I received this book late last year, an early Christmas gift from the lovely Megan, who knows me very, very well. We’d rhapsodized over Stephen Fry’s 2017 Greek myth-retelling Mythos together, and when she saw there was a sequel she snapped it up for me — I’d had no idea it was even out, to my disappointment in myself. (That’s what happens when you decide you have too many books you have yet to read and consciously stop yourself going into bookshops to browse — you miss the unmissable autobuy new books!)
Where Mythos gave us Fry’s wry, erudite yet chatty versions of those Greek myths dealing with the gods, Heroes, unsurprisingly, deals with the mortals — most of whom are, however, demigods — with which the tradition is so thoroughly rife. From Heracles (Hercules) to Jason to Perseus to not many more besides (just the Big Three have enough stories about them to cover most of the book’s length), we get stories both well-known and obscure, still full of meddling, fractious and lustful deities but also with a human element — not the gods aren’t pretty damn human themselves.
One of the most fascinating heroes covered herein is Oedipus, he of the Complex fame, as Fry gives us more of his backstory, and more of his adventures, than anyone who knows only the inadvertent father-killing, mother-marrying part might be aware exist. And the monsters! Most of those fought by Heracles and Perseus and Jason, et al, are part of a brood borne by Echidna to her mate Typhon, which is something any mythology buff knows, to be sure, but having it laid out so baldly here, and so matter-of-factly — oh, here’s another one of Echidna’s kids, let’s kill it! — really makes one feel for the mother who does not otherwise even appear in this book, except to note when yet another of her children is slain to prove a hero’s mettle.
Mythology is brutal.
I love it, though, and I thoroughly loved this book. I especially loved Fry’s asides, and the way he injects himself into these stories, with short reminiscences and quips, popping in and out like a classical commentator while also giving a very elegant account of the ancient tales that make up his collection. Several stories in the book were hinted at but lain aside for “another day”, which I can only hope means there will indeed be another day, another mythology-based book forthcoming from this multi-talented author.
I will be sure not to miss the release of the next one.
TBR DAY 34: Heroes: Mortals and Monsters, Quests and Heroes by Stephen Fry
TIME ON THE TBR: 3 months.
PURCHASED FROM: It was a gift.