Bernard Lazare's The Mirror of Legends was published by Snuggly Books in August 2017.

Information about Bernard Lazare:

Bernard Lazare (1865-1903) was a French Jewish literary critic and journalist. Though mostly remembered today for his prominent role in the Dreyfus Affair and his book Antisemitism: Its History and Causes, he was also an important member of the Symbolist movement, and one of its purest and most extravagant exponents. He wrote drama and some poetry, but the core of his production consisted of an extensive sequence of short stories, or elaborated poems in prose, most of which he published in Symbolist periodicals between 1887 and 1893, and which he subsequently organized into three augmented collections. Although somewhat neglected today, for reasons that have nothing to do with their literary and philosophical merit, Lazare’s short stories are key documents of the Symbolist movement, and a remarkable illustration of the methods and preoccupations of the writers whose activity constituted its heyday.

Information about The Mirror of Legends:

Here available in English for the first time, in a splendid translation by Brian Stableford, The Mirror of Legends, one of the important collections of French Symbolist Bernard Lazare (1865-1903), offers a melange of stories based on Greek, mythological and Biblical sources. In prose coiling as effusively as the smoke from a swinging censer, the esoteric lore of centuries is paraded before the reader in this series of incantatory poem-like tales that form an eclectic myth-cycle of their own. A mixture of erudition, heretical speculation and heightened lyricism, The Mirror of Legends presents a unique artistic statement of metaphysics, aesthetics and ethics.

REVIEW: THE MIRROR OF LEGENDS BY BERNARD LAZARE

Bernard Lazare's The Mirror of Legends is a marvellous collection of stories translated by Brian Stableford. I was deeply impressed by it and found it fascinating, because it's unlike anything I've read recently.

I consider this collection to be one of the highlights of recent years, because it's something different and the quality of the prose is stunningly good. The archaic language used in the stories seduced me, because I love archaic fiction due to it being poetic, lyrical and different from modern fiction.

The stories contained within the pages of this collection are based on and inspired by a variety of different sources. Some of the stories are based on mythological sources while others are based on Biblical sources. The author's interest in mythology and religious elements can clearly be seen in all of the stories, because he writes fluently and thought-provokingly about them.

I have to mention that these stories are not to be read in haste, because you'll miss out on a lot of details if you skim through them. Because they lead their readers into the world of myths, theology and fantasy, they benefit from careful and thoughtful reading of the text.

The Mirror of Legends contains the following stories:

- The Garden
- The Offering to the Goddess
- The Eternal Fugitive
- The Key to Enigma
- The Sacrifice
- The Image
- Death Renounced
- The Lyre: I. Neanthes, II. Marsyas
- The Glory of Judas
- The Redemption of Ahasuerus
- The Descendants of Iskander
- The Ineffable Lie
- The Advent
- The Agony of Spirits
- Life Without Fear
- The Flowers
- The Incarnations
- In Excelsis
- The Forest

All of the above mentioned stories have beautiful, vivid and eloquent descriptions about the happenings and the characters. There's a poetic and lyrical quality to them that I find charming.

Here's more information about the stories and my thoughts about them:

The Garden:

- A beautifully written story about the garden of mysterious Avalons and white Thules.
- I enjoyd this shorty story, because it's seducingly poetic.

The Offering to the Goddess:

- This is a memorable tale about people who make an offering to the goddess after the sun has descended beyond the horizon.
- This story is fascinatingly dark and can almost be classified as early dark fantasy fiction.
- I consider this story to be one of the highlights of this collection.

The Eternal Fugitive:

- In this brilliant story, the author offers his readers a bit different kind of a vision about Moses, religion and religious worship.
- I think that many readers will find this story fascinating.

The Key to Enigma:

- An inriguing and well-constructed story about Oedipus and the Sphinx.
- I enjoyed reading about how the Oedipus solved the great Enigma and what happened afterwards.

The Sacrifice:

- A story about Coresos, who loves Callirhoe.
- It's amazing how fluently the author writes about Coresos and Callirhoe, because he has created a good and mesmerising story based on an ancient Greek myth.

The Image:

- In this story, hunters listen to Thespis who sings about Narcissus.
- Ah, what a splendid story! I enjoyed this story very much, because its old-fashioned storytelling intrigued me.

Death Renounced:

- A well written tale about Hegesias, a philosopher, who is about to speak to a crowd that has gathered around him.
- I enjoyed reading about what happened to Hegesias and what his fate was to be.

The Lyre: I. Neanthes, II. Marsyas:

- In this story, Archytas the merchant has gathered his friends in his villa to celebrate the fifth lustrum of his public functions.
- The author writes well about the fates of Neanthes and Marsyas.

The Glory of Judas:

- In this story, Quintilla reads out loud the Gospel that concerns the divine Judas.
- Ah, what an amazing story! I found this story highly enjoyable, because it's something a bit different.

The Redemption of Ahasuerus:

- This story tells of the legend of Ahasuerus who has struck Christ and has been punished by him.
- An enjoyable and well written tale.

The Descendants of Iskander:

- This story tells of how two sisters, Rahu and Visena, meet three young men who descend from the glorious Iskander.
- This story has a fantastic and fascinating feel of history and myth to it.

The Ineffable Lie:

- A story about a prophet who awaits his death, because his words have angered the priests of the dead gods.
- The religious undertones of this story are fascinating.

The Advent:

- In this story, a man begins to speak to a crowd about wondrous things and what kind of change is about to happen.
- This story also has intriguing religious undertones, and it also has a reference to the Messiah.

The Agony of Spirits:

- In this story, Rabbi Iechiel, who has knowledge of ancient and modern wisdom, is shown things by the Spirit that is born of him.
- This is one of my favourite stories in this collection, because it's an excellent depiction of the meeting of the Rabbi and the Spirit.

Life Without Fear:

- A story about a traveler who wanders into the ruins of a dead city.
- This is one of my favourite stories in this collection, because there's something strange and disquieting about it that stimulates my imagination.

The Flowers:

- An excellent and beautifully written story about virgins who are buried in a lake.
- The supernatural flowers are quite a memorable sight in this story.
- In my opinion, this is the best story in this collection, because it stands out among the other stories by being different from them.

The Incarnations:

- In this story, a man, who is alone in a Levantine city, engages in a conversation with a Chinese man. They're both Jewish and debate about the Messiah.
- An excellent story with thought-provoking elements.

In Excelsis:

- A well-constructed story about a man on a deserted plateau on the highest summit of a mountain.
- This is an intriguing piece of fiction with religious elements.

The Forest:

- In this excellent story, a person wanders into the forest and is initiated by the divine sisters.
- This story feels like a companion story to "The Garden".

One of the best things about these stories is that the more you know about mythology, history and religion, the more you'll love them. If you have knowledge about these things and are familiar with Greek mythology and Biblical stories, you'll find yourself deeply enthralled by these stories. There's plenty of esoteric lore in them that will spellbind readers.

The philosophical and theological issues explored by the author are interesting in their contemplation about life, death, redemption and divinity. There are certain things in the author's stories that slightly remind me of what has been written by François-Marie Arouet, who is better known by his nom de plume Voltaire.

The religious and mythological elements are handled masterfully in these stories. I like the author's way of speculating about many things in a thought-provoking and heretical way, because it makes the stories stand out. His approach to religious and mythological elements feels seducingly vigorous. He delves surprisingly deep in his stories and offers readers plenty to think about.

The translation by Brian Stableford is simply superb. I'm truly amazed at his ability to translate this kind of fiction, because he perfectly succeeds in maintaining the literary values and all the nuances of the original text in his translation. The translated prose is excellent and wonderfully nuanced.

I also have to mention that the introduction by Brian Stableford is exceptionally good and informative, and so are the footnotes. His expertise on the author and his enthusiasm towards the author's fiction can clearly be seen in this collection.

Bernard Lazare's The Mirror of Legends is an excellent short story collection that can be highly recommended to readers who enjoy beautifully written stories and thought-provoking elements. If you're interested in stories based on mythology and Biblical sources, you should put this collection immediately to your reading list, because this kind of fiction is a bit difficult to find.

Highly recommended!

Log in to comment
Discuss this article in the forums (0 replies).