Lost in the Labyrinth by Patrice Kindl
In recent years there has been a massive increase in the publication of re-told fairytales and myths, usually with the author twisting the known facts and meanings of the original source material into something more contemporary: villains become sympathetic characters, we see the proceedings through the eyes of a minority character such as a slave or a woman, or hidden agendas and meanings are revealed behind the bare bones of the story.
Famous examples of this have been Marion Zimmer Bradley’s The Mists of Avalon, Gail Carson Levine‘s Ella Enchanted and any of Donna Jo Napoli‘s wonderful canon of reshaped fairytales. Patrice Kindl takes a similar path with Lost in the Labyrinth, a retelling of the Theseus and Minotaur myth, and though she is not quite as successful as the above-mentioned authors, she still gives us an interesting and sometimes haunting read.
The original myth took place entirely on the island of Crete, where twelve young Athenians were taken each year be sacrificed to the vicious Minotaur, the offspring of a bull and the god-cursed Queen Pasiphae. King Minos was disgusted by his Queen’s bestiality and the sight of her son, and so employed the inventor Daedalus to design a labyrinth in order to hide this Minotaur, and sacrificed the Athenians to it in order to keep it under control. Finally, Prince Theseus of Athens came to the island, and with the help of the king’s daughter Ariadne he slew the monster and made his escape.
This story however, though it keeps all the basic facts, changes the meaning and reasoning behind these events. It is told in first person by Princess Xenodice, who is satisfied with her lot in life: helping at the menagerie, enjoying the comforts of palace life and in love with Daedalus’s son Icarus. But changes are brewing for Xenodice when a ship bringing the latest group of Athenians comes ashore, bringing with them Prince Theseus who is eager to continue his heroic feats by slaying the Minotaur.
But the Minotaur — or Lord Asterius as his family call him — is not the monster that the Athenians have long believed him to be. The boy with the bull’s head is not a monster, but rather a docile beast that is dangerous only when provoked, and Xenodice is very fond of him. Concerned for his safety, Xenodice does all in her power to protect the ones she loves when she discovers her elder sister Ariadne is in love with Theseus and there is a plot afoot to topple the royal prince.
Despite all the changes from the original source, Kindl falls prey to a new set of clichés that abound in this new genre. Starting with The Mists of Avalon, there is a constant trend of presenting ancient societies as matriarchal utopias, where the women are in charge. Not only is this historically incorrect, but the fact is that all the darker components of the myth are “sanitised” in order to fit into this New Age idea of ancient civilisation. For example, the Minotaur in Kindl’s retelling is a creature who owes its existence to the will of the Goddess and the mythic figure of “the Bull of the Earth,” not a potent symbol of the animalistic side of man. The Athenian sacrifices are brought to the island simply to tend to the royal family rather than as sacrifices. The continued imprisonment of Daedalus and Icarus is based on a technicality rather than suspicion and jealousy. The labyrinth, with its sinister curves and twists, is now the ancestral palace of the royal family. In other words, all the juicy bits have been removed! There’s nothing wrong with changing myths in order to find a deeper meaning to them, but often it felt that Kindl simply catered to a New Age ideology that brings no deeper resonance to the story.
However, these is just my personal opinions on what myths mean and how they should be retold, and most young readers will be delighted with this retelling. Kindl’s details of the particulars of Minoan life are detailed and realistic, and the labyrinthine palace with its luxurious baths and dark prisons comes to life on the page. Her characterisations are thoughtful, with no true heroes or villains, and she brings touches of intrigue to the tale, such as Xenodice’s vision of Ariadne, the resurrection of Glaucus, and her haunting last paragraph. If you are aware of the ending of this particular myth then you’ll be dreading the ending, but Kindl manages to hit the right note of poignancy without being too depressing or too uplifting.
Lost in the Labyrinth was my first read by Patricia Kindl, but it shall not be my last.
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