Friday, September 18, 2015

Heroes and Legends in Literature

I purchased Heroes and Legends: The Most Influential Characters of Literature with a free credit from

Professor Thomas Shippey (who is a Cambridge-educated expert on Medieval literature and a leading world scholar on the works of J.R.R. Tolkien) gives each of the 24 lectures. Each talk offers important insights into the world's great works of literature and why their heroes have lived on in our hearts and imaginations. How could I not love this series when it started out with a most unlikely hero, Frodo Baggins? Shippey explains why the world needed such a hero at that time in history.

Some of the lectures share additional, unknown information about famous characters (such as Robin Hood). Others walk the listener through the character's most famous story (Odysseus). I enjoyed the variety (In Lecture 16 he explains how people gained a taste for lighter reading. In Lecture 22 he talks about fairy tales and their modern feminist versions.) Although the final lectures include people that I would not have selected as literary heroes (Celie from The Color Purple and Winston Smith from 1984, for example), Shippey argues convincingly for their importance.

Shippey's enthusiasm for his subject keeps you listening. It doesn't hurt that he has a marvelous British voice and dry sense of humor. Although he deals with several indiscreet protagonists, he manages to keep the lectures at a PG level. I appreciated that he wasn't too politically correct to note when a character was helped by faith in God.

I've been listening to this off-and-on for three months and thoroughly enjoyed it. It was a refresher course on books I'd already read, and whetted my appetite for some of the others, except for The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, which sounds horrific. I have my doubts about that choice, but figure it was added to appeal to 21st century readers. Otherwise these lectures are highly recommended to literature fans.

(They are ridiculously expensive on the Great Courses site, but are $30 at Amazon/Audible.)


Books on the Table said...

I've never listened to any of the Great Courses audios, but have always been curious -- this one sounds very interesting and informative.

Farm Girl said...

Since I have really been listening to more audio books than reading lately this sounds very interesting. I sounds like something I might light to track down. Thanks for the nice review.

Carol in Oregon said...

My brother buys the Great Courses by the dozen (only at 85% off, he claims). I borrow a bunch for a year at a time and mail them back to him after I've listened. At the moment, I'm listening to "The Western Literary Canon in Context".