Troy by Stephen Fry

Well, he’s done it again, so there’s not much to say really: if you loved the first two (Mythos and Heroes) then there’s no reason why you’re not going to get the same thrill and the occasional sly smile out of Troy. It’s the same characters we travelled with (in varying depths of detail) in the first two outings, but transposed to the decade-long battle to break the city of Troy.

If you don’t know the story then it more or less starts with a prince called Paris, who judges a contest of goddesses to decide who is the fairest of them all (that never ends well). In return for choosing Aphrodite, he is ‘given’ Helen, thought to be the most beautiful woman on earth, and takes her to his bed behind the walls of Troy. (It should be noted that Helen was under the influence of Aphrodite, so none of this is really her fault). As you can guess, there are handful of kingly-types who are none too pleased about this, one of them being Helen’s husband, Menelaus who, with more than enough help from his bigger, angrier brother Agamemnon, raises an army to take her back.

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Book review: Heroes by Stephen Fry

The author actually did a bit of a fireside chat about the sequel to Mythos a few months ago, where I picked up a free copy (cheers Stephen!). I left it on the bookshelf for a while because I’d just finished Mythos, and I thought launching straight into another Fry epic based around ancient Greek mythology might be a bit much.

If you liked the first one then there’s really no reason you won’t like this one. I find Greek legends enthralling, and when you marry them with Stephen’s wry wit, then it’s bound to be another winner. Everything I said about the first book, pretty much applies here. The difference is that Mythos focussed mainly on the Greek gods (Zeus, his wife/sister, his various children by other gods/mortals …); this one is more about the playthings of the gods: men. Continue reading “Book review: Heroes by Stephen Fry”

Book review: Mythos by Stephen Fry

She see’s Pyramus’s sword. It is still hot and wet with his blood. She throws herself upon it, plunging it deep into her belly with a cry of triumph  and ectasy in one of the most Freudian suicides ever.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is pretty much the tone of the entire book. Fry takes us on a rivetting exploration of ancient Greek mythology from the beginning of creation, through every act of betrayal, castration, rape, kidnap, incest, hubris and torture right up until … well, I’m not really sure up until when: the tales are neatly packaged as standalone short stories, with a thread that ties them together; however, the timeline can seem a little bit jumbled at times, though that really didn’t stop me from enjoying the book.

Straight off the bat, it’s a fascinating read, even if Greek Mythology isn’t really you’re schtick. Clever use of dialogue and Fry’s legendary wordsmithing keep things light and the reader laughing, no matter who’s being kidnapped or castrated. I do know a bit about Greek Mythology, but I hadn’t realised how much of the words and phrases we use in every day language can be traced back to the stories told by the ancient Greeks. Tantalus, for example, the king cursed to spend eternity in a pool of water he couldn’t drink, below a branch of grapes he couldn’t reach to eat, gives us the word tantalise. As equally fascinating is the depth and richness these stories possess when you consider they’re simply being used to explain an every day phenomena, such as the changing of the seasons. Fry points out the connections to modern life and Shakespearean  literature throughout the book, directly in the prose in most cases, though he does overdoes the use of footnotes in my opinion. After a few hours, I just gave up on the notes as they tended to distract from the flow of the story. The inclusion of sizeable index at the back reinforces the notion that this is much less a story than a very readable text book. I guess this what they call Creative Non-Fiction – or is it? Not sure. Nevertheless, still well worth a read.

An unsurprising nine out of ten.