Weight: The Myth of Atlas and Heracles

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Overview

"When I was asked to chose a myth to write about, I realized I had chosen already. The story of Atlas holding up the world was in my mind before the telephone call had ended. If the call had not come, perhaps I would never have written the story, but when the call did come, that story was waiting to be written. Rewritten. The recurring language motif of Weight is 'I want to tell the story again.' My work is full of cover versions. I like to take stories we think we know and record them differently. In the retelling comes a new emphasis or bias,
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Weight: The Myth of Atlas and Heracles

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Overview

"When I was asked to chose a myth to write about, I realized I had chosen already. The story of Atlas holding up the world was in my mind before the telephone call had ended. If the call had not come, perhaps I would never have written the story, but when the call did come, that story was waiting to be written. Rewritten. The recurring language motif of Weight is 'I want to tell the story again.' My work is full of cover versions. I like to take stories we think we know and record them differently. In the retelling comes a new emphasis or bias, and the new arrangement of the key elements demands that fresh material be injected into the existing text. Weight moves far away from the simple story of Atlas's punishment and his temporary relief when Heracles takes the world off his shoulders. I wanted to explore loneliness, isolation, responsibility, burden, and freedom too, because my version has a very particular end not found elsewhere." From Jeanette Winterson's foreword to Weight
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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
When Jeanette Winterson was invited to participate in Canongate's Myths series, she realized that she had chosen already: "The story of Atlas holding up the world was in my mind before the telephone call had ended." Winterson had always believed that Atlas's question (Why does the world have to be carried at all?) warranted a better answer than Heracles' trick reprieve. In this equally sly retelling, the author of Written on the Body reassesses a Greek myth fraught with questions about the nature of choice, coercion, and burdens.
Caroline Alexander
Winterson's embrace of the mythic landscape is evident in her rich imagery: Atlas, freed from his burden, "kicking the stars like stones"; or cautiously pushing back the peeling wooden gate of his overgrown garden. Her most dazzling flight of imagination, however, is the introduction of poor Laika, the dog sent into space by the Russians in 1957. In Winterson's telling, this absurdly unlikely image is so right, so cathartic, that one can well imagine the old myth having waited for this element to complete it.
—The New York Times
Library Journal
Conceived by Canongate publisher Jamie Byng and launched this year by 30 publishers worldwide, this series will offer the retelling of favorite myths by leading authors from A.S. Byatt to Donna Tartt. Armstrong weighs in with a concise (and, one suspects, insightful) history. Byng expects the final volume to appear in 2038. Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
From the Publisher
“One of the most worthwhile and singular reads of 2005. Jeanette Winterson creates an uncategorisable, meditative and moving book.”
–David Mitchell, Sunday Herald (Glasgow)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781841957999
  • Publisher: Canongate U.S.
  • Publication date: 9/28/2006
  • Series: Myths Series
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 176
  • Sales rank: 666,544
  • Product dimensions: 5.10 (w) x 7.70 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Meet the Author

Jeanette Winterson
Jeanette Winterson’s first novel, Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit, won the Whitbread Prize for Best Novel. Since then, she has published seven other novels, including Lighthousekeeping, The Passion, Written on the Body, and The Powerbook, a collection of short stories, The World and Other Places, a books of essays, Art Objects, and most recently a children’s picture book, The King of Capri. She has adapted her work for TV, film, and stage. Her books are published in thirty-two countries. She lives in Oxfordshire and London.
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Read an Excerpt

Weight


By Jeanette Winterson

Random House

Jeanette Winterson
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0676974171


Chapter One

I want to tell the story again
The free man never thinks of escape.
In the beginning there was nothing. Not even space and time. You could have thrown the universe at me and I would have caught it in one hand. There was no universe. It was easy to bear.

This happy nothing ended fifteen aeons ago. It was a strange time, and what I know is told to me in radioactive whispers; that's all there is left of one great shout into the silence.

What is it that you contain? The dead. Time. Light patterns of millennia opening in your gut. Every minute, in each of you, a few million potassium atoms succumb to radioactive decay. The energy that powers these tiny atomic events has been locked inside potassium atoms ever since a star-sized bomb exploded nothing into being. Potassium, like uranium and radium, is a long-lived radioactive nuclear waste of the supernova bang that accounts for you.

Your first parent was a star.

It was hot as hell in those days. It was Hell, if hell is where the life we love cannot exist. Those ceaseless burning fires and volcanic torments are lodged in us as ultimate fear. The hells we invent are the hells we have known. Hell is; was not, is not, cannot. Science calls it the world before life began -- the Hadean period. But life had begun, because life is more than the ability to reproduce. In the molten lava spills and cratered rocks, life longed for life. The proto, the almost, the maybe. Not Venus. Not Mars. Earth.

Planet Earth, that wanted life so badly, she got it.

Moving forward a few billion years, there was a miracle. At least that's what I call the unexpected fact that changes the story. Earth had bacterial life, but no oxygen, and oxygen was a deadly poison. Then, in a quiet revolution as explosive in its own way as a star, a new kind of bacteria, cyanobacteria started to photosynthesise -- and a bi-product of photosynthesis is oxygen. Planet earth had a new atmosphere. The rest is history.

Well not quite. I could list for you the wild optimism of the Cambrian era, pushing up mountains like grass grows daisies, or the Silurian dream-days of starfish and gastropods. About 400 million years ago, shaking salt water from their fins and scales, the first land animals climbed out of the warm lagoons of the vast coral reefs. The Triassic and Jurassic periods belong to the dinosaurs, efficient murder weapons, common as nightmares. Then three or four million years ago -- chancy and brand new -- what's this come here -- a mammoth and something like a man?
* * *
The earth was amazed. Earth was always strange and new to herself. She never anticipated what she would do next. She never guessed the coming wonder. She loved the risk, the randomness, the lottery probability of a winner. We forget, but she never did, that what we take for granted is the success story. The failures have disappeared. This planet that seems so obvious and inevitable is the jackpot. Earth is the blue ball with the winning number on it.

Make a list. Look around you. Rock, sand, soil, fruit trees, roses, spiders, snails, frogs, fish, cattle, horses, rainfall, sunshine, you and me. This is the grand experiment called life. What could be more unexpected?

All the stories are here, silt-packed and fossil-stored. The book of the world opens anywhere, chronology is one method only and not the best. Clocks are not time. Even radioactive rock-clocks, even gut-spun DNA, can only tell time like a story.

When the universe exploded like a bomb, it started ticking like a bomb too. We know our sun will die, in another hundred million years or so, then the lights will go out and there will be no light to read by any more.

'Tell me the time' you say. And what you really say is 'Tell me a story.'

Here's one I haven't been able to put down.

Weight of the World
My father was Poseidon. My mother was the Earth.
My father loved the strong outlines of my mother's body. He loved her demarcations and her boundaries. He knew where he stood with her. She was solid, certain, shaped and material.

My mother loved my father because he recognised no boundaries. His ambitions were tidal. He swept, he sank, he flooded, he re-formed. Poseidon was a deluge of a man. Power flowed off him. He was deep, sometimes calm, but never still.

My mother and father teemed with life. They were life. Creation depended on them and had done so before there was air or fire. They sustained so much. They were so much. To each other they were irresistible.

Both were volatile. My father obviously so, my mother more alarmingly. She was serene as a rock but volcano'd with anger. She was quiet as a desert but tectonically challenged. When my mother threw a plate across the room, the whole world felt the crash. My father could be whipped into a storm in moments. My mother grumbled and growled and shook for days or weeks or months until her rage fissured and crumpled entire cities or forced human kind into lava-like submission.

Humankind . . . They never could see it coming. Look at Pompeii. There they are in the bathouses, sitting in their chairs, wearing skeletal looks of charred surprise.

When my father wooed my mother she lapped it up. He was playful, he was warm, he waited for her in the bright blue shallows and came a little closer, then drew back, and his pull was to leave a little gift on her shore; a piece of coral, mother of pearl, a shell as spiralled as a dream.

Sometimes he was a long way out and she missed him and the beached fishes gasped for breath. Then he was all over her again, and they were mermaids together, because there was always something feminine about my father, for all his power. Earth and water are the same kind, just as fire and air are their opposites.

She loved him because he showed her to herself. He was her moving mirror. He took her round the world, the world that she was, and held it up for her to see, her beauty of forests and cliffs and coastlines and wild places. To him she was both paradise and fear and he loved both. Together they went where no human had ever been. Places only they could go, places only they could be. Wherever he went, she was there; a gentle restraint, a serious reminder; the earth and the waters that covered the earth. He knew though, that while he could not cover the whole of her, she underpinned the whole of him. For all his strength, she was strong.


Excerpted from Weight by Jeanette Winterson 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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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 13, 2012

    V

    Okay, this is going to be a long post. I am a dark ginger she-car with deep amber eyes. My paws are black, same with my eartips and tailtip. To know that I'm the real Amberclaw, I usually don't say mean things like, "her eyes turned cold as she watched her clanmates ruin her hunt", I would NEVER say that! I don't say that stuff because I would never do it, you know? I am a kind cat with a big heart. I never would tell a cat mean things unless they did them to me. I would only fight or draw blood if it was my only choice. I would do it for my clan and I would do it if I or my clanmate or friends (you for example) are being threatened or they attack them. I hate for cats to get mad at me. I am usually determined to protect my clan no matter what! I would risk my life for my leader Emberstar! She was the first friend I ever had in Thunderclan! My best cat would be Runningstream, because we do everything together! Only my clanmates and true friends and my mate wouldn't be decieved by this peice of fox dung! She has wasted her time and life pretending to be me! It has to stop now because it's not fun! I hate it when people do this! You know what it's called? It's cyber-bullying! That's exactly what it is! I'm glad I got this out! Thank you for listening to me! I chose you because I saw a kind heart through those eyes, and I knew that I could trust you! Anyway, you did warn my old clan at Thunder that Emberstar couldn't post there! You brought everyone here! Thank you soo much! Goldenstripe is lucky to have you as a mate, and I think he knows that too! Don't give up!
    ~Amberclaw, deputy of Thunderclan
    (The real one, no matter what that other cat says!!)

    0 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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