Years ago, I was camping in a wilderness area on the western coast of North America, in a place far distant from any city. It was a moonless night, and the sky was dark, except for a few wispy clouds. All of a sudden, a blazing light coursed across the dome of night, leaving a bright tail and dispelling the darkness. The light—alive with movement—seemed to stop time. It was a profoundly beautiful experience that I was not expecting. It was one I cannot forget.
This is, frankly, how I felt the first time I read the book you hold in your hands. Reading Jonathan Golding’s Telegonos seemed to stop time. To read it was to enter into another world, one I had only encountered in texts authored centuries ago. It was a recognizable world, replete with elements that anyone familiar with Sophocles or Shakespeare, let alone Homer, will greet with pleasure. But its natural and seamless admixture of all three, this was a surprise. One I’ll not forget.
Telegonos is a unique treasure, a jewel which can be viewed from many angles. It is at once an imaginative extension of Homer’s Odyssey with ingenious additions in a dramatic form; a plot-driven and character-testing quest in a Tempest-like setting of coastal cliffs, fire-lit caves, and ancient enchantments; a layering of story within story; a panoply of mysterious symbolism and foreshadowing dreams; a tragic tale about the fixed fact of ignorant fate; a concrete experiment of freedom, chance, hope, and healing; blend of manifold premodern sensibilities with the benefit of hindsight from twenty-first century literary history; and much more.
In a study of fiction and narrative, theologian John Milbank evokes the “the drained desert of money, machinery, and electronic signals” where we find ourselves at this stark stage of modern history. In such a desert, which is a godless place, a work like Golding’s Telegonos is a refreshing oasis, fulfilling one of art’s two Horatian purposes: delight. But, in that masterful way in which all great literature does, gently casting the image of truth in all its manifold allure and falsehood in all its bare ugliness, Golding’s work also illumines and instructs. Milbank closes his study by speculating that “the belief in God and in the
triune God can perhaps only be revived if we re-envisage and re-imagine the immanent enchantments of the divine creation which appropriately witnesses to the transcendent One through a polytheistic profusion of created enigmas.” I could hardly think of a better way to describe Golding’s dramatic debut. Telegonos exemplifies the great spiritual potential that fiction has today.
Gaelan Gilbert (PhD), Adjunct Professor of Literature & History at Hellenic College, and Visiting Professor of Arts & Humanities at the University of Saint Katherine
Foreword to Telegonos. Copyright 2021. All rights reserved.