The Minotaur in Pamplona,
Books I and II
its title from a wonderful reworking of the Minotaur myth by Rhys Hughes,
this collection weaves the fabric of myth and legend into modern day
scenarios. The best stories succeed in fusing the classical tradition
with the concerns and perceptions of contemporary society in an inspiring
way bringing magic to the mundane.
The collection opens with a curiously nostalgic poem, "Monemvasia",
by Brian Aldiss, evoking the lost world of classical Greece. In "Dancing
the Labyrinth", Lisa Granville eschews all sentiment in a reflective
study of a disintegrating marriage which propels its female character
into an affair with a god-like Cretan. Superficially predictable, this
is a memorable story, which convinces by its deft handling of mythical
themes and perceptive analysis of relationships and the need for self-belief.
Andrew Hook's story succeeds in compressing
phoenix-eye view of history into a few pages and makes the bird's odyssey
a rich excursion through a landscape of symbols--ancient and modern,
culminating in a genuinely moving dénouement. This mingling of
the fabulous and the commonplace is superbly handled in Rhys Hughes'
title story, which transforms the myth of the Minotaur into a study
of contemporary alienation. Hughes writes with such confidence that
his man/Minotaur figure stands out, despite the brevity of the tale.
Another brief but satisfying story opens the second volume: Lavie Tidhar's
enigmatic portrayal of a one-eyed sextant based on the legend of Polyphemus.
The bitter irony of his trade is brought out with gentle comedy and
the piece leaves a lasting impression.
"Ascent Is Not Allowed" by Catherynne M Valente gives us an angry lament
in the words of a group of sculptured goddesses from the Parthenon who
rail against the hordes of godless tourists. Male violence against women
and its tacit acceptance by society is at the uncomfortable heart of
these beautifully written monologues. In "Circe's Choice", Steve Redwood
composes a similar series of first person monologues to retell the tragedy
of Circe. At times confusing, this story could have done with some signalling
of the different characters speaking, but the language is evocative,
reaching to the core of all tragic love stories.
The collection closes with Kara Kellar Bell's "The Mermaid's Song",
a slightly disappointing retelling of the 'seduction-of-sailors-by-mermaids'
legend, which fails to transcend its well-worn themes.
Overall, this is a super collection: varied and original with some
brilliant writing. For me, the accompanying artwork does little to complement
the stories effectively and, with one or two exceptions, even detracts
somewhat from the imagery.
Small reservations aside, this collection is thoroughly commendable,
containing some miniature masterpieces of innovation, and deserving
of a place on the bookshelves of all fantasy lovers.