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The Golden Bough

Frazer, Sir James George

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ISBN 10: 0333434307 / ISBN 13: 9780333434307
Published by Papermac, 1987
Used Condition: Very Good Soft cover
From Aardvark Rare Books (Bucknell, SHROP, United Kingdom)

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Bibliographic Details

Title: The Golden Bough

Publisher: Papermac

Publication Date: 1987

Binding: Paperback

Book Condition:Very Good

About this title


This collector-quality edition includes the complete text of Sir James G. Frazer's landmark study of primitive myths, magic and and ancient religion, in a freshly edited and newly typeset edition. With a large 7.44"x9.69" page size, this Summit Classic edition is printed on hefty 60-lb. bright white paper with a fully laminated cover featuring an original full color design. Page headers, modern, readable fonts that preserve the feel of classic books and freshly edited and typeset text exemplify the attention to detail given this volume. Originally published in a two volume, heavily annotated edition in 1890, Sir James G. Frazer's wide-ranging, comparative study of mythology and religion was a landmark work intended as both a scholarly treatise and a work of general interest. Presupposing a broadly literate audience familiar with tales from the age of fable and Greek and Norse mythology, Frazer took a modernist approach to religion, analyzing it as a cultural phenomenon rather than theological dogma. While not the first to consider religion from a cultural perspective, the breadth and detail of Frazer's work as a social anthpologist made him an influential early voice in the studies of comparative religion and mythology and he is widely considered one of the founding fathers of modern anthropology. By the time a third edition of The Golden Bough was published in 1915 it had grown to twelve heavily annotated volumes and become inaccessible to the average reader. So a single volume abridged edition was published in 1922. This volume contains the complete text of that 1922 edition. All footnotes and the bibliography were removed by Frazer when this edition was originally published, and it is intended for a general and more casual readership, rather than as a scholarly reference work or primary source material. Some of Frazer's theories, such as the natural "Darwinian" progression from magic to religion to science, have been displaced. But some modern criticism of his work is unjustified, relying on the abridged work to come to the conclusion that he made broad assumptions unsupported by evidence when in fact the archaeological support for his conclusions is clearly included in the heavily annotated multi-volume treatise. Frazer's work remains an accessible treasure trove of information on ancient myths, cults, religious beliefs and practices and a view of how primitive man and the ancients thought, the fascinating result of a journey that began with the investigation of an obscure Roman cult centered around an Italian lake and ended with a sweeping view of the development of primitive beliefs in magic, myth and religion in cultures around the world.


Before Joseph Campbell became the world's most famous practitioner of comparative mythology, there was Sir James George Frazer. The Golden Bough was originally published in two volumes in 1890, but Frazer became so enamored of his topic that over the next few decades he expanded the work sixfold, then in 1922 cut it all down to a single thick edition suitable for mass distribution. The thesis on the origins of magic and religion that it elaborates "will be long and laborious," Frazer warns readers, "but may possess something of the charm of a voyage of discovery, in which we shall visit many strange lands, with strange foreign peoples, and still stranger customs." Chief among those customs--at least as the book is remembered in the popular imagination--is the sacrificial killing of god-kings to ensure bountiful harvests, which Frazer traces through several cultures, including in his elaborations the myths of Adonis, Osiris, and Balder.

While highly influential in its day, The Golden Bough has come under harsh critical scrutiny in subsequent decades, with many of its descriptions of regional folklore and legends deemed less than reliable. Furthermore, much of its tone is rooted in a philosophy of social Darwinism--sheer cultural imperialism, really--that finds its most explicit form in Frazer's rhetorical question: "If in the most backward state of human society now known to us we find magic thus conspicuously present and religion conspicuously absent, may we not reasonably conjecture that the civilised races of the world have also at some period of their history passed through a similar intellectual phase?" (The truly civilized races, he goes on to say later, though not particularly loudly, are the ones whose minds evolve beyond religious belief to embrace the rational structures of scientific thought.) Frazer was much too genteel to state plainly that "primitive" races believe in magic because they are too stupid and backwards to know any better; instead he remarks that "a savage hardly conceives the distinction commonly drawn by more advanced peoples between the natural and the supernatural." And he certainly was not about to make explicit the logical extension of his theories--"that Christian legend, dogma, and ritual" (to quote Robert Graves's summation of Frazer in The White Goddess) "are the refinement of a great body of primitive and barbarous beliefs." Whatever modern readers have come to think of the book, however, its historical significance and the eloquence with which Frazer attempts to develop what one might call a unifying theory of anthropology cannot be denied. --Ron Hogan

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