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The Helmet of Horror: The Myth of Theseus and the Minotaur [Paperback]

Victor Pelevin
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
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Book Description

Aug. 14 2007
A cyber-age retelling of the myth of Theseus and the Minotaur from one of Russia’s most exciting young writers.
Labyrinth (noun): An intricate structure of intercommunicating passages, through which it is difficult to find one’s way without a clue; a maze.

They have never met; they have been assigned strange pseudonyms; they inhabit identical rooms which open out onto very different landscapes; and they have entered into a dialogue which 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.

Victor Pelevin has created a mesmerising world where the surreal and the hyperreal collide. The Helmet of Horror is structured according to the internet exchanges of the twenty-first century, yet instilled with the figures and narratives of classical mythology. It is a labyrinthine examination of epistemological uncertainty that radically reinvents the myth of Theseus and the Minotaur for an age where information is abundant but knowledge seems ultimately unattainable.


From the Hardcover edition.

Product Details


Product Description

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. 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 © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

Review

“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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Most helpful customer reviews
By Gail Cooke TOP 50 REVIEWER
Format:Audio CD
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
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 3.7 out of 5 stars  9 reviews
14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Very interesting April 24 2006
By Amazon Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I found this book very intriguing. I can't say I "enjoyed" it -- Pelevin is one of those genius authors, like S. Lem, that I feel I should like, but actually find very difficult. It is like there is a joke and I don't understand the punchline. And maybe I get all the facts of the joke wrong, too. At any rate, this is a retelling of the Theseus/Minataur myth, and is a part of the incredibly wonderful series retelling the old myths by contemporary top authors. I have loved each book in the series, so far (I especially liked Weight, the retelling of Atlas). Pelevin's book sets the labyrinthe as a computer chat room, with the "thread" followed by various people who find themselves each trapped alone in an identical room. Well, we are all in traps, and we all have illusions, etc. So I recommend this interesting book as a part of the series. I'm going to have to work on my understanding of Pelevin, however.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars ALL STAR CAST OF NARRATORS FOR THIS SPIN ON AN ANCIENT MYTH July 10 2006
By Gail Cooke - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Audio CD
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
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A fascinating discussion. Oct. 5 2009
By Frank Todd - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
To begin with, this is not a retelling of the myth of Theseus and the Minotaur. (In my opinion, The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood is a retelling.) It is, rather, a discussion of the Philosophy of Mind between a chorus of stereotypical characters using the details of the myth as a backdrop. It reminds me of a Platonic dialog, examining from different perspectives the methods with which we ascribe meaning to our apprehension of the world around us, and more interestingly, the shortcomings that accompany those methods. Having read it twice, I continue to find it provocative. I highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys philosophy and labyrinths.
6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Mind Expanding, Mind Collapsing Aug. 21 2007
By maddocbrown - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
I came to Amazon to read other folks' impression of the content of the book, but, alas, found no posts, so I'm starting one, unwinding Ariadne's thread, as it were, so others would follow it with me. I'm basing my views on the Russian original here. I wanted to understand The Helmet very much. It feels vaguely portentous and significant in some way, and I found myself giving different accounts to authorial metaphors upon rereading it.
Is Thesius the programmer while the others are stuck in VR? Are they WWW AI or real human beings? Whose is the independent reality? Is it theirs? Is it Thesius's? Was there a minotaur or are they the minotaur and were all along? Or perhaps they became the minotaur when the previous minotaur was massacred?
It's like the literary version of Donnie Darko, and like Donnie Darko, it is a paradoxical entrapment, a fairly amusing jumble while it lasts that unravels to nothing. After all is said and done, the ultimate purpose of The Helmet is not to enlighten at all. It is to deconstruct. To destroy: your mental comfort in spirituality, social order, psychological adjustment, idealism, optimism, hope. When viewed through the prism of Pelevin's literary corpus, the metafictional aspects of The Helmet become clear: it is to show how existential "discourse" is a form of mental agony or onanism, if you will, created out and by nothing for no one's benefit. All is meaningless is the message here. In fact the very discourse is the helmet of horror as is the brain creating it, and as one tries to substantiate and justify the existence of the other, both fail miserably. The entirety of The Helmet (the book), therefore, with all its airs and profundity, with all implications of significance and allusions to higher planes of being, is an onanism, a pure escapist onion in metaphysical skin. Not unlike Pelevin.
So why the four stars? During the reading process, you expect some sort of a revelation, a mind-expanding experience, while by the end the story world collapses, and you are left with no more with which you'd started. It isn't a failed expectation either. It's clear that the subject of the book and the book itself are intended to be of no existential consequence, which is, in fact, the lesson. It is that solipsistic speculation -- the author's signature and beloved cash cow -- is a barren womb. Once the concept is understood in a remedial philosophy class, it will yield no more meaning than the minimum number of words required to bring it home. All the literary effluvience and writing mastery in the world will not add weight to it, as anything times zero is zero. Solipsism is self-annihilating, however much it may be true. A book, any book, on this subject is too long. Nothing is easier than cynicism and criticism, gospodin Pelevin, stop it already! Grow up and give us some substance.
4.0 out of 5 stars Another Great Read Feb. 27 2014
By Amazon Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Pelevin has a wonderful way of taking a different tack on an old story, and is not afraid to get a bit dirty while telling it. Not that you will find a preponderance of cursing or sex in the book, but his characters have a way about them that enables you to imagine them pondering philosophy while they shovel pig s*** at the farm. This attention to grounding makes him able to write something like "Minotaur in a chatroom" and not have it turn into a techno-thriller weekend read.

While not the pinnacle of his novels (I still hold The Yellow Arrow as his masterpiece and one of my favorites), and of Pelevin's books are well worth the price of admission, and the translation helps to keep the work both accessible and a little bit exotic. Definitely worth the time!
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