BOOK REVIEW: ‘Heroes: Mortals and Monsters, Quests and Adventures’ by Stephen Fry

After devouring Stephen Fry’s last book, Mythos, I happily grabbed a copy of ‘Heroes: Mortals and Monsters, Quests and Adventures’. Fry’s next foray into the ancient world brings us back to the Greek myths, but this time, he focuses on its mortal heroes such as Hercules, Perseus, Bellerophon and Jason and the Argonauts. Like Mythos, this book is very tongue-in-cheek and filled with Fry’s witty quips and humour. You will be hard pressed not to catch yourself laughing out loud - especially at some of his footnotes, where he lets loose and throws in some rather funny observations.

Nothing in Heroes is staid or boring; Fry infuses the characters with more than just a heroic personality, the type you get in older books that prefer to make these characters proud, unassailable archetypes. Fry gets you to fall in love with his heroes by confronting their shortcomings and acknowledging their very human flaws. Amidst the battles, love affairs, and interaction with gods and monsters, Fry offers a fully rounded picture of each hero - warts and all. Hercules, for example, is portrayed as rather loutish - he’s is not exactly the brightest fellow, and he predominantly uses strength to solve his problems – which is also the cause of much of the heartache in his life. Fry, however, gives Hercules contrition and heart, making you appreciate him beyond his heroic persona in a way you may not have before. This is perhaps the best thing about this book – even though these are stories we have all heard before, at least in the case of the most popular heroes such as Hercules and Jason, Fry manages to put a new spin on them and make the retelling fresh and exciting, and make his heroes all the more human. It feels like you’re seeing old tales with new eyes.

For those unfamiliar with Greek heroes or Greek mythology, this book is an excellent introduction to the topic because Fry keeps things light and forgoes a heavy-handed overly academic approach. He wants you to learn, but he also wants you to laugh along with him, and have as much fun as he does with these characters. You really get a sense of, not only Fry’s profound knowledge of the topic, but also his love of ancient Greek mythology that shines through on every page.

The book is illustrated with a good mix of original ancient Greek depictions and more romanticised art work from later centuries. Heroes also supplies a generous appendix of every character and their backstories should you wish to review it and make sense of the convoluted connections. To be honest, you don’t need to reference it all that much because Fry is excellent at providing a run down of their complicated relationships, laughing all the while because he is, at many points, just as confused as the reader.

Heroes is a delight to read. It is funny, exciting, and emotional; I was loath to put it down, and you will be too. Whether you have heard of these stories before, or this is your first time hearing them, this book will make a welcome addition to your book shelf and is sure to become a treasured

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