The value of the myth is that it takes all the things we know and restores to them the rich significance which has been hidden by ‘the veil of familiarity.’ The child enjoys his cold meat, otherwise dull to him, by pretending it is buffalo, just killed with his own bow and arrow. And the child is wise. The real meat comes back to him more savory for having been dipped in a story; you might say that only then is it the real meat … By putting bread, gold, horse, apple, or the very roads into a myth, we do not retreat from reality: we rediscover it. As long as the story lingers in our mind, the real things are more themselves.” – C. S. Lewis
As a child, I remember being utterly mesmerized by the wild, magical tales of Greek mythology. I certainly wish I had discovered this engaging collection then, as I know it would have been an instant favorite.
Roger Lancelyn Green was an early member of the Inklings — the famous literary group that included J. R. R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis. In his introduction to the Folio Society edition of Tales of Greek Heroes, Stephen Fry writes that Green’s calling was not so much to imagine fantasy worlds in the manner of Tolkien and Lewis but rather to reimagine and retell ancient stories in his own voice. Green drew on an extensive study of 2,000 years of Greek literature, weaving the most authoritative classical Greek writers into a comprehensive epic.
In composing Tales of Greek Heroes, Green strove to unify a broad collection of myths from the Heroic Age “as that single whole which the Greeks believed it to be,” as he wrote in his afterword, versus the more common random assortment of disjointed stories. While most collections of Greek mythology depict each myth as an isolated tale, Green weaves drama and tension throughout the narrative by presenting them as a sequence of events that compose the complete historical era of the Heroic Age, climaxing in the apotheosis of Hercules. Green’s power of storytelling evinces itself through his clever arrangement of the tales to steadily introduce the reader to the heroes, Olympians, and other primary Greek deities in the context of the story, always building toward the pinnacle of Hercules’ last battle.
The age-old allure of Greek mythology is easily apparent in its magic and rollicking high adventure, with adrenaline-filled exploits of monster slayings, quests, and heroic rescues packed full of warriors and princesses, heroes and heroines. Green weaves the more well-known heroes, like Perseus, Jason, and Theseus, amid the escapades of King Midas, Orpheus, Eurydice, and others. His result is the fascinating array of both mortal and divine characters who embody some of the most important foundations to Western literature.
With children as his intended audience, Green somewhat modifies the stories’ more explicit content. Anyone remotely familiar with Greek myth can well understand why, as incest, gore, “enforced ravishings,” and other acts of violence are among the most common elements; yet, Green euphemizes the violence and sex without deviating from each story’s plot with impressive dexterity. Thus bowdlerized, the stories really do offer a perfect, comprehensive introduction to a body of literature that is as fun to read as it is important culturally and historically. According to Fry, “One of the excitements of Greek myth is that, while it certainly does satisfy all the love of magic, heroism, quest and adventure that young people crave, it also connects the past to the present, our history and language to that of a people who really did live, move and breathe in a real place that we can visit today.”
This beautifully imagined Folio edition includes newly commissioned, hand-painted illustrations by Romy Blümel that vividly depict the myths. It is a volume to be avidly enjoyed by children and adults alike.