Wednesday, 22 July 2020

Review: 'Heroes: The Greek Myths Reimagined' by Stephen Fry

Greek Mythology is an enduring favourite of mine. It forms the origin point for most of my passion: reading, history, language, mythology in general, adaptations, traveling. I'm not quite sure which direction my life would have taken, had I not discovered (been introduced to) these Greek myths at the tender age of 7. So of course both Heroes and its predecessor Mythos would have peaked my interest straightaway. Thanks to Chronicle Book and NetGalley for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Pub. Date:
Publisher: Chronicle Books

In this sequel to the bestselling Mythos, legendary author and actor Stephen Fry moves from the exploits of the Olympian gods to the deeds of mortal heroes.

Perseus. Jason. Atalanta. Theseus. Heracles. Rediscover the thrills, grandeur, and unabashed fun of the Greek myths. Whether recounting a tender love affair or a heroic triumph, Fry deftly finds resonance with our own modern minds and hearts.


Illustrated throughout with classical art inspired by the myths, this gorgeous volume invites you to explore a captivating world with a brilliant storyteller as your guide.

• Each adventure is infused with Fry's distinctive voice and writing style.
• Connoisseurs of the Greek myths will appreciate this fresh-yet-reverential interpretation, while newcomers will feel welcome.
• Retellings brim with humor and emotion.

In Heroes, Fry draws out the humor and pathos in both tender love affairs and heroic battles, and reveals each myth's relevance for our own time.

• A collector's edition filled with classical art inspired by the myths and a luxe, foil-stamped jacket
• Perfect gift for mythology and history buffs, lovers of ancient Greece, art aficionados, and devoted fans of Stephen Fry
• Add it to the shelf with books like Circe by Madeline MillerNorse Mythology by Neil Gaiman, and Mythology: Timeless Tales of Gods and Heroes by Edith Hamilton

I've had a major soft spot for Stephen Fry for years. I can trace back this love to three different things:  the TV show Quite Interesting, in which he dispenses puns and random facts with the jollity of a favourite uncle, his riotous and hilarious sketch show with Hugh Laurie, A Bit of Fry & Laurie, and his ease and love for language, evident in both of the former. It is the latter which drew me to both Mythos and Heroes, as the Greek myths and legends are already deeply embedded in my mind. I was wondering what twist he would bring to them, how he would reimagine the myths that so permeate Western culture. As he says at the end of the book, the heroes were the ones that sanitized the world, removed the monsters and horrors and made it a home for humans, rather than gods. In the view of their intense labor, Fry undertakes to show their humanity.

Covered in Heroes are Herakles, Perseus, Theseus, Atalanta, Oedipus and Jason. It is especially the inclusion of Atalanta I greatly enjoyed. While the others are established heroes, or at least established leading men, Atalanta doesn't always get the attention she deserves. (I also appreciated Fry's respect for Medea, a character easily vilified.) Fry's retelling of Herakles was oddly touching, as he highlights the emotional honesty that defines Herakles. He's not sly like Odysseus, but he is straightforward. Aside from perhaps Oedipus, he is the hero to suffer the most, to endure the most. Fry explores both his rage and his honour in full, which made for quite a few touching moments. 

It is clear from Heroes that Fry has a very strong familiarity and understanding of the Greek myths, which allows him to familiarize them for the reader.  I had the same response at first that I had to Mythos, an odd sense of betrayal at how straightforward and simple he had made these myths. I quickly began to appreciate, however, the importance of making these tales more accessible and more available. In Fry's Heroes the young men and woman are stubborn teenagers, as embarrassed to find out about their origins as any child is to think of their own making. They are as obsessed with each other as we are with them. As I also listened to the audiobook, I was amused by the different accents Fry gives his characters, choosing to make some of them Scots, for example. It made the stories even more enjoyable, having them read to you by Fry himself.

I give this book...
4 Universes.

Anyone with a love for Fry and Greek mythology will find Heroes utterly charming. Although his reimaginations might not be for everyone, they do broaden the access to these myths and for that I am grateful.

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