"This lucid book shows us, through a series of case studies, how to read traditional and other kinds of narrative as 'magical.' Dr. Wilson's study is a rare example of genuinely innovative criticism."--Felicity Riddy, University of York, U.K.
In this final book of her pioneering investigation of logical problems in medieval narrative texts, Anne Wilson offers a practical guide to her approach. She argues that certain narrative plots, some of them famous for their inconsistencies, have been created by a form of thought that we have not recognized.
Wilson demonstrates that texts full of apparent contradictions and incongruities contain highly organized plots, made up of repetitive, ritual structures. These structures can be invested with power by storytellers and audiences, which can serve to bring about desired states of mind. Investigating the individual structures in each text provides evidence for a new, intellectually rigorous definition of "magic" as a system of thought in which participants invest narrative elements with particular power.
In case studies, most of them illustrated with charts, Wilson shows in detail how power invested in a plot can operate. She identifies three main types of ritual plot--the sovereignty plot, the purification plot, and the defended narrative--but every text is unique. Many texts also contain an overlay, added by the author, which has been created at an entirely different level of thought. The result is even greater confusion, because the overlay superimposes moral themes on an amoral ritual process, and provides characterization and points of view for characters who are no more than figures in a ritual scheme.
Wilson shows how scholarship can widen the scope of our inquiries, free from the constraints of existing theory, in the course of working out new, appropriate ways of resolving neglected literary problems.
Anne Wilson is an Honorary Fellow in the Institute for Advanced Research in Arts and Social Sciences at the University of Birmingham, U.K. She is the author of three books, including The Magical Quest: The Use of Magic in Arthurian Romance.