Audiobook Review: Heroes and Legends – Thomas A. Shippey

Publisher: The Great Courses
Format: Audible
Release Date: 1st January, 2014
Genre: Non-Fiction – Lecture

Rating: 5/5 Stars

Heroes and Legends is part of the Great Courses series, available on Audible. This is the second one I’ve listened to, the first being Myth in Human History. These present a series of lectures, each approximately 30 minutes. Heroes and Legends has 24 lectures, with insights on a variety of different heroes.

Although each lecture is focused on a particular hero, Shippey also goes into the cultural context and why these particular archetypes have lasted into the 21st Century, even if some have been shaped and further moulded by each generation.

Shippey’s way of presenting works really well, as it’s enough to keep the listener fully engaged without being too over the top. He gives insights from his own life, too, about how Tolkien is one of his own school’s alumni and discussing the memorial for the school pupils who died during WW1, many Tolkien’s own classmates. Or discussing the impact the original James Bond stories had on him.

These are really intriguing lectures, putting forward different heroes and examining their various aspects, from Odyssey and Beowulf to more modern ‘heroes’ – Winston Smith from 1984 (worth listening to in order to hear the reasoning behind his inclusion), James Bond and Lisbeth Salandar. His vast knowledge means he can put each hero into their cultural context, while using references and modern cultural ‘touch points’ that any listener will understand.

The biggest drawback for me was Shippey’s insistence on pronouncing Don Quixote as he was taught in school. It made that particular lecture slightly painful to listen to, until I kind of sort of got used to it. On the other hand, I particularly enjoyed the cultural context Shippey gave for things like Uncle Tom’s Cabin and Lord of the Rings, as well as the way fairy tales were collected in Europe. They serve as really good, cultural insights into the stories, the ways they were written and why they were written.

This is a really good exploration of heroes and heroines, and the different types that fall under those umbrellas. It’s part English Literature, part History, showing how heroes have changed and evolved over the centuries. If you can access these lectures, I highly recommend them. Their short timespan means they’re easy to digest, and Shippey never feels like he’s overstaying his welcome, his enthusiasm and excitement really serving well to keep the reader engaged.

Please note, there is a lecture discussing Harry Potter and JKR which painfully praises the books and author.

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