Chimera (John Barth novel)

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First edition dustcover (Random House)

Chimera is a 1972 novel by the American writer John Barth, composed of three loosely connected novellas. The novellas are Dunyazadiad, Perseid and Bellerophoniad, whose titles refer eponymously to the mythical characters Dunyazad, Perseus and Bellerophon (slayer of the mythical Chimera). The book exemplifies postmodernism, with several Q&A sessions and three diagrams, all in Bellerophoniad. It shared the U.S. National Book Award for Fiction with Augustus by John Edward Williams.[1]



The Dunyazadiad is a retelling of the framing story of Scheherazade, the famed storyteller of the One Thousand and One Nights. The story is told from the point of view of Scheherazade's younger sister Dunyazade. Its characterization as metafiction can be understood as a result of the use of several literary devices, most notably the introduction of the author as a character and his interaction with Scheherazade and Dunyazade. The author appears from the future and expresses his admiration for Scheherazade and the 1001 Nights as a work of fiction, of which Barth's Scheherazade has no knowledge. Realizing that he has appeared to Scheherazade on the eve of her first encounter with Shahryar, and seeing her without a solution to her predicament, the author himself suggests the stratagem of using a chain of interrupted stories to forestall her execution, and offers to tell her a new story every day with which to regale the king the following evening. Taking the author for a genie, Scheherazade agrees.


The second novella entitled Perseid follows the middle aged Greek hero Perseus in his struggle to obtain immortality. Told from Perseus' point of view, the first part of the story revolves around the retelling of Perseus' life history while the following part details his rise to, and eventual immortalization as a constellation of stars.


The final novella, Bellerophoniad, chronicles the story of Bellerophon, yet another ancient Greek hero. While somewhat rooted in the myth as told by the Greek and Roman poets, Barth's version of the story is not a direct retelling, but instead a re-imagining. Much like the Perseid, the Bellerophoniad surrounds a middle aged mythic hero who struggles with coming to terms with his past accomplishments and a desire to secure his future glory. It is, for the most part, told from the point of view of Bellerophon, with various interjections by unknown narrators, one of which is presumed to be the author Barth. Of the three novellas, it is by far the longest and—more so than in Dunyazadiad and Perseid—makes numerous references to the other novellas, further connecting common themes and events between the three.


  1. ^ "National Book Awards – 1973". National Book Foundation. Retrieved 2012-03-30.
    (With acceptance speech by Barth and two essays by Harold Augenbraum from the Awards 60-year anniversary blog. The essay nominally about Williams and Augustus includes Augenbraum's discussion of the split award.)

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Preceded by
The Complete Stories
Flannery O'Connor
National Book Award for Fiction
John Edward Williams
Succeeded by
Gravity's Rainbow
Thomas Pynchon
Succeeded by
A Crown of Feathers and Other Stories
Isaac Bashevis Singer