Monday 30 March 2020

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Review: Mythos by Stephen Fry

Mythos by Stephen Fry

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Mythos by Stephen Fry

Published: 26th July 2018 | Publisher: Penguin | Source: Bought
Stephen Fry's Website

No one loves and quarrels, desires and deceives as boldly or brilliantly as Greek gods and goddesses.

In Stephen Fry's vivid retelling we gaze in wonder as wise Athena is born from the cracking open of the great head of Zeus and follow doomed Persephone into the dark and lonely realm of the Underworld. We shiver when Pandora opens her jar of evil torments and watch with joy as the legendary love affair between Eros and Psyche unfolds.

Mythos captures these extraodinary myths for our modern age - in all their dazzling and deeply human relevance.
From Goodreads.

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Having had my interest in the Greek myths reignited by Great Goddesses by Nikita Gill, I dived right into Mythos by Stephen Fry straight after. However, while it was interesting, it wasn't what I expected, and I felt quite disappointed.

Mythos is Fry's book of Greek myths retellings, with emphasis on telling. It isn't written as a collection of fictional short stories, as I was expecting, it's Fry writing as if he was there, right in front of you, telling you the stories aloud. His retellings include his own commentary and footnotes (so many footnotes) of related information. And while at first, it was amusing - because it's Stephen Fry, who doesn't love Stephen Fry?! - it did kind of feel a little dry after a while. The myths are being told, so there is no real description, no real third person narration, getting inside the characters' minds, not a huge amount of dialogue - and what dialogue we did get, while funny, just wasn't very believable. Fry's storytelling wasn't something I could get lost in and let my imagination translate into a movie, like reading normally is for me. The reading experience was more like reading non-fiction, which I have to be in the right mood for, simply because I'm not a huge fan of reading when it's just words on a page (rather than a movie in my mind).

On top of this, there was also the fact that in this 464-page novel, so many myths were told, and each story, bar two or three, was pretty short, and quickly Fry would move on to another. And there are so many characters, and so many branches of this giant family tree (especially with the gods having children with multiple people - with most not consenting), it just got so confusing as to who was the child of who, and what their parent's story was. So it's kind of written as, Z, who is the son of Y, who was suffering the consequences of his own story (10+ stories ago)... and I have no idea who Y is any more or what their story involved. I kind of wish the book was longer, split into more volumes, and more detail gone into each story. But I'd also rather they had a first or third person narrative, with description and dialogue, and insight into the characters' heads, so.

But there were also elements I didn't like that had nothing to do with Fry, but with the stories themselves. While I've been fascinated by Greek myths for a while, I've never read about the stories themselves in great detail before, I just had a vague idea about certain characters and their stories. So I was really disappointed with a lot of the myths themselves. So many myths are the result of Zeus (and Poseidon, and others, including female gods) raping others. The offspring went on and had their own stories, and descendants, too, but there was just so much rape. I can't remember now if Fry mentioned it himself in this book, or if I read it elsewhere, but I read that to the Greek gods, rape and seduction were the same thing. There were so many stories where women were abducted, taken from their homes, family, lives, because Zeus or whoever else simply couldn't help themselves. There's also the story of Selene, goddess of the Moon, who fell in love with one of Zeus' sons while he was sleeping, and he looked so beautiful in sleep, she begged Zeus to keep him that way - there, sleeping, forever - and he did so, and every New Moon she rapes him. In his eternal sleep.

I don't know if it's the way of the myths or Fry's retelling, but there never felt like there was anything wrong with it. Fry certainly doesn't comment on the effect on the victims all that often; he does mention at some point that it's debated whether Ganymede was actually happy about being abducted and becoming Zeus' cupbearer as well as lover, but doesn't really give an opinion himself, which I felt was slightly odd given his commentary otherwise throughout the book. But then again, there is a lot of abduction and rape, so there would be a lot of times he'd need to give an opinion, which would undoubtedly get very repetitive. And disgustingly, most of the time, the rape of these characters is only important because of the consequential offspring; the story is more often about the children than about the victim parent - they are footnotes in the stories of Zeus and his progeny. It would mean commenting on a small - though horrific - subplot. But it all just got a bit much for me. The abductions and rapes clouded everything else. And if that wasn't bad enough, Hera, Zeus' wife, was jealous and vengeful, and so very cruel, and the victims were almost always punished by her in some way, for something they didn't want in the first place. Victim blaming is rife in these myths It all just made me really angry, and I started caring less about these gods I originally thought were pretty awesome.

So with Fry telling the stories, there being so many stories to keep track of, and all the rape... I finished Mythos not having enjoyed it. It was still interesting and fascinating, and I found out the origins of pieces of myths I knew, and myths I hadn't heard of before, so there is that. The myths are fascinating. But the myths themselves were too much, and Fry's telling not enough. I won't be picking up Heroes, Fry's follow-up to Mythos, and, as I finished Mythos feeling so despondent, I'm going to steer clear of Greek myths for a while now. I need to go without reading about so much rape. But do read some other reviews before deciding whether or not you'll read Mythos yourself.

You might also like:

Great Goddesses by Nakita Gill The Cold is in Her Bones by Peternelle van Arsdale Because You Love to Hate Me: 13 Tales of Villainy anthology, edited by Ameriie

Over to you graphic

Do you know of any Greek myths retellings that tackle a lot of them (rather than just one particular story, like Trojan War), but in depth, and are written narratively - but without so much rape? Any Greek myth retellings you'd recommend in general? Have you read Mythos? What did you think?

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