The Black Tail – Prominent Settings

The “storyworld” in the Black Tail resembles the Homeric Conception of the World from 550BC: a big landmass wrapped around the Mediterranean Sea is the world. At the Westernmost tip, lies the Pillars of Hercules; at the Easternmost extreme, the Caspian Sea. Above-water scenes unfold on familiar islands near Italy and Greece that have been renamed and stylized. Underwater settings are entirely contrived.

The Black Tail begins on the Sirenum Scopuli archipelago (modern day Li Galli islands). It’s a cluster of three islands right smack in the open Stygian(a.k.a. Mediterranean) Sea.

Isle of Moon is a crescent-shaped island. Here, stands the harpies’ military outpost: a fortress of nine floors with a massive cylindrical, open-air hollow in the middle. Each floor, which stands for a circle in hell (a la Dante’s Inferno) has massive arched windows for easy flight access. The structure has gaping holes in many places, not unlike Erostes’ own skeletal physiology. She is underfed; her skin open with scars/wounds. It also represents her own missing identity in the beginning; her person/story has a big missing hole in it. Aëllo throws Erostes down three floors in the first scene to punish her for supposedly stealing her earring.

Nearby, soars the Rock of Oblivion. A massive black boulder with many sharp, jagged, edges – it can be tricky to climb, because it’s constantly pounded by waves. The current makes this a deadly place. Here, the harpies sing their Siren Song and… passing ships shipwreck. Both name and construction facilitate the whole Siren-Song-shipwreck induction process.

Within swimming distance, the Meadow of Bones is where the harpies feed on entranced sailors. Instead of flowers, it boasts a big, bloody, stockpile of human bones and entrails. Ideal for revealing the harpies’ bestiality, greed, and Erostes’ recurrent fear of death. In Greek mythology, whenever a virgin maid picks flowers in the meadow, bad things happen. In The Black Tail, Erostes goes looking for Aello’s lost earring in this “meadow”.

When the Triton abducts Erostes and transforms her into a mermaid, he brings her to the bottom of the Stygian Sea, and chains her to bones inside the rotting carcass of a leviathan. It’s pitch black, and ice cold. She is in the belly of a monster. Out of her old world, swallowed up by a new one. She is effectively reborn, and experiences her new world from the belly of a monster. She is also reminded of her deepest fear of being eaten alive.

Next, the Garden of Sirens is an underwater gallery of mermaid statues. An homage to sirens, it tempts Erostes with a question that falls like a snake from the tree: Who is Melusine, and why does Erostes look just like her? Erostes sees the statue of her lookalike, Melusine, and identifies her as the woman in her dreams. This arouses her curiosity, and informs her motivational structures throughout. Uriel famously led Satan in disguise into the Garden of Eden. The Garden of Sirens functions to demonstrate that Triton, in his overzealousness for revenge/punishment, has huge blind spots.

Erostes’ first Labor takes place at the Pillars of Hercules, where she lures her first human ship full of loot. This place is significant given her assigned Herculean Labors— it’s the monument of Hercules’ perilous expedition. Here Helios the Sun God admired Hercules’ bravery and lent him a golden boat. In a parallel development, winged Icharus (male harpyrai) spies Erostes singing from one pillar (the Rock of Gibraltar), and completely falls for her. Erostes overwhelms the human ship, as a new “siren”. From a Homeric point of view, this is the point of entry into her world. As she approaches her two Labors near the center of the Stygian, her journey corresponds to her increased understanding of the world.

Erostes’ second Labor takes place near the narrow Straits of Messina where she has to decide between a rock and a hard place. One route crosses the Crushing Rocks (Symplegades) on the one side. The other route goes between Scylla and Charybdis on the other. The Crushing Rocks are two giant boulders that smash into each other with deadly force when they detect the slightest movement in their line of sight. Scylla is a hydra-head monster with 6 heads and 12 tentacles. Charybdis is a giant whirlpool that sucks in and belches out everything 3 times a day. Reminiscent of the Odyssey, and Jason of the Argonauts, this place mirrors Erostes’ central dilemma within The Black Tail. At every juncture, her options are lose-lose, like the Prisoner’s Dilemma in Game Theory.

Erostes’ third Labor, and therefore the climax of the book, takes place at the Strophades, a very small island off Peloponnesus (Southern Greece). Center of the Harpyrai Empire, this is where all their forces are concentrated. In Jason of the Argonauts, this is where the Boreads chased down the Harpies and almost exterminated them, except the Goddess Iris turned them around (Strophades in Greek means “turning around”). Geographically speaking, Erostes has come to the epicenter of her world. Here, a classic air-to-sea battle takes place between the Nereids and the Harpyrai, in front of human eyes. The burgeoning romance, between Erostes and Triton, erupts in full-scale species-on-species world war. Erostes undergoes another startling transformation in this Labor that completely “turns around” the existing worldview of species domination on its head.

The Black Tail ends at the Temple of Zakynthos, on an island northwest of the Strophades. This is the meeting place with Goddess Iris (Erostes’ mother). Triton fills it with gold from Erostes’ loot (celebrating her abundance). In stark contrast to the depravity we found on Sirenum Scopuli, here, finally, Erostes discovers her own divine lineage. She has gone from being “lost” in the middle of the open sea, to being “found” in her own mother’s temple.

 

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