“Zeus Grants Stupid Wishes: A No-Bullshit Guide to World Mythology” – Cory O’Brien
Amazon page – here.
So actually you all get my book review earlier than anticipated. I ended up reading this whole book (289 pages long) in about 2 hours. It’s a delightfully easy read and it’s hilarious. Now, I’m going to admit, I’m not the expert on mythology from all over the world, so some of the myths I was less familiar with. But the ones I did know prior to this, well, those were definitely enough to have me laughing.
I came across Cory O’Brien on his website a while back actually, which is how I knew about this book…and so I wanted to get the book. If nothing else, I am a fan of irreverent takes on the mythology of pantheons that I know so well. His website (Myths RETOLD) is a good look for more of this sort of writing, which is very amusing. Now, I will admit that it depends on personal sense of humor. If you don’t like a highly irreverent look at mythology, well, it’s not going to be your kind of book.
Right up front, the table of contents is wonderful.
It’s got such gems as “Friends Don’t Let Friends Bang Cows”, “Odin Gets Construction Discounts with Bestiality”, “Noah is on a BOAT”, “Gilgamesh and Enkidu: ULTIMATE BROMANCE”…even going on to the infamous Scientology of today in “This Is What Tom Cruise Believes In”. So the table of contents is enough to make me laugh and get me interested in reading. Actually, the table of contents was circling around Tumblr, and that’s why I bought this book, just for the list of Greek and Norse contents (once I figured out who the author of said table of contents was). 🙂
As for the actual myths themselves…well I suppose I must admit to a stylistic preference. It will definitely be a bit on preference and personal taste as to whether someone will like the book. However, for me, I was rolling for most of the book. The myths have a way to mock the story, while telling the parts that so often get forgotten. I mean…for example, with Greek mythology, everyone knows about the Trojan War, about how Paris starts that with the golden apple to the fairest and being told to judge the goddesses. Long story short, you get a war. Or Hercules, that’s another famous one everyone knows. (Fun Fact from my ancient Greek professor that I learned my first semester in college – Hercules is the Roman form of his name. In Greek it would be Herakles) Well, and everyone knows about Aphrodite, goddess of love, and Athena, Apollo, Zeus, Hades, Poseidon…the really big stories. But I know that quite a few less people would know about Tiresias, Orpheus, or even Cronus.
In the Norse section, I’ll admit that I knew the basic story for all the myths again, same as in the Greek section. But they’re funny enough to get more interest for a person with less familiarity, once you’ve read this kind of book. The Egyptian and Mayan sections I was far less familiar with, and they actually taught me some myths that I’m going to look up more on. Egyptian mythology I know a bit of from taking a class on ancient Egyptian culture in college, but I’m far from well-rounded in my knowledge there. Especially in the case of the Mayan mythology–for a people that as a culture we’re obsessed with (read: end of the world 2012, etc et al), most know very little about the culture of the people. So I would like to know more after reading this book.
There is a section on “Judeo-Christian” mythology. Which is amusing, because it has the same bits of wisdom that I enjoyed in the other sections. Though, I have to admit I had not heard about the story of Abraham being willing to kill his own son before. It does, I think though, explain some things that my classmates have discussed in our religion classes. I’ll admit my biblical knowledge is not as up to par as my knowledge of other mythologies.
Hindu mythology is something I have almost no experience with. Outside scattered references in a few classes I’ve taken that have discussed in passing how certain deities were important throughout history, I know almost nothing. So unfortunately, I’m really not able to comment on the treatment of these myths. I will say though that they are written in the same vein as the others in this book, and the myths told are certainly fascinating. Japanese mythology follows as well, which I’ve done research on for cultural classes in college. But, the story about the tanuki was something I had not come across before.
The author takes time to admit in 2 sections that there are far too many peoples to accurately cover in the book. The first section is on “African” mythology. He states up front that there is no such thing as an overarching continent-wide mythology, and so he chose myths from various peoples/belief-systems. I know absolutely nothing about any of these stories, so again, I cannot judge about the treatment. I will say though that I did learn about new deities and myths I had not heard of before. So that will be a good point at least, because it does teach people something new. The second section he addresses in this way is the “Native American” mythology. Also, he chooses a few myths from varied peoples that are now labeled Native American. I had never heard any of these myths before, but it does draw interest for me. I’m interested whenever I learn new myths and deities, which happened in this section as well.
The Chinese section was comprised of only one myth I recognized. It rang pretty true to the story I was told in my religion class in college, though far less academic in styling. The other two myths I was unfamiliar with. However, I do remember vague details from one of the myths being mentioned in an article we read for my class. The third myth I was wholly unfamiliar with, which gives opportunities to learn new pieces of knowledge.
In the Sumerian section, I was basically familiar with the mythology. Gilgamesh and his story are perhaps the most famous, but I’ve read mythology books that covered the other myths, so this section was quite fun to read, understanding every detail that I was reading.
And the final major section: mythology of the United States. This one was highly amusing to me. It’s actually interesting, because, as a person born and raised here in the States, I had not heard a lot of these things. I mean sure…details of Davy Crockett’s life (but I had no clue Davy Crockett was a congressman), the general legend of Paul Bunyan as a lumberjack, and the name Pecos Bill sounds vaguely familiar for some odd reason to me. But really, I hadn’t heard some of the stranger details in this section. Just goes to tell you that you don’t know everything about your own country’s bizarre cultural mythology they create. And the last piece on Scientology, well that’s been all over the news, so of course I’ve heard that one.
Really, this book is excellent. I would highly recommend it to anyone that would like a good laugh at mythology while learning the very broad strokes of new myths. Not that the text should be taken as completely true, because it is a bit of humor at the expense of mythology, but it does do as a good jump-off point to see interest for learning about new stories and myths. It is irreverent, and highly amusing.
It’s a good, quick read. Even at nearly 300 pages I finished it very quickly. I would guess most people could finish it in well under 2 days (I’m terrible at guessing reading times…so I have no clue if that’s an accurate time-table for reading?). If you want a nice, light-hearted look at mythology and a funny read, I definitely recommend this book.∗