Resurrecting the Argo

Supernatural Re-makings in Robert Holdstock’s Merlin Codex


  • Helen Lovatt University of Nottingham



Holdstock, Merlin Codex, Argonauts, Argo, myth


This paper analyses the relationship between the figure of the Argo (ship and character) and the supernatural in the mythic fantasy of Robert Holdstock’s Merlin Codex. It shows how Holdstock’s re-writing of the Argonautica draws on various versions from the Argonautic tradition, including Euripides’ Medea, Apollonius, Valerius Flaccus, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Henry Treece and the 1963 film Jason and the Argonauts. It sets Holdstock’s Argo alongside other representations, as divine herself, possessed by divinity, and a channel of communication with the divine, and in the context of Holdstock’s previous work, particularly Mythago Wood, Lavondyss and Merlin’s Wood. The paper argues that Holdstock uses the Argo as a reflection of myth itself, a version of the forest in Mythago Wood, as well as a metapoetic image for the challenges and complexities of adapting a well-known story, bringing multiple mythological traditions (Arthurian, Finnish and Argonautic) together. It reflects on Holdstock’s relationship to the ancient genres of epic and tragedy, as well as Argo as plot facilitator and mechanism of transformation and transition. Holdstock’s relationship with ancient literature is richer and deeper than previously acknowledged; his self-conscious plays reveal a deep understanding of the polymorphous nature of mythical traditions.