“The heroes cleansed our world of chthonic terrors — earthborn monsters that endangered mankind and threatened to choke the rise of civilisation. So long as dragons, giants, centaurs and mutant beasts infested the air, earth and seas we could never spread out with confidence and transform the wild world into a place of safety for humanity.”
Written by Stephen Fry, Heroes: Mortals and Monsters, Quests and Adventures is a follow up to his 2017 book, Mythos, a retelling of the Greeks myths. With this latest instalment focusing on Greek heroes, the book tells the legendary tales of some of the more well-known Greek characters such as Hercules, Jason and his Argonauts, Oedipus and his infamous complex, Bellerophon and his Pegasus, and Theseus’ defeat of the Minotaur. Their adventures are battle-filled, led by bravery, unbalanced by riddles, and overflowing with the murders of both monsters and men. They are stories show what we mortals are truly capable of – at our worst and our very best – and Fry retells them in such an entertaining way that you won’t forget their names ever again.
Just like Mythos, Fry retells the stories of these heroes in a quick-paced, entertaining, and easy-to-understand way. He gives the characters each a memorable personality, making their dialogue humourous and their actions unforgettable, adding a unique voice to these rich and timeless tales.
If you’re a fan of Greek mythology on any level, even if you just remember learning about it in some context during your early years at school and have always wanted to educate yourself a little further, then Fry’s books are the perfect way to do so. He adds heaps of wit and promiscuity, teaching readers about the basics of these characters’ lives whilst ensuring that they aren’t overloaded with too much information or obstructed by lengthy prose.
These are bygone tales, after all, and whilst we all have some vague knowledge of Hercules, at least, not many of us will know the true in-depth details, so some summarisation and modernisations were definitely needed. And that’s what Fry does so well, making these stories relevant and accessible to all in an immensely enjoyable manner.
When the stories get into the action, Fry’s narrative works incredibly well. However, the trouble with compacting these historically lengthy stories so tightly is that they sometimes become difficult to follow. Fry attempts to round-up a lot of the background and context to avoid having to go into huge detail about less relevant aspects of the character’s pasts and circumstances, but doing so results in a long list of unpronounceable names and relationships that you have to try and piece together.
The problem is that the book focuses on a collection of characters whose lives dip in and out of each other’s, and who have so many intertwining connections that you do find yourself having to reread certain sections to get your head around the importance of someone’s role or title. It does feel quite obstructed at times, with Heroes not feeling as concise or effortless as Mythos did. But once you get past these introductory paragraphs fogged with name and places, the incredibly interesting stories do stick, they just need a lot of your attention span to follow wholly.
Fry makes such a good time out of these characters’ ultimate demises that you’ll soon be filled with plenty of insightful knowledge and you will instantly feel more intelligent, without having to do too much work. After some initial dedicated focus, you will keep reading to find out how Theseus defeated the Minotaur and if Heracles ever did accomplish all of his tasks.
Alongside the many fantasy elements, the endless sexual appetites of the Gods, and the violent brutality of its heroes and villains alike, these characters are definitely worth reading about so you won’t regret picking this book up.
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