Tuesday, February 20, 2007

#12 - Lion's Honey: The Myth Of Samson

David Grossman's Lion's Honey, part of Canongate's esteemed series The Myths, is the entry from Israel in my Around the World in 52 Books challenge. More of a meditation than perhaps a true retelling, Grossman dissects the myth of Samson like a teacher approaching a poem. Taken apart piece by piece, the overlived* existence of the hero is explored both in an historical and in a modern context.

My feelings about the entire project are mixed: I'm not sure what the purpose of The Myths in these short, concise little books is, but I enjoyed reading Lion's Honey, if only because it gave me a glimpse of how interesting it might be to study the stories of the Bible. In Samson, a man truly at odds with his destiny, Grossman is able to present a "character" with a keen eye to the subtle differences between the original text and the sense of the myth as it's been studied by hundreds of thousands of people over the course of its lifetime.

This brings forward a real sense of how the myth itself is played out both in religious studies and how it has evolved over the years, finding its way into pop culture, poetry, modern novels and Talmudic study. In some ways, as Grossman relates the very real landscape of Samson's story to the modern-day Israeli state, you get a true sense of how myth combines with history, which in turn combines with story.

Many of the books in my 52 countries challenge didn't give me a sense of what life was like in the country of the author's origin. The Ireland of Tóibín is found more in how he constructs a story than in the narrative itself in The Master (but felt a great deal in his marvellous Mothers and Sons). The Canadian Arctic of Consumption is one that's utterly foreign to me, which was kind of the point. But in this book, I felt the landscape, the lush trees, the hills, the dust, the imprints of civilization on the caves, and it made quite an impression.

There's a bit where the graves of Samson have sort of popped up, no one thinks they're the actual resting spots of the man and his father, as Grossman says, they can't be, but believers are there anyway, faith prevailing over common sense as it should. And that's kind of an apt metaphor for this little book as well: Samson the hero, whose story has been told and retold over thousands of years, that despite his shortcomings, despite his inability to come to terms with his gift from God, finds a way to act, even if those very actions will bring about his own death. His own faith prevailing against reason, betrayal, even love.

Anyway, it's a bit deep for a Tuesday morning when I've got a wicked cold and a big foggy head, so if the above makes no sense, go ahead and tease me for it. But I've managed to keep to the first day of my Book A Day challenge. I have a feeling I might not make it tomorrow, Lion's Honey, after all, is a mere 145 pages.

*overlived was today's OED word of the day. Shockingly the first one, like, ever, I've actually used in a sentence the day it arrived in my inbox.

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