Mythos (Stephen Fry's Great Mythology) by Stephen Fry - Book Review 22, Mar

“For the world seems never to offer anything worthwhile without also providing a dreadful opposite.”


Mythos is the first of Stephen Fry’s retellings of Greek Mythology, with this initial instalment focusing on the origins of the world, the gods, of mankind, and the early tales of these creations. It varies from the epic scale of Zeus and his siblings launching global warfare against the Titans, all the way to individual tales of clever interactions been mortal and immortal.


So, as you may know, I am a huge fan of mythology, of history and of folk tales, from Norse, to Celtic, to Greek. Surprisingly though, I have not delved much into Greek/Roman mythology, and it was time to rectify that. Mythos did a great job at filling the gap, and I really look forward to continuing this journey through Greek Mythology in Heroes, and then Troy, which complete Stephen Fry’s triad of Greek retellings.


Starting with characters, as I said, in Mythos we meet mortals and immortals, animals and monsters, and everything  in-between. We are introduced to a huge cast of characters, many of whom are only present for a few pages. But, do not let this daunt you! As I will discuss later in this review, it is not intended for you to remember everyone. The very nature of most mythologies is for many temporary figures to rise and fall, and therefore for the large amount of stories to amalgamate into hundreds of figures with as much variety as you can imagine.


“Kronos was not quite the pained and vulnerable emo-like youth”


Now about prose. Unsurprisingly, given his personality, Stephen Fry has a very distinctive voice. He exudes what he is famed for. His charisma, his humour, and his intellect. In Mythos, he gives an elementary perspective to very confusing concepts, and manages to write in a manner that is simultaneously easy to read, yet also thought-provoking and then hilarious.


What I would say as a criticism is that the beginning feels a bit like the opening of Tolkien’s The Silmarillion. Whilst Fry injects his enthusiasm, the crafting of the world vital introduction of so many important characters significantly slows down the pace, and provides a bit of a slog early on. But again. Do not led this dissuade you, fore beyond this initial twenty/thirty pages, it was fresh, unique and a joy to read.


One of the aspects that really draws me to Greek Mythology is the presentation of the gods. I find it fascinating that those of Ancient Greece and Ancient Rome had religions that contrast so strongly with the modern conception of religion. I would say the main disparity is that Mythos shows that the Gods were designed to be inherently feared and worshipped, with love acting as a secondary factor. Very Machiavellian.


“It is their refusal to see any divine beings as perfect, whole and complete of themselves, whether Zeus, Moros or Prometheus, that makes the Greeks so satisfying.”


Continuing from this, I loved that the Gods were shown in their full. Stephen Fry crafted many tales that I found surprisingly compelling, as the virtues and vices, sacrifices and betrayals of the Gods and other characters were told and revealed. The reader is shown the abuse of power, the thirst for power, but also a willingness to sacrifice oneself for a greater purpose, as we see in the tale of Prometheus.


To talk a bit more about the pacing and structure. As with most mythological retellings, Mythos is essentially a large amount of short stories loosely tied together, with probably 50-60 tales told in this solitary instalment. This structure allows short bursts of reading, and satisfactory moments to be dotted throughout the book. Whilst there are bonuses to this structure, there are also shortcomings. Due to the sheer amount of story’s, and central focus on the exploits of the Gods, it is inevitable that many of these tales became repetitive in the final quarter. We see many variations of a God experiencing lust for a mortal, surprisingly falling in love, and then another God tricking their lover to cause a tragedy. This is evocative and engaging at first, but over time became a bit draining.


“What Pandora did not know was that, when she shut the lid of the jar so hastily, she for ever imprisoned inside one last daughter of Nyx. One last little creature was left behind to beat its wings hopelessly in the jar for ever. Its name was ELPIS, Hope.”


So, overall, Mythos is a great retelling of Greek Mythology. It supplied me with an enjoyable, funny read that managed to be simultaneously educational and light, with Fry avoiding dense sequences where he could. The only criticisms I have do not regard the mastery of Stephen Fry himself, but more the nature of mythological retellings. So, if you enjoy this type of story, I highly recommend! It is certainly one of, if not the best, mythologically books I have read.