The Helmet of Horror: The Myth of Theseus and the Minotaurby Victor Pelevin
"When mythic Ariadne helped Theseus escape the Minotaur's labyrinth with the aid of a ball of thread, she set a precedent for the bewildered victims of a twenty-first-century Minotaur." In this radical reinvention of the ancient story, the labyrinth exists again - in the endless maze of the Internet. The only path through the alienated landscape lies in the threads… See more details below
"When mythic Ariadne helped Theseus escape the Minotaur's labyrinth with the aid of a ball of thread, she set a precedent for the bewildered victims of a twenty-first-century Minotaur." In this radical reinvention of the ancient story, the labyrinth exists again - in the endless maze of the Internet. The only path through the alienated landscape lies in the threads trailing from chatrooms where strangers sit trapped and alone before their screens, assigned obscure aliases and commanded by the Helmet of Horror, the Minotaur himself.
—The Daily Telegraph (UK)
“[I]magine Douglas Coupland successfully channeling Samuel Beckett and Philip K. Dick while trading set-pieces with Kurt Vonnegut and Nikolai Gogol. . . . [Victor] Pelevin is the foremost fiction writer to have emerged in Russia since the collapse of communism and the rise of post-Soviet consumer capitalism.”
—The Globe and Mail
“A brilliant, post-modern, eclectic vision of myth, mind and meaning. And of the human dilemma and its horns, ancient and modern.”
—The Times (London)
“At times The Helmet of Horror is as much of a maze as the ones Pelevin’s characters are trapped in, a hall of mirrors that, once entered, is hard to escape from.”
—Sunday Herald (UK)
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The Helmet of HorrorThe Myth of Theseus and the Minotaur
By Victor Pelevin
Brilliance AudioCopyright © 2006 Victor Pelevin
All right reserved.
‘No one realised that the book and the labyrinth were one and the same . . .’
-Borges, The Garden of Forking Paths
According to one definition, a myth is a traditional story, usually explaining some natural or social phenomenon. According to another, it is a widely held but false belief or idea. This duality of meaning is revealing. It shows that we naturally consider stories and explanations that come from the past to be untrue — or at least we treat them with suspicion. This attitude, apart from creating new jobs in the field of intellectual journalism, gives some additional meaning to our life. The past is a quagmire of mistakes; we are here to find the truth. We know better.
The road away from myth is called ‘progress’. It is not just scientific, technical or political evolution. Progress has a spiritual constituent beautifully expressed by F. Scott Fitzgerald in The Great Gatsby:
[a belief] in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter — tomorrow we will run faster, stretch our arms further . . . And one fine morning—
So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.
In other words, progress is a propulsion technique where we have to constantly push ourselves away from the point we occupied a moment ago. However, this doesn’t mean that we live without myths now. It only means that we live with instant myths of soap-bubble content. They are so unreal you can’t even call them lies. Anything can become our mythology for fifteen minutes, even Mythbusters programme on the Discovery channel.
The foundation of this mind-set on progress is not faith, as happens with traditional cults, but the absence of it. However, the funny thing is that the concept of progress has been around for so long that now it has all the qualities of a myth. It is a traditional story that pretends to explain all natural and social phenomena. It is also a belief that is widespread and false.
Progress has brought us into these variously shaped and sized cubicles with glowing screens. But if we start to analyse this high-end glow in terms of content and structure, we will sooner or later recognise the starting point of the journey — the original myth. It might have acquired a new form, but it hasn’t changed in essence. We can argue about whether we were ceaselessly borne back into the past or relentlessly pushed forward into the future, but in fact we never moved anywhere at all.
And even this recognition is a traditional story now. A long time ago Jorge Luis Borges wrote that there are only four stories that are told and re-told: the siege of the city, the return home, the quest, and the (self-) sacrifice of God. It is notable that the same story could be placed into different categories by different viewers: what is a quest/return home for Theseus is a brutal God’s sacrifice for Minotaur. Maybe there are more than just ‘four cycles’, as Borges called them, but their number is definitely finite and they are all known. We will invent nothing new. Why?
This is where we come to the third possible definition of a myth. If a mind is like a computer, perhaps myths are its shell programs: sets of rules that we follow in our world processing, mental matrices we project onto complex events to endow them with meaning. People who work in computer programming say that to write code you have to be young. It seems that the same rule applies to the cultural code. Our programs were written when the human race was young — at a stage so remote and obscure that we don’t understand the programming language any more. Or, even worse, we understand it in so many different ways and on so many levels that the question ‘what does it mean?’ simply loses sense.
Why does the Minotaur have a bull’s head? What does he think and how? Is his mind a function of his body or is his body an image in his mind? Is Theseus inside the Labyrinth? Or is the Labyrinth inside Theseus? Both? Neither?
Each answer means that you turn down a different corridor. There were many people who claimed they knew the truth. But so far nobody has returned from the Labyrinth. Have a nice walk. And if you happen to meet the Minotaur, never say ‘MOOO’. It is considered highly offensive.
Started by ARIADNE at xxx p.m. xxx xxx BC GMT
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?
What’s going on? Is there anyone there . . . ?
So what’s going on round here?
Your guess is as good as mine.
Ariadne, are you there?
She started this thread. Seems this isn’t the Internet, just looks like it. You can’t link to anywhere else from here.
Hello! If anyone can read this, please answer.
I can read it.
Who posted the first message?
It’s been up on the board a long time.
How can you tell? There’s no date on it.
I saw it three hours ago.
Attention, roll-call. There’s just Nutcracker, Romeo and me here, is that right?
At least, we’re the only ones who want to join in.
Right, so there are three of us here.
But where is here exactly?
How do you mean?
Quite literally. Can you describe where you are now? What is it — a room, a hall, a house? A hole in someone’s xxx?
Excerpted from The Helmet of Horror by Victor Pelevin Copyright © 2006 by Victor Pelevin. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author
Born in Moscow in 1962, VICTOR PELEVIN has established a reputation as one of the most interesting of the younger generation of Russian writers. He has degrees from Moscow’s Gorky Institute of Literature and has written for the New York Times Magazine, Granta, and Open City. He was selected by the New Yorker as one of the Best European Writers Under 35 and by The Observer as one of the 21 Writers for the 21st Century. His novel Numbers won the Grigoriev Prize from the Russian Academy of Critics 2004.
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Audiobook aficionados will think they've stumbled upon nirvana when listening to this update on the myth of Theseus and the Minotaur as read by eight of the best and brightest narrators to be found. Not only are they all first rate voice performers with wide ranges of experience but they're also award winners - far too many to mention here. Russian novelist Victor Pelevin who was named among the Best European Writers under 35 is anything but conventional. Here, he takes an ancient myth and puts a today spin on it by creating eight characters, all assigned pseudonyms, who sign on to a chat room to discuss philosophy. We may remember that the Minotaur lived in a labyrinth and these characters find themselves in a virtual one. The story opens with Ariadne writing, '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?' This thread is responded to by the other characters who are all in separate spaces, places of which they are not sure - where are they? This is a sci-fi story which some may find puzzling and others enthralling as two of the characters struggle to find each other and others labor to explore their shared predicament. - Gail Cooke