The Minotaur Trilogy Essay - Critical Essays

Thomas Burnett Swann


A scholar as well as a fantasist, Thomas Bur-nett Swann turned often to classical mythology and legend for inspiration. This trilogy, widely regarded as his finest achievement, reflects Swann’s best quality as a novelist, his ability to fuse charming fiction with philosophic speculation. Swann himself described his works as “domestic” rather than “epic” fantasy. His is an accurate assessment, for he concentrates his attention on the emotions and daily concerns of his characters rather than on grand passions and deeds.

Although Swann occasionally has been criticized as an overly sentimental writer, his work is characterized by a bold criticism of the Western tradition from which he draws his subject matter. Although he avoids simplistic distinctions, two basic dichotomies that occur throughout his novels play an especially important role in the Minotaur trilogy.

The first dichotomy involves the bestial and the human, categories whose connotations Swann consciously reverses. In Day of the Minotaur, Swann emphasizes the cruel, competitive nature of human beings. The Achaeans, in particular, are callous and obsessed with conquest. On the other hand, the so-called Beasts, such as Zoe the dryad and Eunostos the Minotaur, behave far more nobly. In the trilogy, humans grow more humane, in the traditional sense of the word, through their contact with the Beasts. For example, the cynical and self-absorbed Hora and Lordan change not only their names (to Marguerite and Oryx) but also their attitudes after witnessing the selfless nobility of Silver Bells and Zoe. In Day of the Minotaur, Thea...

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