I am only concerned with telling the stories, not explaining them or investigating the human truths and psychological insights that may lie behind them.
Fry aims not to judge the myths – he wants them to stand on their own merits, as interpreted and recounted by himself. The pleasure he took in writing this is evident in how every word drips from the page like honey, sweet and golden. The prose is engaging, the style fluid and lively
But do we need yet another book on these old stories?
There are a myriad of similar tomes, addressing all audience types, from children to serious academics. I think he is aiming for a popular narrative, sometimes offering facts/asides instead of getting on with the story at hand. Given his background, it is almost to be expected that he explains certain words, and cross-references with footnotes etc., which some readers do find genuinely useful.
He goes for depth rather than breadth – he does not address ALL the stories, in spite of his title, only a select few (possibly opening the way to a follow-up book?).
Fry brings to life the various gods goddesses and assorted mortals, mainly from the “birth” of the Grecian mythical cycle (Kronos, Zeus, and pals), putting a 21st century spin and gender interpretation on an ancient society, but by focussing on just a relative few myths it misses the essential Greek outlook on life (e.g. the importance of justice to living a good life, living in the here and now with immortality entrusted to their children, etc). This publication unfortunately misses Hercules, Oedipus & the Sphinx, Jason & the Argonauts, Troy, amongst others, and I think the book suffers slightly because of this.
The terrible beauty and violence and human tragedy that lent such vitality to Greek society, where myths were a central part of the world, has been sweetened and softened. I like the gory bits, and the more bellicose tales, which are sadly missing.
Overall, the approach is typical Fry – humorous, light-hearted, witty, and charming. It is educational, and clear in style, and you will definitely come away having learnt something new. It’s quite possible that teenagers will put down whatever the current device is and read it!
Buy it as a gift for someone who wants to know or is just beginning to explore the ancient Greek world. They will appreciate the ease at which the early mythology is explained.