• Theseus Loses his Way: Viktor Pelevin's Helmet of Horror and the Old Labyrinth for the New World

    Alison Traweek (see profile)
    Classsical literature, Criticism, interpretation, etc., Russian literature, Mythology, Classical
    Item Type:
    ariadne, labyrinth, minotaur, theseus, viktor pelevin, Classical reception, Contemporary Russian literature, Greco-Roman mythology
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    This article explores the relationship between the myth of Theseus and the Minotaur, and Viktor Pelevin’s 2006 adaptation of it, The Helmet of Horror, particularly how it can serve as a case study for the nature and significance of adaptation. It examines the idea of memory, a central theme of the novel, and considers how three aspects of the original myth – the Minotaur, Ariadne’s thread, and the labyrinth itself – shape and inform Pelevin’s retelling. Each of these is unique to this myth in antiquity, and together, they structure the story. Each is also fundamentally connected to the idea of memory: the Minotaur is a living reminder of Pasiphae’s transgression, Ariadne’s thread is the mnemonic that allows Theseus to escape, and the labyrinth is a structure whose very nature is designed to challenge memory by creating confusion. In Pelevin’s hands, the Minotaur is no longer a reminder of the union of human and beast but of human and machine; its head is a helmet that runs on reiterations of the past. Ariadne’s thread is re-imagined as a literal thread on an Internet forum where the characters discuss their situation and report their activities as they work towards escape. Finally, Pelevin’s novel multiplies the power of the labyrinth to enforce forgetfulness by structuring the story with a series of recursive metaphorical labyrinths, each of which suppresses memory in a different way. Pelevin’s novel dramatizes how both individuals and cultures use the past to make meaning in the present and thus illustrates the appeal of adaptations. The article closes with some suggestions for inviting students to reflect on the idea of adaptation, such as creating their own retellings, as well as for using the labyrinth as a theme for a larger study module.
    Published as:
    Journal article    
    Last Updated:
    5 years ago


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