Heroes and Legends : The Great Courses: World Literature

  • by The Great Courses
  • Narrated by Professor Thomas A. Shippey
  • Series: The Great Courses: World Literature
  • 12 hrs and 15 mins
  • Lecture

Publisher's Summary

Odysseus. Robinson Crusoe. Harry Potter. What do these memorable characters have in common? Why do we turn to certain stories again and again? And what impact have they made on world history? These 24 eye-opening lectures give fresh insight into some of the greatest heroes in world literature, from warriors such as Beowulf and Odysseus to unexpected heroes such as Uncle Tom and Sancho Panza.
Professor Shippey gives you an inside glimpse into the writer's process. Learn how authors "write into the gap" to flesh out-or, in some cases, reimagine altogether-old stories, making them new for new readerships with different values. By examining what makes these heroes such compelling characters, you'll see how they provide a window to better understand ourselves.
From the beginnings of world literature through today's bestsellers, look at what makes characters successful-and how they reflect our changing cultural mores. For instance, after the horrors of global war in the 20th century, the world was waiting for a hero like Frodo Baggins, J.R.R. Tolkien's meek hobbit hero, someone called to duty rather than born strong and fearless.
You'll also examine ways that great heroes have changed the course of history, defining nations and redefining our sense of self and our relationships. From the mythical journey of Aeneas to Jane Austen's country dances, you'll survey a wealth of memorable stories and consider why such heroes were necessary-and how they continue to influence our lives today.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful

Entertaining Look at Western Literary Characters

First, let me say that the professor is a very entertaining speaker, easy to listen to, with a pleasant voice. (He could easily be Gandalf or Dumbledore, I think.) Each segment is about 30 minutes long, so they never drag, and he spends some time recapping story lines and pivotal scenes for those who aren't familiar with the characters. How effectively that works for someone truly ignorant of them I can't say, as I knew all of them, and so will many listeners who have read the Westernized classics. This is basically a survey of Western Lit through it's memorable characters, with the lecturer examining why each one has so captured our imaginations and, in some cases, survived for centuries.

In the course of the lectures he often mentions other books that have taken off from these classics, so the listener has a good chance of finding some new ideas for their To-Be-Read pile. (He doesn't scorn to mention television, movies, or comics, either.) Another plus is that each character is given a separate chapter in the recording, so it's easy to jump around and pick out your favorites for a repeat listen.

I recommend this survey. If you're an avid classic reader you might not learn too much that is new, but you'll probably pick up a few interesting tidbits, and I suspect you'll enjoy revisiting so many fascinating characters, as I did.

One thing I would have liked before I purchased was a listing of the characters that are included, so here it is, in order:
Bilbo Baggins/ Odysseus/ Aeneas/ Guinevere/ The Wife of Bath/ Cressida/ Beowulf/ Thor/
Robin Hood/ Don Quixote/ Robinson Crusoe/ Elizabeth Bennet/ Natty Bumppo and Woodrow Call/ Uncle Tom/ Huckleberry Finn/ Sherlock Holmes/ Dracula/ Mowgli/ Celie (from The Color Purple)/ Winston Smith/ James Bond/ Fairy Tale Heroines/ Lisbeth Salandar/ Harry Potter

(Note - He pronounces Quixote as QUICKS-ut. You'll just have to put up with it if it annoys you.)
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- Teri-K

Outstanding! Myth, Legend & History Come Alive

Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

I have done so several times! This is the Great Courses lecture I have most enjoyed listening to (and I have listened to quite a few). Professor Shippey's grasp of his subject is excellent: He presents characters when first found in literature, placing them in the framework of that time, then traces their reincarnations as societies and mores change over time. It's wonderful, sometimes surprising, to find a mythic figure, or even one from the middle ages, so alive and well, in 21st century literature! This course cites books and movies new within the past few years. Kudos to Professor Shippey: Not only has he thought long upon his subjects; he continues to consider them as they may appear to us today.


What about Professor Thomas A. Shippey’s performance did you like?

I thoroughly enjoyed Shippey's presentation. I was hesitant, based on the audio sample, to order this course (the sample does NOT do Shippey justice), but I am SO glad I did. Listening was actually quite pleasurable, as Shippey is talking to his audience, rather than merely reading through his material. He is engaging, never boring, to listen to. His fine sense of humor greatly added to my enjoyment of this course.


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- SC in SC

Book Details

  • Release Date: 03-07-2014
  • Publisher: The Great Courses