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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.

PLEASE NOTE: When you purchase this title, the accompanying reference material will be available in your My Library section along with the audio.

©2014 The Great Courses (P)2014 The Teaching Company, LLC
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful
4 out of 5 stars
By Teri-K on 10-11-14

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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63 of 63 people found this review helpful

5 out of 5 stars
By SC in SC on 05-18-14

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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45 of 45 people found this review helpful

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful
4 out of 5 stars
By Storfod on 07-08-14

Society Shapes Heroes

Would you consider the audio edition of Heroes and Legends to be better than the print version?

Yes! Shippey is engaging. He's lecturing is more like story telling really.

What other book might you compare Heroes and Legends to, and why?

Other than the other listens from 'The Great Lectures', this lecture reminds me of the documentaries from the LoftR DVD set.

Have you listened to any of Professor Thomas A. Shippey’s other performances? How does this one compare?

Sadly no.

Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

Yes, and I did - almost.

Any additional comments?

Shippey is engaging. I especially appreciated his points on how the heroes tell us what kind of society tells their stories.

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2 of 2 people found this review helpful

5 out of 5 stars
By Ian on 02-23-16

For those who slept through English literature

Who was your favorite character and why?

Beowulf and Bond.

Any additional comments?

This was an excellent way to frame a history of literature overview. Good for literature newbs, but also likely informative for those who want a bit of reading inspiration.

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1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful
5 out of 5 stars
By Roger on 10-10-15

A great way to learn about literature

I enjoyed the Prof's selection of heroes, and especially the insights he gave into how legends fit the society in which they are created.

He inspired me to go back to The Odyssey, which I have put down too many times. It's surprising how readable the language is, once you understand the theme of the story.

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5 out of 5 stars
By Michael on 07-26-14

Excellent and insightful.

Would you listen to Heroes and Legends again? Why?

Professor Shippey offers great insights into the evolution of heros and villains in literature.

What did you like best about this story?

The variety of characters and the changing attitudes that shaped them over the centuries.

What does Professor Thomas A. Shippey bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you had only read the book?

He tells the story, as opposed to me reading it.

Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

The book is broken into lectures of one hour duration, perfect for walking or exercise sessions.

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