The Helmet of Horror: The Myth of Theseus and the Minotaur

The Helmet of Horror: The Myth of Theseus and the Minotaur

by Victor Pelevin

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Victor Pelevin, the iconoclastic and wildly interesting contemporary Russian novelist who The New Yorker named one of the Best European Writers Under 35, upends any conventional notions of what mythology must be with his unique take on the myth of Theseus and the Minotaur. By creating a mesmerizing world where the surreal and the hyperreal collide, The…  See more details below


Victor Pelevin, the iconoclastic and wildly interesting contemporary Russian novelist who The New Yorker named one of the Best European Writers Under 35, upends any conventional notions of what mythology must be with his unique take on the myth of Theseus and the Minotaur. By creating a mesmerizing world where the surreal and the hyperreal collide, The Helmet of Horror is a radical retelling of the myth of Theseus and the Minotaur set in an Internet chat room. They have never met, they have been assigned strange pseudonyms, they inhabit identical rooms that open out onto very different landscapes, and they have entered a dialogue they cannot escape — a discourse defined and destroyed by the Helmet of Horror. Its wearer is the dominant force they call Asterisk, a force for good and ill in which the Minotaur is forever present and Theseus is the great unknown. The Helmet of Horror is structured according to the way we communicate in the twenty-first century — using the Internet — yet instilled with the figures and narratives of classical mythology. It is a labyrinthine examination of epistemological uncertainty that radically reinvents this myth for an age where information is abundant but knowledge ultimately unattainable.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
In the Greek myth, Ariadne, the daughter of Minos of Crete, falls in love with Theseus and helps him kill the fearsome Minotaur, a half-bull, half-human monster trapped in the center of a vast labyrinth. Armed with the sword that she supplies and holding the end of a thread that marks his path, Theseus kills the beast and makes his way back out. As his addition to the Myths series, celebrated Russian novelist Pelevin creates a brilliant new telling of the myth: a group of strangers find themselves in a modern-day labyrinth, trapped in identical rooms, given archetypal screen names and able to interact only through a chatroom thread begun by one "Ariadne." The figures who inhabit this doomed maze are drawn from many sources, for instance, "Romeo-y-Cohiba" and "IsoldA" both look for love, but are stymied when they try to find it with each other. All are haunted by the "Helmet of Horror," which is both the machine that controls their destiny and the mind that creates the machine, and there is no Theseus to save them. Pelevin has updated this myth in an absurd and terrifying metaphysical consideration of the labyrinths in which we all find ourselves and the traps we willingly enter as we move through our lives. (Apr. 18) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
The classical myth is reinterpreted with black-comic brio in this odd new novel from the internationally acclaimed Russian author (The Life of Insects, 1998, etc.). Marketed as "Mythology" (and part of Canongate's ongoing series "The Myths"), it's a computer-age consideration of the meanings incarnated in the Greek adventurer Theseus, the monstrous (half-man, half-bull) Minotaur and the maze in which they meet. The novel's form is an extended conversation taking place in an Internet chat room, among several e-mailers who are themselves confined within individual mazes that appear to be parts of an encompassing labyrinth. At least this is the eventually shared opinion of Ariadne (the Greek maiden whose clever placement of a thread guided Theseus in and out of his maze), aging Lothario Romeo-y-Cohiba, computer geek Nutscracker, booze-obsessed materialist Sartrik, sex-obsessed IsoldA (a self-described combination of the Mona Lisa and Monica Lewinsky) and others. Is the Minotaur the creation of Asterisk, a "boundlessly and infinitely powerful being" avenging himself on humans who had turned against him? Or something that exists only in the "chatters'" heads?-or are they what the beast itself imagines and dreams? Pelevin evidently enjoys himself more than most readers will, toying with theoretical possibilities while analyzing the nature of such mazes as that in an "amusement arcade," the Roman catacombs, the gardens at Versailles, penitential labyrinths dug beneath churches and cathedrals and-of course-the Internet itself. Random clues suggest a satire on the "monstrous" commercialism and criminality that toppled the U.S.S.R. and labored puns liken computer "savers" to saviours (is Pelevinafter all Russia's Thomas Pynchon?). But it's all exposition and explication, and it's tiresome. Admirers of Pelevin's fiction should attempt it. But it's too much of a maze-and there's nothing to show the way out.
From the Publisher
“As often with Pelevin, this book is a mixture of the witty, the brilliant and the barking mad.”
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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Product Details

Canongate U.S.
Publication date:
The Myths
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Read an Excerpt

The Helmet of Horror

The Myth of Theseus and the Minotaur
By Victor Pelevin

Brilliance Audio

Copyright © 2006 Victor Pelevin
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9781423311560

Chapter One


‘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 . . . ?

I’m here.

So what’s going on round here?

Your guess is as good as mine.

Ariadne, are you there?

Who’s she?

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?

That’s 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.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Meet the Author

Victor Pelevin has established a reputation as one of the most interesting of the younger generation of Russian writers. His novel Buddha’s Little Finger was shortlisted for the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award. He was named by the New Yorker as one of the best European writers under thirty-five and by the Observer newspaper in London as one of “twenty-one writers to watch for the twenty-first century.”

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