There was a point when I didn’t think I would finish this book for today’s post. I was well on track until I got horribly distracted by a podcast I listen to. A friend from work and I are obsessed with the My Dad Wrote A Porno podcast and love discussing it. I’d been saving series 4 for a bit to give me a break after series 3 but, the other day, she announced she’s finished book 4. So, naturally, I have to catch up with her and I may have listened to that instead of Stephen Fry one night this week. It was enjoyable listening to this book as an audiobook but I’m not convinced it’s the greatest way to do it. For one thing, I fell asleep in the middle of several chapters and had to go back the next day. For another, it took me way less time to read a chapter than it took Stephen to narrate it. I’ve never considered how much longer saying something out loud is compared to reading it in your head but it must have a major impact on the time you spend with a book. But this feels like a topic for another time. It’s late and I have to get this review finished.
The Greek myths are, to put it mildly, fucking mental. A series of tales based around vengeful and lustful Gods who aren’t afraid to get nasty (in either sense of the word) with the help of their divine powers. Obviously, religions and societies throughout history have their share of vengeful Gods but it’s always felt that the Greeks took it that little bit further. I’ve always loved mythology in general but there was something so naughty about the Greek Gods that made me love them more than any others. They were just out to have a good time and show everyone they weren’t to be messed with. And it’s not as if I’m alone with this. Over the years, writers have frequently attempted to retell the myths of Ancient Greece for a modern audience. This has mostly been done in poetry but, for 2017, Stephen Fry set about to present the tales in more straightforward and entertaining prose.
In much the same way that Neil Gaiman did with Norse Mythology a few years ago. Both writers use contemporary language and a relaxed style of storytelling to retell the classic stories. I loved Norse Mythology, another book I ‘read’ as an audiobook, but I didn’t think it felt very Gaiman. Mythos, on the other hand, screams of Stephen Fry through and through. The tone he uses is the same down-to-Earth but passionate voice that we’re used to hearing from him. It mixed his recognisable wit and quirkiness with an unmistakable whiff of expertise. He knows what he’s talking about but he’s also aware that what he’s talking about is absolutely batshit crazy. He fleshes out these much-written about figures to give them real and understandable personalities. His introduction of Hermes, for example, is utterly joyful as we see a super-intelligent baby steal his half-brother’s cattle. He gives them voices that a contemporary reader will be able to embrace as their contemporary in a way that counteracts the more classical interpretations.
It is a witty and charming book that shows a real sensitivity to certain Grecian issues. The way Fry handles things like love and family and the metamorphoses are delightful. Particularly the way he presents the resonance that topics like sexuality and gender have for a contemporary audience. It is the fun and nice parts of the myths that Fry really flourishes in and these stories will entertain anyone. However, I felt that the darker issues could have been a bit stronger. There are moments when some of the more murdery or rapey stories are kind of underplayed. This is a book full of stories about figures gaining power however they need to and keeping it by any means necessary. The more grand and heroic moments by these characters don’t seem to play as well as the more domestic ones.
But this can probably be explained away by saying it was intended for a wide audience. Perhaps the more PG level of narrative is about opening the tales up to a younger audience without making things uncomfortable. Not that Fry is exactly skirting around the subjects of death and rape but Zeus, for example, is never really taken to task for his constant abuse of power when it comes to women. It all feels rather twee instead of completely horrific. Although, Mythos is a thoroughly enjoyable book which introduces a decent amount of Greek mythology. Though, as we now know, he was keeping most of the big hitters for his follow-up Heroes, there are still some great familiar tales to get you going here.