Heroes by Stephen Fry

Heroes by Stephen Fry

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  • Stephen Fry’s Great Mythology #2
  • Nonfiction
  • Mythology
  • Retellings
  • Paperback
  • 476 pages
  • Goodreads rating: 4.31

Rating: 4 out of 5.

“Such is the paradox of living. We willingly accept that we have no will.”

Stephen Fry, Heroes

Heroes: Mortals and Monsters, Quests and Adventures is the sequel to Mythos, in which Stephen Fry (re)tells classic Greek Mythology. Where Mythos tells the tales of the Greek Gods and their victims, Heroes focuses solely on, sorry for stating the obvious, the heroes of Greek Mythology. It tells the stories of Perseus, Heracles, Oedipus and many others. The Heroes kill horrible beasts, endure the wrath of jealous wives and complete impossible labours.

“Oh Icarus, Icarus, my beloved boy. Why couldn’t you listen? Why did you have to fly so close to the sun?”

Stephen Fry, Heroes

I enjoyed reading Heroes a lot. It definitely lived up to the expectations that Mythos had set. On the whole, the contents of the book appealed to me more than that of Mythos, since the adventures of Greek heroes interest me more than the gods’ pedigree. I read some reviews saying that Heroes is much more organised than Mythos and I have to agree. Heroes is organised by hero. All the adventures of a hero are bundled in chronological order in a chapter with the name of that hero, whereas Mythos was full of shorter stories and felt like complete chaos. What still kind of bothered me, though it isn’t really Fry’s fault, is the insane amount of names in this book. Every time Fry introduces a new character of creature, the name is spelled in capital letters, which happens pretty much every page.. luckily there is a List of Characters in the back of the book. It’s about 40 pages long, so I guess that tells you all you need to know.

Lessons I’ve learned from reading Heroes:

  • If you don’t like someone, just send them to kill some kind of bull and hopefully you’ll never see them again;
  • It is totally okay to throw your children off a mountain if the oracle vaguely tells you to;
  • All mythological creatures are dumb as hell, either insult or flatter them and you’ve practically already won;
  • If you don’t know who your father is, it’s a safe bet to assume it’s Zeus;
  • Don’t insult the gods, especially not by claiming you’re better at something than they are or by having sex on their altar;
  • Beastiality was completely normal in ancient times;
  • If you lay eyes on a handsome youth or girl, it is customary to tell them you love them within the first 10 minutes and then betray your family and risk your life to be with them.

“An unamused Hades cast them into stone chairs, their naked buttocks stuck to the seats, their legs bound by living snakes.”

Stephen Fry, Heroes

Heroes is exactly what you’d expect when you let a comedian write a nonfiction book. The information is definitely there, but you’re not always sure whether he’s kidding or not. I’m pretty sure he paraphrased a little, now and then.

Of course not every hero in Greek mythology is accounted for, but the biggest names are definitely there. It felt like Fry made an attempt to shorten the stories as much as possible to be able to fit more of them into a book, which affected the stories negatively, because a lot of detail was left out. I understand Fry’s choice in this, though, for the book is already 476 pages long and as much as I enjoy Greek mythology, I don’t think I would read an 800 page book about it.

Though this is technically the second book in a series of three (so far), it isn’t necessary to read them in that order. Heroes sometimes gives a reference to Mythos, but you usually get a one sentence summary of the story Fry is referring to.

TW: it may not really be a trigger, but there’s a lot of murder, familicide and sex with mortals, gods and animals, yes, animals, in this book. It’s not very descriptive, but nevertheless, I would recommend younger readers with a curiosity towards Greek mythology to start off by reading some Rick Riordan books, like the Percy Jackson, The Trials of Apollo or the Mark of Athena series. That’s about 15 books worth of kid-friendly fiction based on Greek mythology.

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