It was many years ago that I studied the Greek myths in school. Legends of ancient gods and goddesses, their half-mortal children who performed great feats, their loves and jealousies. I am afraid that they have mostly faded into a distant memory, faint wisps of half-remembered stories clinging to my brain. It is only just now that I remember that it was Perseus who faced (well, not literally) the gorgon Medusa, and Theseus who defeated the dreaded Minotaur, and not the other way around. And I am only able to figure it out (by process of elimination) because I have Victor Pelevin's The Helmet of Horror on the table next to me.
I first read Pelevin in college. I had survived a semester of Tolstoy (an entire semester devoted to War and Peace), another of 19th century Russian literature (which involved more Pushkin than I care to remember), and now had moved on to Soviet and post-Soviet literature. I cannot remember The Life of Insects very well; I remember only that I found it confusing and difficult. It was during tonight's weekly bookstore binge (two books, hardly a binge; I only just stopped myself from adding Rilke to the pile, if only because I didn't know which one to buy and I couldn't buy them all) when I came across The Helmet of Horror, which I noticed, I must admit, only because the cover was so cool. It was on the bottom shelf, and I was huddled on the floor, flipping through a volume of Rilke and wondering why I never studied German when I looked up and saw that amusingly designed jacket cover, the drawing of a bull-headed man, the cartoonish red letters of the title. I never buy hardcover books, but Pelevin beckoned; it was time to come back to him.
This book is one of a series of books by different writers, each rewriting a myth. This one happens to be Pelevin's reinterpretation of the myth of Theseus and the Minotaur, the details of which I cannot remember. I remember only that it involved a labryinth, a ball of magic thread, and a girl called Ariadne. And I am not sure about Ariadne. Pelevin's version is constructed as what appears to be a conversation in an internet chatroom, between people with screenames such as Nutscracker and my favorite, Romeo-y-Cohiba (which, I believe, is a brand of cigars, is it not?). They are joined by Ariadne, Organizm(-:, IsoldA, and the fabulously named Monstradamus. The myth of thousands of years has made a leap across time into the present...who knows where it will lead me next?
I shall construct a labyrinth in which I can lose myself, together with anyone who tries to find me - who said this and about what?*
I like the image of a labryinth, because it calls to mind the garden of forking paths that I have referred to in the past, the garden of literature, which comes from something (only vaguely remembered, so perhaps I am making this up) Borges wrote about a garden of forking paths. Of course, he wrote of labyrinths as well - labryinths, gardens of forking paths - either way you look at it they are the same, a bounded area with endless possibilities and directions within. Pelevin begins by referencing Borges (which is what brought him back to my mind). Which means, when I finish this book, I must go back to Borges as the key to Pelevin's story.
*Pelevin, Victor. The Helmet of Horror: The Myth of Perseus and the Minotaur. Canongate, 2006. p 1.