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The Arkadians
Lloyd Alexander
Penguin Puffin Books, 273 pages

The Arkadians
Lloyd Alexander
At 15, he wanted to be an author. Unable to afford college, he found a job as a messenger boy in a Philadelphia bank. He joined the army, ending up assigned to a military intelligence center in Maryland. After being shipped to Paris, he attended the University of Paris where he met his wife, Janine. They returned to Drexel Hill, near Philadelphia, where Alexander wrote many unpublished novels. Getting one published took seven years.

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A review by Neil Walsh

Here's a book that's certainly worth a read if you missed it the first time around. It caught my attention when the back cover indicated that one of the characters "is a poet-turned-donkey who wants to break the spell that turned him into an animal." This immediately brought to mind The Golden Ass of Apuleius (a second century work which may arguably be the first novel), and I was curious to see if there was any kind of parallel. There is and there isn't, but it doesn't matter at all because The Arkadians is such an engaging tale in and of itself. Well, succession of tales, really.

Wait, let me start over. Forget the back cover, and let's go to the beginning. The dedication reads: "For hopeful storytellers and fond listeners." I couldn't imagine a more fitting dedication for this book. The Arkadians is a story about storytelling.

The setting is a fictionalized past with the tangible feel of ancient Greece. The central character is an unexceptional young man, Lucian, employed as a clerk at the palace of King Bromios. When he inadvertently discovers some embezzling being perpetrated by a couple of powerful and influential soothsayers and advisors of the royal court, he is forced to run away in an effort to avoid some unpleasant "sacrificial procedures."

The travelling companions Lucian manages to accumulate throughout the book include: the aforementioned talking ass, formerly a poet, who endeavours to instruct Lucian in the art of storytelling; a feisty young woman who turns out to be considerably more than she seems, and who simply does not fall for the fantastic embellishments of Lucian's tales; and a young side-kick who refuses to believe Lucian's recanting of his fantastic embellishments, and whose boastful nature, combined with his firm belief that Lucian is a true hero of mythic proportions, lands them in a couple of tight spots.

Meanwhile, King Bromios, as chief representative of the misogynous Bear Clan, has begun a campaign to eradicate all influences of the Lady of Wild Things in the land of Arkadia. Yes, it's the boys against the girls -- but don't worry, they kiss and make up by the end. The King, ultimately, is not evil; merely hot-headed and a little selfish. The pair of soothsayer/royal advisors, however, are a different lot. They are downright murderous, and if our heroes aren't on the ball, someone's going to end up on the sacrificial altar.

I suppose I found my parallel to Apuleius in that the author was an expert storyteller and deftly incorporated several smaller tales into his larger story. Oh, and there is a talking donkey, too. Sometimes, though, I felt like Alexander was pulling some of the magic out of the Greek myths by implying that they may have sprung from more mundane origins. But then I suppose this is as plausible an explanation as anything. And, after all, it's not necessarily the facts that matter in a good story, but the story itself.

Copyright © 1997 by Neil Walsh

Neil Walsh is the Reviews Editor for the SF Site. He lives in contentment, surrounded by books, in Ottawa, Canada.

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