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The Arkadians
Lloyd Alexander
Puffin Books, 206 pages

The Arkadians
Lloyd Alexander
This author's many honours include Newbery Medals for The High King and The Black Cauldron, and National Book Awards for The Marvelous Misadventures of Sebastian and Westmark. The Arkadians received critical acclaim and appeared on the Dorothy Canfield Fisher Children's Book Award Master List. Alexander and his wife live in Drexel Hill, Pennsylvania.

ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: The Town Cats and Other Tales
SF Site Review: Gypsy Rizka
SF Site Review: The Wizard in the Tree
SF Site Review: Time Cat
SF Site Review: The First Two Lives of Lukas-Kasha
SF Site Review: The Arkadians
SF Site Review: The Iron Ring
Lloyd Alexander Tribute Site

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Georges T. Dodds

A.S. Byatt, author of Booker prize-winning Possession: A Romance (1990), states in the subtitle of her recent New York Times essay (reprinted in the Montreal Gazette, 16 May 1999) on Scheherazade and the importance of storytelling in literature, "Once Upon All Time...":

"Storytelling, as Scheherazade demonstrated in The Thousand and One Nights, sustains, reflects and enhances life. It consoles us with endless new beginnings."
While Byatt discusses storytelling in the context of many modern authors of "serious" literature, and fairy tales are mentioned briefly, surprisingly she fails to bring up the many storytellers of children's literature, whose basic techniques frequently differ very little from a storytelling tradition reaching back as far as the Epic of Gilgamesh. One such true storyteller is Lloyd Alexander. In The Arkadians his venue is ancient Greece, the home of another pretty decent storyteller, Homer.

Besides being a novel written by a storyteller, like The Thousand and One Nights, The Arkadians is a story about storytelling and storytellers. Lucian, an honest young accountant on the run from crooked, power-hungry palace officials, himself a storyteller of some exaggerative power, ends up travelling with Joy-in-the-Dance, a Pythoness soothsayer in hiding, Ops a true scapegoat who took on the sins of his village, and an opinionated poet, Fronto, who has been transformed into an ass. Lucian also gets to meet a famous retired mariner, Oudeis (a word play on Odysseus and the Greek word for "nobody"), who has a few stories of his own to tell. Thrown in are the unglamorous real stories behind the story of the Minotaur, of Jason and the Argonauts and their quest of the Golden Fleece, and the Trojan horse. While it is not clear which of the characters will be the future Homer, it is clear that just a smidgen of enhancement and poetic license here and there will produce The Iliad and The Odyssey.

As with several of Alexander's more recent novels The Arkadians (1995) has a strong-willed young woman involved in the story. When Joy-in-the-Dance defies her mother, the Lady of Wild Things, to follow her love of Lucian, a member of the Bear tribe, whose leader, King Bromius, is dedicated to exterminating the worship of the Lady of Wild Things, we are given a good lesson in tolerance and the avoidance of prejudice, though without a lot of preachiness. Even Bromius, who originally decrees the destruction of the Pythoness and her associates comes around and realizes the nefarious influence of his crooked advisers.

As with many recent novels with a historical setting in the Ancient or prehistoric world, the theme presented is one of the conflict between matriarchy and expanding patriarchy, and ultimately between women's and men's views of Nature around them, how they should interact with it, and between themselves in a societal structure. However, Alexander, as the many great storytellers from Homer to the Brothers Grimm, does not go on in a long tedious philosophical discourse, but uses the tools of the storyteller to present ideas and values through interesting characters whose adventures and interactions entertain while edifying us.

So if you want the scoop on why the Trojans were offered a giant wooden horse, rather than, say, a giant wooden lion, or if you have children you want to introduce to Greek mythology The Arkadians is for you. Even if you are past the age of fairy tales and ancient mythologies, remember that without storytellers you wouldn't have anything to read, no songs to listen to, no tradition for your favourite author/musician to follow in, and ultimately a very boring, stagnant society.

Copyright © 1999 Georges T. Dodds

Georges Dodds is a research scientist in vegetable crop physiology, who for close to 25 years has read and collected close to 2000 titles of predominantly pre-1950 science-fiction and fantasy, both in English and French. He writes columns on early imaginative literature for WARP, the newsletter/fanzine of the Montreal Science Fiction and Fantasy Association.

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