been offered the assignment, but he should not have accepted it.

I wonder, too, whether the six-week delay in the review of a major book of major interest in Washington might not have been due to a reluctance on Theoharis's part to give timely publicity to a book in direct competition to his own. Whether the delay was his fault or yours, the entire affair is beneath the standards of one of the nation's great newspapers. ERIC P. SWENSON New York Athan Theoharis replies:

The six-week delay was not due to my "reluctance" to give "timely publicity to a book in direct competition" with my book, From the Secret Files of J. Edgar Hoover. Book World contacted me on Oct. 5, and I submitted my review on Oct. 12. Second, I felt that I had the responsibility to review a "competing" book, given my own expertise both as an historian of the FBI and the contents of Hoover's Official and Confidential File. I must admit to having been appalled at Gentry's audacity in claiming to have researched and then to have characterized the contents of this important file (and as well at the failure of his editors to have checked the accuracy of his research).

Indeed, because Gentry's and my book were the subject of joint reviews published during September, I was directly familiar with other reviewers' errors in accepting as factual Gentry's citations to this file. Because these reviewers had not researched the file, they had every reason to believe that his citations to specific folders and general characterization of the file's overall contents were accurate. Swenson's "cry of outrage," I submit, might better be directed at his author for his attempt to mislead both reviewers and readers.

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