Fantasy as a dedicated genre didn’t really exist in Greece till very recently. Many of the stories gathered in The Dedalus Book of Greek Fantasy, dating from the 19th century to the turn of the 21st, are by mainstream literary authors, including the major poet Constantine Cavafy and the arch-surrealist Andreas Embirikos. Recent years have seen the publication of several Greek anthologies of fantasy and science fiction, thanks mainly to the efforts of editor Makis Panorios. David Connolly’s selections draw heavily but not exclusively from Panorios’s anthologies. It’s to Connolly’s credit as a translator that all thirty stories come through in engaging and well-crafted English prose.
Free of the constraints of genre expectation – except perhaps Dedalus’s taste for ‘distorted reality’ – the stories are extremely diverse. They range from the straightforward retelling of folktale in Emmanouil Roïdis’s ‘Blossom’, through the absurdist surrealism of Nano Valaoritis’s ‘The Daily Myth or The Headless Man’, the exotic traveller’s yarn of Fotis Kontoglou in ‘Pedro Cazas’, and the occultism of Tassos Roussos’s ‘The Last Alchemist’, to dystopian science fiction in Alexandros Schinas’s ‘The Rulers’. Heroic fantasy is conspicuous by its absence . The sequencing of the stories by date exposes an increasing interest in science fiction in later work.
One of the delights of imaginative fiction written in other languages is the displacement of default Anglocentric perspective. In Theodoros Grigoriadis’s ‘Theocles’ the research project to make contact with intelligent beings elsewhere in the galaxy is conducted not by American but by Greek scientists and the person chosen to leave earth to meet them is, too, a Greek. Andreas Lascaratos’s traveller in ‘Journey to the Planet Jupiter’ is relieved to discover the Jovians speak Greek. And in ‘Westminster’ Yorgos Theotokas exoticises the London Underground as a locus of gothic nightmare where the trains never stop and are operated by people who are completely mad.
Given the diversity of stories, it’s hard to make generalisations. Surrealism caught on strongly in Greek literature and there’s plenty of evidence of that in this book. Here’s a snippet from Aris Sfakianakis in ‘It Was Already Past Midnight’: ‘Floating in the white sauce in place of mussels were human lips … Moreover, the lips were painted and appeared to be alive as they slowly opened and closed, emitting tiny indeterminate sounds, rather like sighs.’ Quite often the tone is urbanely jaunty. This, for example, is the opening of ‘A Day Like Any Other’ by Tassos Leivaditis: ‘Waking up fully dressed in bed, in a room you’ve never seen before, is, of course, a bad omen for the day about to begin. But not being able to remember how you came to be in this unknown house is something of a nightmare.’ That there’s a tendency for women to be presented in strongly sexualised ways may not be the sin of sins, but the fact that all thirty authors in the book are men strongly suggests some scope – I suspect in Greek fantasy as a whole – for redressing the balance on that score.
First published in Vector, No. 275, 2014