Greek Gossip

A review of Karen Dudley’s Kraken Bake (Ravenstone, 2014).
By Derek Newman-Stille

Cover photo for Kraken Bake courtesy of RavenStone books

Cover photo for Kraken Bake courtesy of RavenStone books

Reputation and rumour – they are incredibly interlinked, especially in ancient Athens, and particularly for a celebrity chef whose entire reputation and business depends on being the current talk of the town. Karen Dudley’s Kraken Bake follows Pelops, first introduced as Athens’ newest mythological prince turned celebrity chef in Dudley’s first book, Food for the Gods. Pelops is now even more seasoned and his attitude is perhaps a bit more spicy than it was in the first book.

Kraken Bake explores the notion of gossip, the idea that people are created in the public arena and their identity is partially based on the way they are talked about, particularly when their business life depends on the public’s view. Pelops encounters another figure dependent on celebrity status, but one that is perhaps more attached to the role of the classical world: Perseus, a hero who has just returned from slaying the Kraken. Perseus entered the Athenian Agora (marketplace) long before he arrived in the form of rumours, tales of his exploits, and the arena of public opinion. When he arrives atop Pegasus, a winged horse, public opinion is confirmed: this is what Athens has been looking for, a genuine hero who they can wine and dine and gain status by showing connections to.

But this hero and Pelops have something in common: a connection to the god Zeus (Perseus is his son and Pelops his grandson), and both have a mixed relationship with the Kraken: Perseus’ slaying of the Kraken may not have happened quite as society has imagined… and Pelops has discovered that although he can cook anything else into a delectable treat tasty enough to make the gods weep, he can’t cook Kraken. Perseus’ conquest of the Kraken has already passed, but Pelops heroic quest has just begun, particularly when he discovers that the Athenians want to have a very public cook off, the Bronze Chef competition, and he is fairly certain that the secret ingredient will be Kraken meat.

Karen Dudley playfully blends Greek history and Greek myth together, not particularly concerned with veracity or timelines, and this adds to the sense of whimsy of her work, but also serves to undercut the notion that history itself is a story, a tale made up of rumour, myth, legend, and assumptions. Anyone who has read their Herodotus (the father of history) should know this from the gossipy and creative way he discusses Greek lives. But there is a magic in telling tales, whether they are mythic tales or general discussions of public figures and Dudley reminds us that we are all myths and legends being constantly formed through public discussions: gossip, rumour, debate, and reputation.

To find out more about Karen Dudley, visit her website at http://www.karendudley.com/ .

To find out more about Kraken Bake and other great Ravenstone books, visit their website at http://www.ravenstonebooks.com/authors/Karen-Dudley.html

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A Love Letter to Story-telling

A Review of Helen Marshall’s Gifts for the One Who Comes After (ChiZine Publications, 2014)
By Derek Newman-Stille

Cover Art for Gifts For the One Who Comes After courtesy of ChiZine Publications

Cover Art for Gifts For the One Who Comes After courtesy of ChiZine Publications

Helen Marshall’s “Gifts for the One Who Comes After” is her love letter to storytelling. Marshall examines the way that we are shaped by the tales we tell ourselves and the stories that are told about us. She reminds the reader that we are made up as much of stories as we are of matter, and that they shape the way we think about ourselves and those who are around us.

Marshall’s exploration of stories is not a fairytale lens of joy, but rather an exploration of the potential for tales themselves to capture a quality of the grotesque, the terrifying horror that we can be shaped by words and ideas outside of ourselves. From capturing the horrifying perceptions of children, the dark, strange worlds they carry around in their heads to exploring the shifts that occur between our expectations of a story and their reality, “Gifts for the One Who Comes After” is a text of mythical magic, but not the easy, happy, uncomplicated myths of modernity, but the dark, deep, blood-soaked myths of the past. Her tales are not made to reassure, but to challenge our perceptions, to push the reader into those places where we try to bury our stories.

Marshall focuses on children and the elderly, the people with most associate with either being shaped by tales or shaping us by telling tales to us. She examines the idea that the bonds between us are made of strings of words and occasionally these strings tighten around us like a noose. “Gifts” looks at the innocent games of youth and illustrates the nightmarish content of them from children prophesizing in the woods by bringing themselves close to death, to the dark undertone in the desire for magic, to the horrifying imagination of children, to the desire to stand out and be considered important. It looks at the aged in their desire for immortality by sharing stories, keeping memory alive, resisting forgetting and loss, the connection to tradition, and through the assumptions we create about the elderly.

Stories are the methods used to imagine the future, reflect on the past, and explore the hidden corners of the present. Exploring the dark potential of the future through omens, dreams, and prophesy, the past through memory and collective tales, and the present through gossip and rumour, Marshall highlights the potential for stories to create a morae-like thread through time, weaving possibilities together in a nighmarish tangle of possibility.

To read reviews of some of the short stories from this collection, visit:

https://speculatingcanada.ca/2014/11/26/the-horror-of-childhood-logic/

https://speculatingcanada.ca/2014/11/14/spin-the-bottle-with-death/

https://speculatingcanada.wordpress.com/2014/12/14/witching-perceptions/

To read more about Helen Marshall’s work, visit her website at http://helen-marshall.com/

To find out more about Gifts for the One Who Comes After, visit ChiZine Publications’ website at http://chizinepub.com/books/gifts-for-the-one-who-comes-after

Draconic Intersections

A review of Charles de Lint’s Berlin (in Wings of Fire Ed. Jonathan Strahan and marianne S. Jablon, Night Shade Books, 2010)
By Derek Newman-Stille

Worlds collide in Charles de Lint’s Berlin. De Lint explores the borderland between the human world and Elfland, a place called Bordertown where things mix and mingle and where magic and reality overlap with one another. Things that are generally ignored in our world are noticed here, and not just magical things – in a world where poverty is generally ignored and the homeless are rendered voiceless, a place can be found for them in Bordertown.

Like any town, it has problems, and gossip and misunderstandings feature strongly in those problems. Berlin, a woman who is primarily interested in defending the poor and finding a place for people living in poverty, is trapped in a conspiracy of lies that implicate her as a trouble-maker in a city that likes to avoid notice and attention. She becomes a pawn in a war of reputation.

De Lint doesn’t avoid the tough topics. He approaches issues of homelessness, drug abuse, gang violence, and, like many of his works, he uses art forms as a means of dealing with and coping with issues. In Berlin, de Lint explores the lingering presence of past traumas and how these traumas can continue to haunt us and influence us in conscious and unconscious ways, but it is through artistic performance, through acting out scenes that reflect on the past that characters are able to explore their trauma, feel it, and cathartically deal with the lingering essence of the past, and, in particular, past pains.

The realms of Elfland and the ‘real world’ are not the only things that collide in Bordertown – it is also a place where memory meets the present, where gang violence meets people trying to survive, where pain meets healing, and where dragon meets human. Berlin, like her community, is hybridised – she is human and dragon, and aspects of both bleed over into the other, much as the past bleeds into the present and violence spills over into places of community. De Lint reminds readers that every space is hybridised, made up of a running together of multiple pasts, multiple people, and multiple ideologies.

You can explore more about Charles de Lint and his work at his website http://www.sfsite.com/charlesdelint/ .