18.83 xo Orpheus: Fifty New Myths

ISBN 13: 9780143122425

xo Orpheus: Fifty New Myths

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9780143122425: xo Orpheus: Fifty New Myths

Fifty leading writers retell myths from around the world in this dazzling follow-up to the bestselling My Mother She Killed Me, My Father He Ate Me.

Icarus flies once more. Aztec jaguar gods again stalk the earth. An American soldier designs a new kind of Trojan horse—his cremains in a bullet. Here, in beguiling guise, are your favorite mythological figures alongside characters from Indian, Punjabi, Inuit, and other traditions.
 
Aimee Bender retells the myth of the Titans.

Elizabeth McCracken retells the myth of Lamia, the child-eating mistress of Zeus.

Madeline Miller retells the myth of Galatea.
 
Kevin Wilson retells the myth of Phaeton, from Ovid’s Metamorphoses.
 
Emma Straub and Peter Straub retell the myth of Persephone.
 
Heidi Julavits retells the myth of Orpheus and Euridice.
 
Ron Currie, Jr. retells the myth of Dedalus.
 
Maile Meloy retells the myth of Demeter.
 
Zachary Mason retells the myth of Narcissus.
 
Joy Williams retells the myth of Argos, Odysseus’ dog.
 
If “xo” signals a goodbye, then xo Orpheus is a goodbye to an old way of mythmaking. Featuring talkative goats, a cat lady, a bird woman, a beer-drinking ogre, a squid who falls in love with the sun, and a girl who gives birth to cubs, here are extravagantly imagined, bracingly contemporary stories, heralding a new beginning for one of the world’s oldest literary traditions.

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About the Author:

Kate Bernheimer is the editor of the World Fantasy Award-winning anthology My Mother She Killed Me, My Father He Ate Me: Forty New Fairy Tales and the founder and editor of the literary journal Fairy Tale Review. Author of the story collections Horse, Flower, Bird and How a Mother Weaned Her Girl from Fairy Tales, among many other books, she teaches in the MFA program at the University of Arizona.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

**This excerpt is from an advance uncorrected proof.**

xo Orpheus

Kate Bernheimer is the editor of the World Fantasy Award–winning anthology My Mother She Killed Me, My Father He Ate Me: Forty New Fairy Tales, as well as Mirror, Mirror on the Wall: Women Writers Explore Their Favorite Fairy Tales and Brothers and Beasts: An Anthology of Men on Fairy Tales. She is also the author of the story collection Horse, Flower, Bird, the novels The Complete Tales of Ketzia Gold, The Complete Tales of Merry Gold, and The Complete Tales of Lucy Gold, and several chil­dren’s books. The founder and editor of the literary journal Fairy Tale Review, she has spoken on fairy tales at the Museum of Modern Art, Harvard University, and the 92nd Street Y. She teaches at the University of Arizona and lives in Tucson, Arizona, with her husband, the writer Brent Hendricks, and their daughter.

 

Introduction

 

*


In the modern characterization of Orpheus, culled from diverging stories of antiquity, Orpheus is the best musician of all time—let’s make that the greatest artist. Orpheus could play the lyre so well that animals, rocks, and trees danced to his songs; he was so good at his chosen instrument that he even charmed Hades into letting his bride, who had died after falling into a pit of vipers, return to the world of the living.

But Orpheus made one little mistake. The King of the Under­world had told him not to look back to the trailing Eurydice until they had exited his kingdom. This was a reasonable condition re­ally, given the very favorable terms of their unusual agreement. Yet Orpheus, being at least half human by most accounts—his mother was allegedly the muse Calliope—forgot himself, or got nervous, or suddenly doubted his own powers—whatever his motivation re­mains unclear. Upon entering the light of this world Orpheus fatally turned around and watched his love, Eurydice, disappear forever into the shadows where she still walked.

Thus Orpheus, arguably the most prevalent symbol for Art in the Western world, shows us both the power and limitations of the whole venture. Yes, it might feel like you’re conquering death when you play that song, paint that picture, compose that poem, or type that story. Yes, you might experience the sensation of escaping the everyday world, perhaps even your own mortality, upon hearing, watching, and reading the best artistic examples. But the feeling is illusory, Orpheus tells us.

The feeling is, after all, just a feeling.

“XO” in the modern sense is a farewell, a departure, a leave­taking—and xo Orpheus suggests another good-bye by Orpheus to his bride, Eurydice. The phrase is sad then, humanly sad, considering how things turned out for them in the end. Yet, as the title to a collection of new myths, xo Orpheus is meant to suggest a farewell of literature, our symbolic Orpheus, in its old relationship to the world of myth.

If fairy tales are “domestic myths,” as Maria Tatar has proposed, then classical myths are worldly tales, generally involving some con­tact between the mortal and immortal realms, between humans and the gods. Well documented, the relationship of literature to myth in the Western world has undergone much change over the millennia, as first the age of Gods fell away before the notion of a single god, and then, for many people, that single god slipped away too. For more than a hundred years now (let’s use the popular terms of modernism and postmodernism) writers have been dealing with this transition, or their perception of this transition.

No Gods . . . no god . . . only humans.

Humans and their machines.

And the myths of former times held a resonance precisely because of this change. They echoed back to us from a place of lost power and transcendence. How far had we fallen? How lonely we were in a world without gods!

But times have changed once again. The age itself has changed. There is some news, and it’s not very good news: we humans, once merely human, have supplanted all godly endeavors—we have be­come like gods ourselves. It’s the biggest story on earth.

As scientists have discovered, or perhaps explained is a better word, or perhaps identified, we now live in the age of the Anthropo­cene. The geologic age of the Anthropocene.

Those high priests of material evidence have given us our own epoch like the Holocene, the Pleistocene! Apparently we now, it seems, have superhuman powers. With our evolved busy hands and our evolved busy brains, in an extraordinarily short period of time we’ve managed to alter the earth with such geologic-forcing effects that we ourselves are forces of nature.

Climate change, ocean acidification, the sixth mass extinction of species. Events that used to take hundreds of thousands, even millions of years, we humans have miraculously accomplished in a little more than a century. We, in our less than divine wisdom but apparently quite divine powers, are now transforming the planet like an Olym­pian might have created an Ice Age, or a Titan might have thrown down an asteroid from the sky to kill off a bunch of dinosaurs.

We are the gods.

Our scientists have said so.

And our high priests have given our communal life span an ep­ochal name: Anthropocene. This is a Greek name to boot (“human” plus “new”), which brings me back to those myths. What do the myths—those vertical tales about the breach between the human and godly realms—have to tell us now in the new age with humans as gods? What is Myth in the Age of Anthropocene?

Based on the stories gathered here, the early answer is this: sad.

Of course we only just left behind Myth in the Age of the Holo­cene, bade it farewell as readers and writers. Only in the last few years has the term Anthropocene become widely used in scientific circles. Only over time, therefore, over the coming decades, centu­ries, millennia—however long the Age of Anthropocene lasts—will we know more about what art means and what artists make, how this shift changes some things and leaves static others. We do know one thing has changed, for those who might say this is faddish end-time thinking: humans are gods. This wasn’t true even a generation ago, though some predicted its coming.

A profound sadness, yes. Oh, you may find a whimsical story here and there in the bunch, and you might be struck by the vio­lence too. Yet “XO” Orpheus wrote to his beloved, and “good-bye” this book says to the old relationship of literature and myth, of myth to the human. Even the whimsical stories in here, even the most violent ones, reveal a gaping anxiety, a primal fear, leading to sadness about what we have done.

Of course the stories are also deeply absorbing, ethical, lovely, and strange, different one from the next, each searching for a happy home with a reader.

Yet again the same questions arise: How far have we fallen? How lonely have we become? When humans become gods, when our wings grow so great as to beat about the very edges of the earth, no one can answer but us. Good-bye, and so hello.

—Kate Bernheimer













Johanna Skibsrud is the author of the 2010 Scotiabank Giller Prize–winning novel, The Sentimentalists (2011); a collection of short fiction, This Will Be Difficult to Explain and Other Stories (2012); and two collections of poetry. Originally from Nova Scotia, Canada, Johanna currently lives in Tucson, Arizona, where she is working on a collection of critical essays and a second novel.


Trojan Horse

 

*


A HORSE, A VINE

 

Johanna Skibsrud


O unhappy citizens, what madness? Do you think the en­emy’s sailed away? Virgil’s Aeneid, Book II

I knew I could count on Dean. He was like a brother to me; better than that. Ever since we’d met—our first day of Basic, both of us just eighteen years old. Turned out, we’d both grown up near Hous­ton. Dean was from just north of Sugar Land, in Mission Bend; Alvin, where I’m from, that’s just a little less than an hour away. Maybe it was that. Whatever it was, we understood each other. Which is saying something. Dean is not a guy who is easily under­stood. He’s always been nuts—even in Basic. He started picking up “odd jobs” even then. Just to keep things interesting, he said, and mostly—he was right—it was nothing. Just roughing up a guy in town every now and then, for a friend. But after a while he got into some real dirty work, too. I kept telling him he was going to get himself into trouble but he’d just say, nah, and when he did get into trouble it didn’t have anything to do with any of that shit. He was always pretty good about it—didn’t leave a lot of loose ends.

What happened was he got called in for a domestic on account of this girl, Natalie, who he wasn’t even serious about. They issued him with protective orders, but that suited him just fine, and for a while it looked like they were going to let it go at that. But then, a year later, when his term of service was up, he was denied reenlist­ment. If you ask me, it didn’t have anything to do with the girl, though that’s what they said. Everyone could just sort of tell that Dean was a little—unhinged.

Dean pretty near lost his mind when he heard about it. You can imagine. I know, because I was the first person he called. That was the beginning of September, 2001. I was home on leave. I told him, Well, come on back home, we’ll get you sorted out, and so he came back and calmed down a little. He even managed to pick up a few “odd jobs”—but his heart wasn’t in it. He would come over to visit Tracy and me all the time, at first. We’d drink beer and play video games until three or four in the morning and we both fell asleep in the living room—one of us in the La-Z-Boy armchair and the other stretched out on the couch. The night before the twin towers fell was a night like that—we’d been playing Colony Wars but hadn’t even managed to finish the game. When we woke up Dean said we should finish it out because he’d been winning. I agreed—but only because I still had a chance. It’s a good game that way, more like real life. Even if you lose a few battles you can still win the overall— it’s just about how everything balances out. Also, it’s not like most games where it’s either you win, or you die. There are five different endings to the game—two of them good and three of them bad. So that’s like real life, too. There’s always a chance that things will work out—but more of a chance that they won’t.

I was trying to concentrate on the game because I was still losing pretty bad when Tracy came in with Cody screaming on her hip— he was still just tiny then. She just sort of stood there at first, look­ing at us, letting Cody cry like that. Even if she had tried to say something, though, I probably wouldn’t have heard her because of how much noise Cody was making and because I was still trying to concentrate, finish the game, even if I was losing, and because Dean was yelling at me the whole time, too, saying, You’re gonna die, motherfucker! You are so going to die!

Finally Tracy just walked over, the kid still screaming, and flicked the screen over to the TV, and just at the moment—the Towers fell. It was fucked up. I didn’t even know what was happening at first. Like it was a sort of a joke. Or a clip from a movie or something. Dean said, Damn! In the same way he did when I beat the shit out of him playing Blast Radius or Hogs of War.

After that Dean had a job. He got hired on at Blackwater, and he liked it a lot better anyway than he liked the Marines. He told me I should get discharged and join up, too, but I didn’t think so. I’d just got back from a six-month tour in Afghanistan and didn’t want to go back anymore if I could help it. I wanted to get transferred to the Northern Command. Get posted at Fort Sam, maybe—be closer to Tracy and Cody that way. Plus, I liked the idea of homeland de­fense. It was an arithmetic thing. Say you blew up three guys over there in Iraq or Afghanistan—you never could be certain if they were the right guys. At home, if anybody tried anything, you’d know for sure when you blew them up you were getting the right guy. If any more 9/11 shit was going to happen I liked the idea of being right here, waiting—couldn’t stand the thought of being stuck sitting on my thumbs instead, over at Camp Eggers, or Fiddler’s Green.

What, you getting spooked or something? Dean said when I told him about the homeland defense thing.

I shook my head. Nah.

Soft? he said. He poked me in the gut.

I shook my head again. You can see for yourself, I said. No.

The way I said it that time, he left me alone. But the next time I saw him, he brought it up again.

Still spooked? he asked. I said I’d told him before that I wasn’t.

It’s all right, he said. Everybody gets it sometime. But you got to remember—it’s not just about killing and getting killed. You’re an artist, he told me. A warrior. Don’t forget that. Then he took this book from his pocket and read me something out of it that he said had been written by a Roman general something like two thousand years ago.

For someone who came across like such a special needs case most of the time, Dean was actually pretty deep. He used to carry The Art of the Warrior and Maxims of War around with him in Basic. Now it was Meditations, by Marcus Aurelius.

We were having beers at the Triple Crown in Mission Bend, and when he got up to pay he shoved the book across the table toward me. Take it, he said. You might learn something. Then he made a face as if to say bigger miracles have happened, slammed a tip down on the table and headed toward the door.

I liked the book. It made you think about things. I liked the way it was written, too, in these short little sentences, sort of like the psalms in the Bible—except I could understand them, even with how it was written as many years ago. And when I didn’t under­stand them I would just skip ahead, and it didn’t matter. It was pretty cool to know that someone else was wondering about all the shit I was wondering about even two thousand years ago—even though it made me a bit sad to realize that meant nobody had fig­ured anything out in all of that time. Like this one part, where he says that everything exists for some reason—even a horse, he says, or a vine—so why do you even have to wonder about it? But when he says it like that it’s obvious he’s wondered himself or else he wouldn’t have had to ask about why. And then he says, Even the sun will say, I am for some purpose, and the rest of the gods will say the same. For what purpose then art thou? I liked that. I’d even sort of repeat it to myself sometimes. For what purpose then art thou? Because even though it sounded like a question, it was sort of an answer, too.

Then, a week or so later, just before I was due to ship out, Dean showed up at my house with a copy of Rifleshooter magazine.

This will make you feel better, he said.

I feel fine, I said.

No, seriously, he said. Check it out. If you get blown up over there I’ll do this for you—promise. And if I get blown up, you can d...

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Book Description Penguin Books, United States, 2013. Paperback. Book Condition: New. Language: English . Brand New Book. Fifty leading writers retell myths from around the world in this dazzling follow-up to the bestselling My Mother She Killed Me, My Father He Ate Me. Icarus flies once more. Aztec jaguar gods again stalk the earth. An American soldier designs a new kind of Trojan horse--his cremains in a bullet. Here, in beguiling guise, are your favorite mythological figures alongside characters from Indian, Punjabi, Inuit, and other traditions. Aimee Bender retells the myth of the Titans. Elizabeth McCracken retells the myth of Lamia, the child-eating mistress of Zeus. Madeline Miller retells the myth of Galatea. Kevin Wilson retells the myth of Phaeton, from Ovid s Metamorphoses. Emma Straub and Peter Straub retell the myth of Persephone. Heidi Julavits retells the myth of Orpheus and Euridice. Ron Currie, Jr. retells the myth of Dedalus. Maile Meloy retells the myth of Demeter. Zachary Mason retells the myth of Narcissus. Joy Williams retells the myth of Argos, Odysseus dog. If xo signals a goodbye, then xo Orpheus is a goodbye to an old way of mythmaking. Featuring talkative goats, a cat lady, a bird woman, a beer-drinking ogre, a squid who falls in love with the sun, and a girl who gives birth to cubs, here are extravagantly imagined, bracingly contemporary stories, heralding a new beginning for one of the world s oldest literary traditions. Bookseller Inventory # AAS9780143122425

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Book Description Penguin Books, United States, 2013. Paperback. Book Condition: New. Language: English . Brand New Book. Fifty leading writers retell myths from around the world in this dazzling follow-up to the bestselling My Mother She Killed Me, My Father He Ate Me. Icarus flies once more. Aztec jaguar gods again stalk the earth. An American soldier designs a new kind of Trojan horse--his cremains in a bullet. Here, in beguiling guise, are your favorite mythological figures alongside characters from Indian, Punjabi, Inuit, and other traditions. Aimee Bender retells the myth of the Titans. Elizabeth McCracken retells the myth of Lamia, the child-eating mistress of Zeus. Madeline Miller retells the myth of Galatea. Kevin Wilson retells the myth of Phaeton, from Ovid s Metamorphoses. Emma Straub and Peter Straub retell the myth of Persephone. Heidi Julavits retells the myth of Orpheus and Euridice. Ron Currie, Jr. retells the myth of Dedalus. Maile Meloy retells the myth of Demeter. Zachary Mason retells the myth of Narcissus. Joy Williams retells the myth of Argos, Odysseus dog. If xo signals a goodbye, then xo Orpheus is a goodbye to an old way of mythmaking. Featuring talkative goats, a cat lady, a bird woman, a beer-drinking ogre, a squid who falls in love with the sun, and a girl who gives birth to cubs, here are extravagantly imagined, bracingly contemporary stories, heralding a new beginning for one of the world s oldest literary traditions. Bookseller Inventory # AAS9780143122425

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