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Posted in: Arts, Film & Culture

Published on Mar 09, 2017 by Phyllis Chesler

Written for Phyllis Chesler

Jezebel and Ancient Times Come to Life in Martha Shelley's Fiction


My endorsement/review/response to Martha Shelley’s The Throne in the Heart of the Sea and The Stars in Their Courses.

Shelley has written a work of lesbian science fiction but has, amazingly, set it in the ancient world, in the 9th century BCE. Her research of the Middle East and of these distant times is deep and wondrous. I could not stop reading this work as the dramatic narrative moved from splendid palaces to wretched caves, from the high-born to the poor-born. Jezebel is one of the most haunting and maligned of figures and Shelley introduces us to her in her fictionalized girlhood, humanizes her, and brings us close to the always dangerous lives of those who wear crowns or of their queens who must live in harems.

Shelley also imagines an all-female harem guard and female bodyguards; she also imagines a child of poverty who becomes Jezebel’s intimate and her chief scribe and physician. Talk about quantum lucky leaps! Ancient herbal medicine and surgical techniques are carefully described as are the many trades that women had including that of jewelry-maker, cook, gardener, designer—and ruler. Shelley’s ancient world is a multi-cultural one, teeming with female heroes of every skin color imaginable.

Her work is also scandalously heretical in that she presents the prophet and Messiah, Eliahu, (Elijah), as an angry “loser,” a thief, a scoundrel, a rough customer--and only eventually, as a man of God. Shelley presents her negative portrait of monotheistic Judaism in an unexpected way. We come to know Elijah and come to dislike him, up close, but long before we understand who he really is. Clearly, Shelley prefers the paganism of the ancient world—it’s many pleasures, festivals, carnivals--to the moral and intellectual treasure that Judaism also represents. About this we may disagree but I strongly recommend her work for sheer reading pleasure.


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