Academic journal article Mythlore

The Helmholtz, the Doctor, the Minotaur, and the Labyrinth

Academic journal article Mythlore

The Helmholtz, the Doctor, the Minotaur, and the Labyrinth

Article excerpt

JUST LIKE THE EVER-DYING AND EVER-LIVING MOON-BULL, the classical myth of the Minotaur and the labyrinth of Crete is reborn with its every retelling, reception, and appropriation. Victor Pelevin's novel The Helmet of Horror (2006) and Toby Whithouse's Doctor Who episode "The God Complex" (2011) draw on the classical myth to display how the consumerist culture, along with art, appropriates myths. Each retelling serves as a labyrinth in itself. Both retellings question the possibility of progress and civilization. Both claim that Theseus and the Minotaur, the hero and the monster, might as well be the one and the same depending on the reception of the same myth.

To start with a brief summary of the classical myth, Minos prays to Poseidon to send a bull as a sign to prove that the throne of Crete is his by divine right. Upon ascending the throne, Minos does not sacrifice the bull to Poseidon as promised. For this reason, Poseidon punishes him by making his wife Pasiphae fall in love with the bull. Pasiphae copulates with the bull, hiding inside a wooden cow built by Daedalus. She has a son, nicknamed the Minotaur, with the upper body of a bull and the lower body of a man. Minos keeps his wife's son from the bull hidden and locked up in an underground labyrinth yet again built by Daedalus. After a while a war breaks out between Crete and Athens, which the latter loses. As a tribute, every nine years, seven young male and seven young female Athenians are sent to Crete to be devoured by the Minotaur. Theseus, the son of the Athenian King Aegeus, volunteers to be one of the sacrifices so that he can slaughter the Minotaur and make an end to this tribunal sacrifice. Ariadne, the daughter of Minos and Pasiphae and the half-sister of the Minotaur, falls in love with Theseus. She helps him to find his way out of the labyrinth by giving him a ball of thread. She tells Theseus to tie one end of the thread to the only entrance and exit of the labyrinth, to unravel it as he walks through the labyrinth, and to follow its trail on his way out of the labyrinth. After killing the Minotaur, Theseus escapes with Ariadne. He promises to marry her in return for her help. However, on his journey back to Athens, Theseus abandons Ariadne sleeping on an island. He eventually marries her sister Phaedra.

THE HELMET OF HORROR

The Helmet of Horror is a contemporary reception of the classical myth. In the novel eight kidnapped characters, while trying to escape from their rooms and labyrinths, replace the tribunal sacrifice just as a virtual reality game replaces the actual sacrifice. The entire novel is written in the form of a cyber chat on an internet thread. Ariadne, one of the characters, has started the thread, typing the question that a dwarf asked her in her dream before locking her in a room: "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?" (Pelevin 1). At first the readers may be inclined to think that the answers must be Daedalus and the labyrinth of Crete. After all, he built the labyrinth. He was put into it by Minos as a punishment for helping Ariadne and Theseus. Nonetheless, it is eventually hinted that the labyrinth that the dwarf mentions actually refers to the helmet of horror. Asterisk, who happens to be the Minotaur and Theseus at the same time, built the helmet of horror. The helmet's contents, that is the characters of the novel and everything else such as the many wires, tubes and parts, are all created inside the helmet to pass the time.

Each character in The Helmet of Horror has supposedly been kidnapped. Each one wakes up alone in a locked room with a labyrinth outside his/her door, not remembering how he/she has gotten there. UGLI 666's labyrinth is a mosaic on the floor of a Gothic cathedral. She walks through it on her knees. The two canons at the cathedral explain to UGLI 666 that a labyrinth illustrates the Christian path, which is "as simple and straight as an arrow. …

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