Book Reviews

Reading List for January, 2021: Pagan Myths, Christian “Myths”, Deductive Reasoning, Biblical Thinking

Mythos by Stephen Fry

My 2021 reading got off to a strong start with Stephen Fry’s “Mythos”. Known mostly as a humorist, Fry is also a student of Greek mythology. In this book (the first of two) he provides a delightful account of how the denizens of Olympus came to be, as well as helping to untangle the intertwined relationships between them. Though I had heard many of the individual stories before, Fry helpfully weaves them together in a grand narrative.

For those who had to wade through dry accounts of the Hellenic myths back in high school, this book will be a breath of fresh air. His storytelling is delightful, and he masterfully re-imagines conversations between the various deities – his British humor on full display. The conversation between Hermes and Apollo relating to stolen cattle had me laughing out loud.

I also found this book fascinating on a theological level that took my be surprise. Fry – not a believer from anything I can tell – takes time to point out similarities between the Greek myths and biblical accounts. Also, it renewed my interest in one of my pet theories: that the myths of the ancient near east (including Greece and Rome) had their origin in in the events of Genesis 6.

A word of warning: Greek mythology can be violent and immoral. While Fry is not needlessly explicit, he does not shy away from its seedier aspects. Let the reader be forewarned.

That Hideous Strength by C.S. Lewis

A pastor I follow on social media recently mentioned how he often returns to C.S. Lewis’s “That Hideous Strength”. I decided to find out why it impacted him so much.
Now I know.

Having never read Lewis’s “Space Trilogy”, I started at “Out of the Silent Planet”, then moved on to “Perelandra”, and enjoyed both immensely.

But neither prepared me for the absolute profundity of “That Hideous Strength”. Where the first two books lay the philosophical and theological groundwork (and hence are indispensable), the third brings everything home in a way that makes all three relevant to current events.

Without giving anything away, let me say that C.S. Lewis had a firm grasp of what was going on in his day, and, though he is not here to see it, of what is going on in our day as well.
Another key difference: while in the first two books the dialogue is key, in this third the plot takes center-stage.

In Christian circles at least, these books should be as least as popular as the Chronicles of Narnia.

Heroes by Stephen Fry

Heroes is the continuation of Stephen Fry’s masterful book Mythos, which I reviewed earlier. It fully lives up to the expectations created by the previous work.

While the first book deals with the origins of the Greek pantheon, and how they first interacted with mankind, the second deals with the lives of heroes like Jason, Theseus, Orpheus, and, of course, Heracles. If there is an overarching theme that connects the two books, it is how men are slowly and surely working towards the place where they no longer need the gods. The heroes are ridding the world, one by one, of the fantastic beasts that plague nascent civilization, and, at the same time, laying the groundwork for independence from the Olympians.

Fry’s take on these ageless stories is delightful, and very well-informed. He works hard to tell the story and leave the interpretation to others – although he does allow himself some interpretive speculation at a couple points in the book.

I really hope he continues with a third book which deals with the events surrounding the Trojan War.

Important: the warning I gave in the previous review about the explicit nature of Greek mythology and Fry’s treatment of it stands for this second book as well…possibly more so.

Edgedancer by Brandon Sanderson

So I started Oathbringer, the third book of Brandon Sanderson’s massive Stormlight Archive series, but then in the introduction the author recommended that I read the novella Edgedancer first. So I did.

And it’s really good. In the previous book we were briefly introduced to the delightful Lift, an adolescent thief. Edgedancer focuses on her, and the development of her “special powers”. Fast-paced and full of witty dialogue, I found myself chuckling throughout.

If you, like me, are working through Sanderson’s Cosmere books, don’t skip this one.

The Sign of the Four by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Second in our after-lunch reading of the Sherlock Holmes books. According to the guys, not quite as exciting as the previous one. I was able to explain a lot of history to them as we read, though.

Think Biblically! by John MacArthur et al.

John MacArthur and the staff at Master’s College have done the Church a great service by spelling out in this book a biblical Christian (redundant, I know) worldview. Subjects include the sufficiency of Scripture, Creationism, biblical views of masculinity and femininity, history and the arts. I found the chapter on Postmodernism, written by Brian K Morley, to be particularly helpful.

Add this to my list of books that every Christian young person should be required to read before they go off to college.

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