Bewildering Stories discusses...
Daedalus and Others, II
with Danko Antolovic and Denise O’Hagan
The discussion Daedalus and Others opens in issue 791.
My Name Is Daedalus appears in issues 777-782.
[Danko A.] I have read your lively conversation in BwS issue 791; I am flattered by your interest in my story, but I admit to being somewhat surprised that my Daedalus comes across as such a morally ambivalent figure.
I tend to believe that an author should be wary of offering interpretations, so I’ll be brief and general. As you point out, Don, there is the context to consider: Daedalus is a mythological figure, and many figures in Greek mythology commit acts that are appalling by our standards. Ethical premises of these stories are somewhat remote from ours, and perhaps the most difficult part of writing my story was to remain true to Daedalus’ mythical biography, yet give him an ethics that would be comprehensible to the modern reader.
If, as you say, Denise, it is hard not to be intrigued by Daedalus, I consider myself vindicated. I have long thought of Daedalus as an enigmatic, often overlooked figure, a non-hero who fits poorly into the mold of the classical myth; nevertheless, he plays a key role in the complex of stories about Minos, Ariadne, and the labyrinth. I suspect that there might have existed a larger body of stories in which he appears, but which have since been lost.
Lastly, Don, I will raise a friendly objection to the term “rape of Pasiphae.” Gods had struck Pasiphae with the desire for the bull, but nowhere in the original myth is there any hint of her having been coerced. The way I read the myth, save for the sheer physical impossibility of it, Pasiphae could have well been in the mind to coerce the bull instead!
Again, thank you both for your insightful discussion.
[Denise O.] Hi, Danko,
Thank you for your thoughts, and this new layer to the conversation. As writers, sometimes readers see something in our work that we never intended or bring to our attention an aspect of our own writing that we don’t consciously consider. I am never quite sure what to say when this happens to me except to reflect that my concern is my writing — responses to it emanate from without.
But it is interesting what you say about moral ambivalence, because the moral framework we carry around with us is largely a product of our own age and culture. By modern standards, Daedalus may be morally ambivalent, but I think this is less the point than how he fitted in — or didn’t — within his own age. It requires an imaginative, empathetic leap to feel how this might be. Much easier to transport him into our own age and unthinkingly judge him by our own standards!
It occurs to me this really is as much about how we read as what we write...
Warmest wishes to you both,
[Don Webb] And thank you, Danko and Denise! This case resembles the “split decisions” I receive from Bewildering Stories’ Coordinating Editors. I almost always say, “Our readers both make valid points.”
First, let me observe that Oscar Wilde is right yet again: “The only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about.” He was referring to common notoriety, of course, not to that for which he would eventually be sent to Reading Gaol. Rather, when your story provokes discussion, you know real people have been reading it and thinking about it.
I have to invoke another Bewildering Stories motto: “Readers take everything literally unless they know to do otherwise.” And they often do so even when they ought to know better. Is My Name Is Daedalus a modern fantasy or romance in period-piece costumes? Anyone who reads the story as such will find it mightily disconcerting. Where is the poetic justice in all this? And am I supposed to identify emotionally with Daedalus, or what?
Such readers will find that the story does not play by the rules of more familiar modern genres. Of course, the synopsis sets out the rules in advance: it’s a reimagining of an old story. And we find that Daedalus must deal with a world governed by fantasy, in particular the wrath of Poseidon.
Is Pasiphaé raped by the bull? Granted, that may be something of a stretch, but at least one can say that neither she nor the bull has any choice in the matter. Minos has reneged on a deal he made with Poseidon. The sea god takes revenge by cursing Minos’ wife with desire for the bull. Daedalus becomes an enabler, but does he have any choice, either? What the king or queen demands, he must do.
As I’ve said elsewhere, pagan religion was a massive collection of conspiracy theories. If Minos and Pasiphaé have a handicapped son, a god of some sort must be punishing them. But for what? A myth — a fantasy — is concocted to explain it all. The ancients and moderns differ mainly in their choice of causes. The ancients created imaginary gods to explain what seemed important or unusual; moderns imagine sinister organizations or, at worst, go to the considerable trouble of creating real ones.
In that light, Daedalus is somewhat reassuring. He has to live in an ancient world and deal with its mentality, but he thinks like a modern scientist and engineer. And he understands his own failings as a modern psychologist would. In the end, Daedalus and the daughters of Camicus are the only ones — ancient or modern — who have kept a grip on reason.
Keep up the good work, Danko and Denise; you both have something important to say.