Laura's Reviews > The Age of Fable

The Age of Fable by Thomas Bulfinch
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Dec 08, 2011

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bookshelves: own, 2011
Read in August, 2011

Review em português aqui.

The Age of Fable, by Thomas Bulfinch, is a work that aims to, in the authors words (translated from the portuguese by me), "popularize mythology and expand the pleasure of reading". If he succeeds in this, I don't know, but I believe it's possible to extend the pleasure of reading.
Bulfinch explains, in a very succinct and direct way, the story of many entities (such as Jupiter, Achilles, Odysseus, Aeneas, and others) and relevant events (such as the Trojan War, for example), allowing us to discover the existing connections in other works (such as Paradise Lost, by Milton) and making easier our comprehension of what is shown to us. This is what the author intends to do and, in some way, he accomplishes it. Many times, while reading The Lusiads, I would come across some connections to greco-roman mythology I wouldn't fully understand, due, in part, to nowadays education. It's unusual to study mythology intensively and most of what I know about it was obtained through studying Camões work. This makes it harder for us to understand and analyse various classic works and, ultimately, helps us running away from them: why would we read something we will not understand?
Thus, this book turned out a very pleasant reading: I understand some parts of the story a little bit better, my mental image of the various gods is more solid and I even discovered additional information that turned to be quite useful (after reading the Trojan War chapter I saw the Troy film, with Brad Pitt and Orlando Bloom, and I understood it two times better than I would, had I not read the book before; same thing happened with the Clash of the Titans film).

But there are, for me, two serious problems in this book. It's true Bulfinch tells everything in the most succinct way possible (and I appreciate it!), but it always ends up looking like a mere account of the events: Mr. Bulfinch is right there telling us a story in a way any of us would tell somebody else. At a certain point this becomes boring and I almost started to wish he would tell those events as an actual story and not a simple summary. Initially, I blamed the gods (how cliché is that?): there are too many of them, too many names, always angry with each other (and I mean always) or with other mortals and it turns out to be a little bit confused. But the truth is Bulfinch is the responsible one for the writing, so my problem is with his writing, not with the gods.
But speaking about gods, this reminds me of two aspects that bothered me a lot: in the first place, more than two thirds of the book is about greco-roman poets, gods, mortals or events; is known that mythology is not limited to that region or time. In second place, very likely due to the first point, there were too many gods and their stories, at a certain point, were too much alike: Jupiter would provoke some nymph, or mortal, or goddess, and Juno would show up all angry and punish all of them in a very cruel manner. Or, instead, Minerva would have been challenged by god-know-who and would turn them into gods-know-what. This became dull, eventually, and the notes I started to leave in the book prove it.
Only the final part of the book turns up to be a little bit lighter, talking about some nordic, egipcian or modern mythology, but there so few things about it that I didn't even took notes.

Concluding: it's a nice book if you are interested in mythology and want some things clarified, but have in mind it focuses more on greco-roman mythology. It's also relevant to mention the portuguese translator, Odilom Cabrita de Sousa, whose notes are very convenient to complete the author's notes and work.

Note: please, feel free to correct any mistake I may have made. Thank you!

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Reading Progress

06/20/2011 page 20
06/20/2011 page 26
8.0% "Okay, it's way to late here for me to properly concentrate."
06/28/2011 page 55
17.0% "Reading it slowly because that's how I feel like reading now. Thank you. I'll deal with the lack os reading in the beach, don't worry."
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