Social Secretary Kitty Grant reviews Ruby Blondell’s non-fiction novel ‘Helen of Troy’ finding it to be a rewarding read but a daunting one to take on mid-semester
Helen of Troy is one of the first figures from ancient Greek mythology I remember learning about as a child. From Horrible Histories sketches to comparisons to beautiful women, she’s mentioned everywhere. As the title suggests, Ruby Blondell’s Helen of Troy in Hollywood is an in depth look at the icon’s many appearances in Hollywood films.
If you’re looking for a light, easy introduction into the figure of Helen of Troy and how she impacted wider culture, Helen of Troy in Hollywood is probably not the place to go. But if you’re looking for something deep to really get to grips with the academic concepts behind the recent depictions of one of ancient mythology’s most iconic characters, Blondell’s book is a great option.
The book focuses on three main themes: early Hollywood, big screen epic, and TV, with close readings of examples of each of these. Of all the works studied in this book, Troy (2004) was the only one I had actually seen, so I found the chapter that focused on this film the most interesting (I also particularly liked the heading for this chapter, ‘Helen of Abercrombie & Fitch). I found Blondell’s discussion of the real-world casting process for Troy (2004) and subsequent publicity really interesting, and reinforced to me that this book is just as much about Hollywood as Helen of Troy.
Though Troy (2004) was the only work Blondell discusses that I had seen, I did find the discussions of the other works interesting too. As someone interested in feminist interpretations of media, I found it really interesting to read about how things have changed (and how a lot of things haven’t) in Hollywood from the 1920s until today. I think even people who don’t know much about classics but who are interested in how women are represented in media would find a lot of the things Helen of Troy in Hollywood has to say very interesting, since the figure of Helen acts, as a lens through which to analyse almost 100 years of film and TV history. However, I think readers who are interested in Greek mythology but don’t care about media history and analysis might find less to enjoy in Blondell’s book.
I have to admit, however, that I probably would’ve enjoyed Helen of Troy in Hollywood more if I had read it in the summer. Amid dissertation readings, mid-semester assignments, and lectures, reading it sometimes felt more like another thing to check off the to-do list than something I wanted to do to learn more about a topic I do genuinely care about. It feels unfair to judge a book based on how reading it fit into my life personally, but this is a review for Redbrick, a paper mostly read by students. I would imagine many other students reading Helen of Troy in Hollywood would also feel like they were reading another course text.
However, the content of the book is very interesting, and though it is quite dense and academic, it is a well written book. Therefore, I would definitely recommend Helen of Troy in Hollywood to people who aren’t currently studying an arts-based subject at university but enjoy academic works, so I think I’ll revisit it in a year, after I’ve graduated. This would also be a really great read for people interested in studying classics at university, as it gives a bit of a feel for the kinds of things you would read on your course (and it would be great to talk about in a personal statement).
If you’re interested in both Greek mythology and Hollywood, and are looking for a challenging, academic read then I would definitely recommend Ruby Blondell’s Helen of Troy in Hollywood. However, if you’re looking for a casual read or an introduction, I would recommend looking elsewhere.
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