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Genre Literary, Mythology retellings
Format Hardback (gift from family)
Other Formats Available Paperback, audiobook
Series 3rd in Greek Mythology series, following Mythos (2017) and Heroes (2018) but can be read as a stand-alone
Publication Date Oct 2020
Length 395 pages
Content Warnings Graphic violence, murder, brutality, child death, grief, rape and sexual assault, enslavement
What It’s About
It is one of the most famous conflicts of all time, a war that defined three generations and shook the ancient world. The fates and circumstances that would trigger such unprecedented bloodshed were whispered on the wind decades before the first of Agamemnon’s ships set sail.
In this epic tale, Stephen Fry delves into the lives of gods and mortals, men and women, warriors and priests, as they are thrown into the cataclysm of the Trojan War.
I was immediately struck by the breathtaking scale of the conflict that this book brings to life. Especially when all of the forces that led to the Trojan War are traced to their roots, sometimes through whole centuries, inherited grudges, and long heroic traditions, it can feel like a mammoth task to comprehend.
Fortunately, Fry is never caught up in the details, so his story remains slick and relentlessly action-driven. The message is clear: tangled family trees and convoluted timelines aren’t necessary to appreciate the power of these myths.
What serious analysis often misses out on is the sheer absurdity contained within many ancient myths. In just one instance, Thetis roasted six of her babies over flames because she tried to make them immortal and didn’t quite follow the instructions right… The author draws out these bizarre moments with a wry sense of humour that I loved.
The inclusion of footnotes, with their unmistakable scholarly echoes, initially seemed to jar with this amused tone. Eventually, though I was won over by how these notes could bring to life a tantalising tension between the real/historical and the supernatural.
Where was Troy, and what did it really look like? Are any of the heroes, from cunning Odysseus to fleet-footed Achilles, based on real people? Although the answers usually remain out of reach, this makes the questions no less irresistible.
“The action is played out on the golden horizon between reality and legend, the beguiling penumbra where fable and fact coexist.”~ Stephen Fry, ‘Troy’
Diversity and Representation
Having devoured pretty much all of the feminist mythology retellings I can get my hands on, it was impossible not to read Troy with reference to these other politically-driven retellings. Ultimately, the book was both informative and a lot of fun, but I did miss something of a critical edge.
Troy inhabits the classical tradition, indeed revels in it, rather than trying to radically rewrite it.
This tradition inevitably brings a proliferation of male heroes (and egos). Yet Fry’s portrayal of these lauded masculine archetypes, tinged with a sly sideways glance rather than straightforward admiration, makes them much less eye-roll-inducing!
- Fate & free will
Beyond the Book
At one point, I thought Troy was going to be the only popular ancient Greek retelling I’ve read to actually tackle the white gaze in classical traditions. Mention was made of the Ethiopians (who, it is little-known, fought alongside Trojan soldiers, as well as the Amazons). Even the Orientalist stereotypes attached to the Trojans as a pseudo-race were glimpsed. I may have been clutching at straws – if I wasn’t looking for these quiet gestures, they would probably never have even registered.
However, the issue was, disappointingly, skirted around without any attempt at real illumination. Whether they are present in the Iliad itself, or projected onto it by later readers through the centuries, the constructions of Troy and its allies have been destructive agents of white supremacy. Yet (white) authors seem reticent to stare this history in the face and grapple with what it might mean for our appreciation of the classics.
To find out more about the colonial implications of classicism, and get some more diverse book recommendations, read my post Questioning the Canon: Race in Greek Mythology Retellings.
If you’re reading Troy as a book club pick or just looking to ponder the story in a little more depth, these questions should help get you started:
1. In this book, Stephen Fry has a distinct, wryly amused writing style. Which moments from the myths did you find funniest?
2. Have you read any other mythology retellings? How does Troy differ from these and why?
3. Mythological tales such as the Trojan War seem to be endlessly fascinating – they examine the most primal essences of what it means to be human. What themes attract you to mythology retellings such as this one?
“How strange is our mortal zest for fame. Perhaps it is the only way humans can be gods. We achieve immortality not through ambrosia and ichor but through history and reputation. Through statues and epic song.”~ Stephen Fry, ‘Troy’
You want to have fun with a witty and wry mythology retelling!
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Have you read Troy? What other mythology books would you recommend? Let me know in the comments – I would love to hear from you!