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The Helmet of Horror: The Myth of Theseus and the Minotaur Paperback – Aug 14 2007
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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.
“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)
Top Customer Reviews
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
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
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.
Borges is clearly a major influence on Pelevin, and it is as if he set out to write a post-national novel in which it isn't clear if any or all of the characters are Russian or anywhere near Russia. There is quite a bit of talk about ways of controlling individuals so that they do what the powers that be want while retaining the illusion of individual choice, which could be about Russia or could be just about anywhere.
When reading Anthony Smith's Nationalism: theory, ideology, history (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2010), I came across a statement on the problems of postmodern postnational culture that explains the limits of The Helmet of Horror better than I can: "the skeleton of computerized information technology and the virtual reality it creates must be covered with the flesh and blood of existing cultures, or rather, with selected motifs and elements ('shreds and patches') from those cultures, put together in playful, cynical satire, their original meanings transmuted to fit the ever-elusive present. So, a postmodern and cosmopolitan global culture can only be eclectic, hybrid, fragmentary and presentist, forever being up-dated, forever in search of 'relevance.' Such an esoteric and patchwork culture could only have limited appeal, even when it makes use of popular cultures, and little staying-power and resilience, even though it seeks to avoid pastiche." (146)
The ending is also a disappointment. It reminded me of the last episode of the X-files, which tried to be so ambiguous and so "everything to everybody" that it just flopped.