Review: “The Arkadians” by Lloyd Alexander

For the love of books

… If a storyteller worried about the facts … how could he ever get at the truth?

~ excerpt from The Arkadians by Lloyd Alexander

A rational and prolific writer, Lloyd Alexander obviously appreciated the significance and value of ancient mythologies.  He tended to take a finished product and unravel the threads that wove it together until he was looking at the prototype.  At least, that is what he attempted to do with Greek mythology in The Arkadians.

Lucian has grown up a servant in the royal household of Arkadia.  However, he seems to be too clever for his own good after he uncovers the treachery of Arkadia’s two high priests.  Suddenly homeless and a fugitive, Lucian reluctantly teams up with Fronto, a donkey who was formerly a poet.  Together, they meet up with Joy-in-the-Dance, a magical, exuberant girl with secrets of her own, as well as other colorful characters.  However, the oppression of women by men is common in this land, which means that not only Lucian needs to be convinced that all creatures are equal in their own right.  Nevertheless, all become a united group of friends who ultimately must fight for the freedom of Arkadia and release its citizens from the tyranny of the “Bear-men.”  In The Arkadians, Ancient Greece becomes Arkadia, where magic is possible. It is here that some of the greatest “heroes” are born, thanks to the efforts of industrious storytellers and the listeners who believe them.

The most enchanting retellings of famous Greek myths appear in Alexander’s narrative, from a masculine version of the tale surrounding “Pandora’s Box” and a simplistic overview of the Fall of Troy to the adventures of Odysseus and interesting ideas about feminine divinity.  However, the point of The Arkadians is that the novel doesn’t really “re-tell” the stories: it examines them.  The author hypothesizes and analyzes deeply, opening each myth and legend until a more realistic and plausible original comes to light.  He shows how every story was based on truth until the minds and imaginations of storytellers took over.  The difference between truth and gossip ironically seems to be the foundation of good writing, as Fronto himself comments with his flair for exaggeration.  Moreover, Alexander has four very dominant themes: sexism, religion, independence, and the power of knowledge.

Men and women are constantly at odds with each other inThe Arkadians, as one strives for total control and the other for complete independence and the acceptance of feminism.  This “order” must change, as the imbalance is causing chaos and war across Arkadia, only because men cannot accept that women actually do think and feel for themselves.  Harmony in nature is another topic that the author fondly mentions, asking his characters and his readers to recognize the eternal balance in the earth and the environment.  Mythological beings also are “re-created,” as centaurs, satyrs, and nymphs are portrayed as never before.  Furthermore, there is no gore, excessive violence, profanity or sexuality in the plot, only a moral fable that lives on in its swift and vigorous perspective of life.

Alexander slyly hints that life itself is as magical as any idea of fantasy at every point of existence, which is why The Arkadians is not exactly a “fantasy novel.”  The characters are very fantastic indeed, especially Fronto and his humorous comments and observations about storytelling.  The Arkadians has some of Alexander’s wittiest remarks and some of his best satire despite the romance between several of the main characters.  Moreover, The Arkadians is unusual because it is clearer than ever that Alexander’s characters are essentially the same while being dramatically different.

For example, Lucian’s character is strangely parallel to that of Taran in The Chronicles of Prydain and Lionel in The Cat Who Wished to Be a Man, just like Joy-in-the-Dance has a temperament similar to that of Eilonwy in The Chronicles of Prydain.  Somehow, many of Alexander’s characters have many of the same traits, but they are still all unique and different.  The Arkadians is an inspiring take on classical thought, where a creative imagination has procured sharp looks at “Jason and the Golden Fleece,” “Echo and Narcissus,” “Theseus and the Minotaur,” Homer’s masterpieces, the Oracle of Delphi, the Greek deities, and the history of Ancient Greece.  It is engaging and blazingly charismatic; Alexander’s wonderful sense of humor and his ability to always ask the right questions make this bright star of a novel shine among his amazing contributions to literature.

Original review: Part 1: ‘The Arkadians’ revitalizes Greek myths and legendsPart 2: ‘The Arkadians’ revitalizes Greek myths and legendsPart 3: ‘The Arkadians’ revitalizes Greek myths and legends, Examiner.com

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