To the estimated 30 million viewers mesmerized by Bill Moyers's 1988 PBS series Joseph Campbell and the Power of Myth, the star seemed a sage and charismatic figure. 

    Campbell's handsome face belied his 80-plus years, and his gentle, scholarly demeanor and skillful storytelling gave him an aura of spirituality. 

    "He was a person of magic," filmmaker George Lucas, a longtime fan, once said. 

    Moyers certainly appeared to be under his spell as Campbell invoked folk heroes of various cultures to illuminate the universality of the human spirit. 

    All of them, Campbell argued, from Christ to John Lennon, were pursuing the same essential quest for a purpose in life. 

    Campbell even coined a catchy little phrase for it: "Follow your bliss."

    The moment the show aired, a tie-in book, engineered by Doubleday editor Jacqueline Onassis, soared onto the paperback best-seller list and is still there.
    Some of Campbell's 14 other books, including his 1949 classic The Hero with a Thousand Faces, began selling briskly. 

    Campbell had taught in relative obscurity at Sarah Lawrence College for 38 years.

    Campbell did not live to enjoy his fame: He died at 83 of heart failure, seven months before the PBS series aired. 

    But if death denied Campbell the unexpected pleasures of a place in the sun, it also spared him from a recent attack on his character that has shocked his fans and sparked a lively debate.

    Campbell's attacker is Brendan Gill, the crusty, aristocratic New Yorker writer. In a September article in the New York Review of Books, Gill, 75, accused Campbell of being a racist and a reactionary and denounced Campbell's call to "follow your bliss" as a slogan "sanctioning selfishness on a colossal scale—a scale that has become deplorably familiar to us in the Reagan and post-Reagan years." 

    Gill thought it would be an appropriate time to raise the question, 'What did we really get here?' " he says. "I thought Bill Moyers had been snookered into accepting the word of a man he thought was some superior guru when indeed he was not. He was giving a message that was pap in my mind and little better than the message of Norman Vincent Peale."

    Whatever the merits of Gill's case, retired professor of philosophy and religion Huston Smith, 70, who once taught with Campbell, offers the most common response to its timing. Yes, says Huston, he believes Campbell harbored some racial prejudice. But he will not elaborate. 

    "He's no longer living. I don't think we need to probe those closets anymore," Huston says. "Those things did not come out in the series, so why drag them out now?"

    —Andrea Chambers, Maria Speidel in New York City