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Virgil Burnett.

Erin (Ont.), The Porcupine's Quill, c1977, 1982.
Distributed by Firefly.
unpaged, paper, $4.95.
ISBN 0-88984-074-1.

Grades 12 and up.
Reviewed by Patrick Dunn.

Volume 11 Number 1.
1983 January.

Skiamachia (Shadow Battles as I translate it) is Burnett's novel interpretation of the Minotaur legend. In Greek mythology, Poseidon sent a snow-white bull from the sea as a sign of Minos' right to become king of Crete. Instead of sacrificing it to Poseidon, Minos kept it alive. In revenge, the god caused Pasiphae, Minos's wife, to fall in love with the bull. Daedalus, the fabulously cunning artisan, constructed a wooden cow in which Pasiphae was able to satisfy her passion for the bull. As-terius, the child of the encounter, had a bull's head on a human body and was confined in the Labyrinth created for Minos by Daedalus. Later, Androgeos, a son of Minos, was killed by the Athenians. To avenge his death, Minos demanded that seven Athenian youths and seven maidens be sent every ninth year to be devoured by the Minotaur. When the third time of sacrifice came, Theseus volunteered to go. With the help of Ariadne, daughter of Pasiphae and Minos, he killed the monster.

In this retelling, Burnett describes the actions above from the point of view of the individuals (Minos aside) involved. The reader/voyeur is offered glimpses of the characters' inner lives and snatches of thought and feeling not usually presented in traditional recountings. Hence the subtitle, "A Fantasy"; the author records what he imagines to be the fears and longings, frustrations and desires experienced by these figures, caught in a maelstrom of events beyond their control. We discover that for Pasiphae the violent coupling dispels, for a time, the killing boredom of her palace existence. We are surprised to learn of Daedalus's melancholy, Theseus's un-hero-like fear and Ariadne's regret for the slain Minotaur. Interestingly enough, we come to feel a certain sympathy for Asterius, the supposed villain of this story. Psychologically, the monster is seen to be just as "human" as the others.

Burnett's pen-and-ink illustrations are superb. They capture the erotic elements of the myth without being overly sensational. The writing is highly intelligent, seemingly effortless prose that is poetic in its intensity. As it stands, the work is probably more of a collector's item than a school or public library purchase. On the other hand, in a senior creative writing class, it could clearly serve as a handsome model illustrating the manner in which traditional material can be reworked anew.

Patrick Dunn, Faculty of Education, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, BC.
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