December 19, 2007KR BlogUncategorized

Erisichthon

This post is the work of Jonathan Crimmins.

A few days ago, my son and I read Bulfinch’s version of a story found in Book VIII of Ovid about King Erisichthon. The King’s name apparently means one who tears up the earth, which got me thinking of the 20-story shovel the mining industry calls a dragline. It’s used in mountain-top-removal coal mining and is so powerful that it doesn’t run on gasoline, but is instead plugged directly into the electrical grid. Its job is to rip up all the trees and topsoil to get at the coal underneath. The mining industry calls this living layer of the mountain overburden or waste. I learned what a dragline is halfway through Ann Pancake’s affecting new novel Strange As This Weather Has Been, and looked at from a certain angle, the myth and the novel tell different sides of the same story.

In the myth, Erisichthon rashly chops down a venerable oak tree. As punishment, Famine–her entrails crawling like a pitkin of snakes beneath her papery skin–visits while he sleeps, wraps her battish wings around him, and breathes an endless fast over his throat and chest. Insatiable now, Erisichthon sells everything he owns to feed his appetite, until, with nothing else left, he sells his daughter. Neptune pities her, and changes her form so she can escape from slavery. When she returns to her father–whose cramming of his bowels has merely distended the void–he sells her all over again. Again, she is transformed. Again, she returns to him. And again, he sells her–each time feeding an increased starvation. This continues until he dies, having eaten his own body. It barely requires an imagination to see Erisichthon as a metaphor for American consumption, devouring the land, as we do, with our livelihoods.

Pancake’s novel tells the other side of this metamorphosis: the daughter’s story, as she returns to her father over and over again out of devotion, habit, need, and love.

Shortly, I’ll look a little more closely at the literariness of Strange As This Weather Has Been, but in the meantime, I’ll leave you with a few informational impoundments to slurry around in.

Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition
Appalachian Voices
Kentukians for the Commonwealth
End Mountaintop Removal
Coal River Mountain Watch

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The Kenyon Review Associates Program provides Kenyon students with valuable experience in literary editing, publishing, and programming. KR Associates work closely with Kenyon Review staff, gaining valuable experience in a number of editing, publishing, and programming areas including manuscript evaluation, publicity and marketing, copy editing, developing web site and social media content, outreach programming, event planning and promotion, and other creative and editorial projects

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