Honoring the Late James Hillman

by Scott London

The Sun MagazineThe current issue of The Sun magazine includes an interview I did with the late psychologist James Hillman. Hillman passed away last October at the age of 85 and to honor him and his contribution to the world of ideas, the magazine is reprinting portions of several interviews originally published in the 1990s and early 2000s.

My interview with Hillman took place in November 1996. His book, The Soul’s Code, had just been published. The Sunday we met it had debuted at the top of the New York Times bestseller list (thanks in large part to an appearance he made on the Oprah Winfrey show). Hillman had authored more than a dozen books on a variety of subjects but this was his first bestseller. When we met, he seemed especially buoyant and good-natured.

Even so, he was a notoriously prickly interview subject, someone who disdained journalists and disliked answering questions. He agreed to an interview, he told me, because he had something important to say in the book. Ideas are like children, he said, “and you should try to get your children into the world if possible, to defend them and help them along.” It isn’t enough “just to write and throw it out into the world — it’s useful to have to put yourself out there a little bit for what you believe.”

The conversation ranged widely. We talked about the shortcomings of conventional psychology, the question of character and destiny, and how to find and follow your calling in life. The best moments came at the end when Hillman riffed on the pursuit of happiness.

The interview aired on National Public Radio stations in the U.S. and on global shortwave, and later found its way into the pages of The Sun magazine. It was subsequently translated into Spanish and Italian and published elsewhere as well.

I still regard it as one of the finest interviews I’ve done. It shattered many ideas I had carried with me for a long time and Hillman’s comments festered in my mind, eventually opening up new vistas of understanding. He seemed to have that effect on people.

You can read the interview in The Sun here. If you pick up a print copy of the magazine, be sure to check out the brilliant personal tribute from Hillman’s friend and writing colleague Michael Ventura as well.