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136 LETTERS IN CANADA 1980 Morine Krissdottir./ohn Cowper Powys and the MagicnJ Quest MacDonald and Jane. xi, 218. $33.95 This ambitious study seeks to explain the mythological content of John Cowper Powys's entire fictional canon from Wood and Stone to All or Nothing. To provide a guide to the 'philosophy' that is expressed obliquely in the literature some of the non-fictional prose is examined in the introductory chapter. Simultaneously there is a desire to place Powys's own voluminousness within the cultural context of virtually the whole world. In many ways these aspirations are commendable. All Powys's works endeavour to reach what he called in Owen Glendower the 'mysterious underworld of beyond-reality whence rise the external archetypes: His writings are indeed interdependent, and the appreciation of their richness is undoubtedly increased when they are read, in so far as anyone can do so, against the vast background of all that has been thought and said. However, the working out of these grand objectives causes some demurs. By treating Powys's thoughts as a collective entity Dr Krissdottir makes them appear less susceptible to development and emendation than they actually were. This approach also means that there can be no opportunity to show the illumination that is given to a particular fiction from a collateral reading of the non-fiction of the same period. Further, the assertion of the many points of contact between Powys's ideas and those of'mystics of all ages and places' (p 15) gives the impression of minimizing his idiosyncrasy. In Krissdottir's discussion no distinction is made between entirely coincidental points of agreement with certain members of the multitude into whose allegiance he is forced and potentially verifiable lines of genuine influence. To raise these issues may be mere pedantry. For the critical procedure used here could be said to be Krissdottir's free adaptation of her author's own. Whenever Powys wrote or spoke about another author, he allowed his personality to be absorbed into sympathetic union. Without vexing himself unduly about factual details, as an objective appraiser would do, he became instead an inspired interpreter. While there is therefore a sense in which Powys requires a commentator who is as liberated as he from the conventional restraints of literary criticism, his dithyrambic analyses are exceedingly difficult to emulate. After the critical methodology is set forth in the opening, the rest of the book gives explications of the secret mytholOgical overtones of individual works. All these chapters have the solid virtue of recognizing that Powys's imaginative constructs cannot be judged fairly by criteria appropriate to realistic novels. A welcome challenge is thereby made to the hasty underestimation of Powys's worth that comes from the application of rigid mimetic standards. But the claim that his fictions must HUMANITIES '37 be seenexclusivelyas myths or visionary stories may be the substitution of an equally severe restriction. Except for recurring symbols and structural patterns, Krissdottir refuses to be concerned with 'artistry.' The result is that little consideration can be given to the way in which the mythological references are set forth in specifically fictional terms. Value judgments about the relative merits of the various books as fictions are ventured. Weymouth Sands is said to be 'slack and disoriented' (p 107) and Monvyn 'disappointing' (p 120), while others are declared completely successful. Without any elaboration of the artistry involved the basis for these discriminations is unclear. Nevertheless, it is the implication that Powys's literature is fully appreciable only to the cognoscenti that is the most troublesome. Habitually Powys used arcane lore and recherche myths to create an aura of wonder. Any exegesis of his treatment of esoteric doctrine is valuable for demonstrating that he gave more conscious care to the creation of this mysterious atmosphere than he himself pretended. For establishing this point Krissdottir's analyses of the Grail legends in A Glastonbury Romance and of alchemy in Porius are particularly admirable. But appreciations of his intricacies must not make Powys appear less approachable or less enjoyable than he unquestionably is for the reader who is not familiar with alchemy or the perennial philosophy. (MARGARET MORAN) R.P. Bilan. The...


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