Science Fiction Studies

#72 = Volume 24, Part 2 = July, 1997



  • Louie W. Attebery. Take the High Road (Colin Manlove. Scottish Fantasy Literature: A Critical Survey)
  • Istvan Csicsery-Ronay, Jr. The Wife's Story (Anne Dick. Search for Philip K. Dick, 1928-1982)
  • R.D. Mullen. Recent Books from Borgo Press (Daryl Mallett and Robert Reginald. Reginald's Science Fiction and Fantasy Awards ; Robert Reginald and Mary A. Burgess. BP 250: An Annotated Bibliography of the First 250 Publications of the Borgo Press, 1975-1996; Neal Wilgus. Seven by Seven: Interviews with American Science Fiction Writers of the West and Southwest; Mary S. Weinkauf. Sermons in Science Fiction: The Novels of S. Fowler Wright; Curtis C. Smith. Welcome to the Revolution: The Literary Legacy of Mack Reynolds; Lee Prosser. Running from the Hunter: The Life and Works of Charles Beaumont; George Zebrowski. Beneath the Red Star: Studies on International Science Fiction; R.A. Lafferty. It's Down the Slippery Cellar Steps: Essays and Speeches on Fantastic Literature; Darrel Sweitzer, ed. Discovering Classic Fantasy Fiction: Essays on the Antecedents of Fantastic Literature; L. Sprague de Camp. Rubber Dinosaurs and Wooden Elephants: Essays on Literature, Film, and History; Robert Reginald. Xenograffiti: Essays on Fantastic Literature; Algis Budrys. Outposts: Literatures of Milieux; Jeffrey M. Elliot & Robert Reginald. The Work of George Zebrowski; Jeffrey M. Elliot. The Work of Pamela Sargent; Martine Wood. The Work of Gary Bradner; Michael R. Collings. The Work of Stephen King)



Louie W. Attebery

Take the High Road

Colin Manlove. Scottish Fantasy Literature: A Critical Survey. Canongate Academic / Dufour Editions (610-458-5005), 1994. viii+263. $19.95

The understanding of Scottish literature and the fantasy tradition within that cultural expression is significantly advanced by Colin Manlove's excellent critical survey. In thirteen substantive chapters with a sensible and incisive introduction and conclusion, the scholar-critic offers chapters entitled "Beginnings," "James Hogg," "Carlyle, Sartor Resartus (1836)," "George MacDonald," "Stevenson, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1886)," "Women Writers: Margaret Oliphant and `Fiona Macleod,'" "Scottish Fantasy and the Child: Andrew Lang and J.M. Barrie," "David Lindsay, A Voyage to Arcturus (1920)," "Neil Gunn, The Green Isle of the Great Deep (1944)," "George Mackay Brown, Magnus (1973) and Others," "Alasdair Gray, Lanark (1981)," "Margaret Elphinstone, An Apple from a Tree (1991)" " and "Other Writers." This review will devote remarks of varying lengths to all but four of these.

This volume is noteworthy for the range and depth of its discussions. It has the requisite scholarly equipment: notes at the ends of chapters, an extensive bibliography (11 pages), and an index. It is pleasant reading with a minimum of jargon/cliches that irritate. Thirteen plates of photographs, drawings, and portraits of writers adverted to enhance the reader's pleasure. Finally, the book reveals the sensibilities of one who genuinely believes that fantasy occupies--or should occupy--a privileged place in the canon of great writings.

"Beginnings" discusses material identified as creating (or contributing to) the canon of Scottish fantasy, anonymous traditional works that include the most engaging materials of the Scots cultural legacy. Here are folktales and ballads, primarily those in Lallans (a variety of Northern Middle English) with glancing references to the Gaelic tradition. If there is a reader only slightly aware of the Child ballads "Thomas the Rhymer" and "Tam Lin," the discussion in this chapter will help establish the great merit of those narrative songs. Following that discussion is a brief but accurate assessment of the contribution of Allan Ramsay (father of the painter) to the collection and literary transmission of traditional tales.

From the discussion of medieval folktales it is but a short step to an extensive disquisition on the Makars, those indigenous 15th- and 16th-century Scots poets of a high order indeed who, in an earlier time, were often called the Scottish Chaucerians--James I, Robert Henryson, William Dunbar, Gavin Douglas, and including Alexander Montgomerie. Manlove affirms that the dream vision allegory is the principal aspect of the fantastic in these poets.

Manlove asserts that for nearly two hundred years (1597-1760) fantasy absented herself from heather and glen (note later remarks by the reviewer on Robert Kirk) on account of the Reformation, rationalism, empiricism, and the Enlightenment, returning with the Ossianic poems of James Macpherson (1760-65). However, the finest single fantasy of the eighteenth century, in the opinion of the reviewer, is the poem by Robert Burns in which a rustic has a close encounter with a witches' sabbath, "Tam o' Shanter" (1791). Manlove brings new insights to the analysis of this poem when he says, for instance, that the language and narrative mode of the poem are a reflection of the democratic impulses that were part of the romantic energy of the time, discernible in the poem's commingling of Augustan English ("Attic") and "braid Scots" ("Doric") as well as the Gothic romance and folk narratives. The high regard in which Manlove holds this poem is generally shared by those who have spoken of it, none more tellingly than the Rev. Merricks Arnott who, in Stirling in 1980 declared to the reviewer that among the most suspenseful and richly evocative lines in all literature is the couplet in which Tam, in the graveyard and nearly beside himself at the sight of what was revealed by the cavorting of a comely young witch in a miniskirt, roars out, "Weel done, Cutty-sark!"/ And in an instant [pause] all was dark!" Not in what was described but in what is imagined lies the magic, claimed this Church of Scotland minister, as the darkness sets in motion all kinds of imaginings. Another such breathless literary moment occurs on the ramparts of a Danish castle when, awaiting the nocturnal appearance of a ghost, a youthful courtier breathes, "Look, my lord, it comes!"

James Hogg deserves and gets his own chapter, and the discussion of his best novel is enlightening. The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner (1824) by this contemporary and friend of Sir Walter Scott in Manlove's words "is an intellectuals' book, with an intellectual as its protagonist" (49-50). Indeed, there is much about this superb novel that commends it to the reader, and Manlove identifies most of those strengths--the multiple points of view of the narrative, the ambiguity of the paraclete (Is Gil-Martin really a satanic figure or the objectification of the tendency toward temptation and the yielding to it which are part of Robert Wringhim's nature?), the danger of intellectual arrogance. If there be those who cavil at intellectual arrogance, Bronowski's The Ascent of Man, Chapter 11, is instructive: "There is no absolute knowledge. And those who claim it, whether they are scientists or dogmatists, open the door to tragedy." Apropos of Hogg, the dogmatism of John Calvin is at issue, for the problem of belief in absolute predestination lies at the heart of the novel.

Other of Hogg's works, both poetry and prose, are discussed, and Hogg emerges as one of the major figures in Scottish literature.

In the fourth chapter, Manlove places Carlyle firmly in the category of Scottish writers and a writer in the genre of fantasy as he discusses in significant detail Sartor Resartus (1836). Published twelve years after Confessions, the book shares several similarities with Hogg's story, as Manlove explains, taking time to point out significant differences as well.

Those who have been misled by their textbook surveys of English literature need to know that this intellectual giant was Scots through and through. And what, the curious reader may wish to know, is a Scot? This review of Scottish Fantasy Literature: A Critical Survey does not presume to answer that question. It is better answered by Scottish folklore and literature itself, some guides including Gregory Smith's Scottish Literature, Character and Influence (1919), Kurt Wittig's The Scottish Tradition in Literature (1958), and Rory Watson's The Literature of Scotland (1984). By all the litmus tests suggested in these guides, Carlyle was a Scot; by Manlove's declaration that Sartor "sets out to give us a supernatural and wondrous vision of life" (70), it is a fantasy. Within the compass of this prickly, independent, Calvinistic-sans-theology work, perhaps even the famous (or notorious) Caledonian antisyzygy is run to earth. Gregory Smith's coinage, this term means that Scots writers deal in contradictions and contrarieties more consistently than others do and that nearly every Scots writer from the Makars through Fergusson and Burns and C.M. Grieve betrays these characteristics. It would be consistent with the Scots proclivity for "hiving off" if the national motto declared that every man is an island. In Sartor "No" is counterpoised with "Yes," as Manlove points out (74) observing, "the book becomes a mirror of the world, a melange of different impulses and intermittent revelations: it is like a medium of different density, when we shift from the `superficial' to the `profound' and back again without warning" (75). In several places Manlove gives examples of this phenomenon, but he avoids using Smith's term. It is to Manlove's credit that he tries to avoid cliches and jargon; perhaps he chooses not to use "Caledonian antisyzygy" for this same tactic of jargon avoidance along with "marginal," "narrator," and "empower" in their various inflected forms.

The fifth chapter deals with George MacDonald, affirming that this nonconforming Congregationalist minister was "peculiarly a writer of Scottish fantasy" (83) in his emphasis on the forces of the unconscious, sharing, the reviewer notes, with his contemporary and admirer, Mark Twain, the conviction that our moons have a dark as well as a light side. Making connections between MacDonald and Carlyle, Manlove likewise shows MacDonald's connections with Novalis. Here the reader finds sensitive and sensible discussions of MacDonald's Phantastes, At the Back of the North Wind, The Princess and the Goblin, The Princess and Curdie, and Lilith.

But it is with the discussion of Stevenson in Chapter Six, that Manlove returns to what may have been a strategy behind Scottish Fantasy Literature: the proper identification of Scottish writers and their restoration to the literary canon of that historical, political, and cultural identity, Scotland. For Robert Louis Stevenson of A Child's Garden of Verses and Treasure Island was a Scot, a Lowlander, so thoughtful as to provide a glossary on the proper pronunciation of certain Scots words. Stevenson was not an English writer inadvertently born in Edinburgh.

He is an appropriate figure to summon apropos of that previously mentioned jawbreaker, the Caledonian antisyzygy, a further (that is, in addition to the facts of his Edinburgh birth and education) indication of his Scottishness. The reader who wishes to explore this matter can examine Wittig's comments that the "emotional and intellectual dualism" may have been reinforced by the necessity of the Scot to express thought in one language (English) and feeling in another (Lallans). Wittig further claims that "[Stevenson's] work was thoroughly Scottish, and it cannot be fully appreciated apart from its Scottish background. Stevenson himself was well aware of this, as witness `The Foreigner at Home' (1882) and his feeling of kinship with Robert Fergusson" (Wittig 257).

All of this is preliminary to Manlove's extensive discussion of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. It is a law of literary analysis that the richer the work the more the entries into it. Which to take, of course, is the choice of the critic. This work challenges the reader at so many points it is frustrating to attempt to list them, and in nearly every case the analysis reminds the reader of Tennyson's metaphor of the archway of experience "wherethrough/Gleams that untraveled world whose margin fades/Forever and forever when I move." The entry way of psychology leads, for instance, to Manlove's speculation about the author's own character, about the Scottish character, about the Victorian character, and, indeed, about human character. All are blends of good and evil. From that speculation arise theological speculations: pre-lapsarian innocence, the fall, the reconstituted being made up of antipathies or devolving from the condition of the possibility of not sinning to the condition of no possibility not to sin --posse non peccare, non posse non peccare. More than that, there is the sociological entry--London of the downtrodden, of the affluent professional class, paradigms, more than likely, of the Edinburgh whose upper and lower classes Stevenson knew.

There is, moreover--and this is one of Manlove's most significant contributions to our understanding of Stevenson's genius--a careful analysis of the structure of the story, seen as "a network of oppositions informing and playing through it, which suggests a far tighter bonding between various aspects of the tale than might at first appear" (107). The critic states that the narrative is two sided, what he calls "the seen and the unseen" (107) developing from Utterson's investigations, on the one hand, and, on the other, the account of the relations of Jekyll with Hyde. With this strategy Stevenson is able to create a narrative in which act and motive, appearance and reality, the conscious and the subconscious, and innocence and nocence serve the theme memorably. Manlove offers a penetrating insight into the Jekyll-Hyde (and humanity's) construct; his prose defies paraphrase: "When [Jekyll] begins to find himself transformed involuntarily as it seems into Hyde, we realize that it is not the habitual use of the chemicals but the habitual decision to use them which has led to this. In other words, Jekyll becomes more and more of a sham until he is Hyde. The man who begins by letting Hyde out ends by having to let him in" (113).

Margaret Oliphant and "Fiona Macleod" (William Sharp) are the subjects of Chapter Seven, which ostensibly deals with women writers. Even if this chapter provided only minimal understanding of the two subjects, the thirteen portraits or drawings and photographs of Scottish writers would give it considerable merit. Manlove must have searched hard for them, for these are not the commonly reproduced likenesses. Here we see Thomas Carlyle looking young and handsome; George MacDonald, who might be confused with James Murray of the OED; William Sharp in a pose strongly reminiscent of the young Bernard Shaw; Robert Louis Stevenson painted angular and lean. There are portraits of Andrew Lang and J. M. Barrie and photographs of David Lindsay, Neil Gunn, George Mackay Brown, Alasdair Grey, and Margaret Elphinstone.

But there is, however, merit in the text as well as in the illustrations, Mrs Oliphant discussed as one interested in the real behind the apparent, the unseen beyond the seen, and Sharp viewed as the creator of a cast of actors "driven not by reason or idealism, but by deep promptings of the spirit" (135).

Andrew Lang and J. M. Barrie are the subjects of Chapter Eight "Scottish Fantasy and the Child." Lang is well known to students of literature, history, and folklore. A Scot whose residence was London, Lang looked beyond the Tweed for much of his material. Manlove is occupied principally with The Gold of Fairnilee and suggests that the epigraph Lang's friend Stevenson employed for Dr. Jekyll and Mr Hyde might more appropriately be applied to the Lang work. The verse encapsulates much that is thought to be Scottish:

It's ill to loose the bands that God decreed to bind;

Still will we be the children of the heather and the wind.

Far away from home, O it's still for you and me

That the broom is blowing bonnie in the north countrie.

(It is noted by the reviewer that the existence of Caledonian Societies around the world, by some estimated to have a membership exceeding twenty- six million, suggests that the ties to the "north countrie" approximate something in the order of genetic memory.)

Fairnilee is based on three Child ballads: "Lord Randal," "Thomas the Rhymer," and "Tam Lin." In absorbing this affecting traditional material, Lang has taken narratives of great worth and changed them into a single story with depth which requires of Manlove nearly six pages to explore. Lang's admirers--and there are many who love the colored fairy books as well as Fairnilee--will rejoice in Manlove's virtuoso explication of the themes and his clarification of some of the symbols.

The J.M. Barrie of Peter Pan (1904) renown is not a totally different writer from the earlier Barrie many scholars identify with the Kailyard tradition. Watson's The Literature of Scotland (Macmillan 1984) devotes several paragraphs to this phenomenon and to Barrie's place within it; perhaps the reader need only know that it takes its name from the cabbage patch (kail being the common Scots word for cabbage) which grew beside most cottages and provided an important food item for the common folk. Kailyard writing employed the vernacular and tended to be retrospective in viewing the minister-dominated society of an earlier time (a Free Kirk minister, of course) as the good old days. Barrie's Auld Licht Idylls (1888), A Window in Thrums (1889), The Little Minister (1891), and Sentimental Tommy (1896) are probably his best and best known Kailyard novels. Although Manlove disregards this aspect of the writer's intellectual biography, one can argue that Barrie was able to utilize this concern for stability and blend it with such other themes as childhood's innocence, imagination, and their loss to create Peter Pan.

Manlove instead establishes strong connections between Peter Pan and the pastoral comedies A Midsummer Night's Dream and As You Like It as well as the tragi-comedies The Winter's Tale and The Tempest. Among children's stories that helped shape Peter Pan, Manlove identifies Coral Island by R.M. Ballentyne (1858) and Treasure Island (1883). Insularity, a condition of life for the British, is, of course, important in Peter Pan, and one wonders whether in addition to the afore-mentioned island settings Barrie may have pondered innocence, danger, and pastoralism on Jackson's Island in the Mississippi River.

This chapter concludes with a brief discussion of Barrie's Mary Rose (1920), a popular play based on Scottish materials. Here "the emphasis, as in most Scottish fantasy, and as in Peter Pan, is on the inner and unconscious world: the fairies, the island, the ghost-state, all symbolize a state of mind cut off from reality" (151).

Manlove's competence as both scholar and critic has surely been established, and it would be trying to a reader if this review continued to attempt to summarize some of the principal emphases of the remaining chapters. Such a reader is encouraged to discover personally the valuable insights into David Lindsay, Neil Gunn, George Mackay Brown, Alasdair Gray, and Margaret Elphinstone. Of these five, Neil Gunn is a particularly engaging figure, having earned considerable of a reputation with such books as the lyrical and wistful Highland River (1937) and The Silver Darlings (1941), neither a fantasy.

Chapter Fourteen, however, deserves at least a brief mention, for here Manlove treats of "Other Writers": John Buchan, Naomi Mitchison, Mary Stewart, Sian Hayton, "James Bridie" [O.H. Mavor], and James Thomson, for example. Two writers he disregards are Eric Linklater, whose A Spell for Old Bones (1949) is pleasant reading: "'They are a great nuisance, the giants,' said the old woman...." and Robert Kirk, whose The Secret Common-Wealth (1691?) is fascinating if problematical, for it is expository, not narrative, presuming to be a serious and studied argument for the existence of fairies.*  The curious reader will enjoy Stewart Forson Sanderson's 1976 edition (with commentary) of this interesting work, a volume in the Folklore Society's Mistletoe Series, whose complete title is The Secret Common-Wealth or a Treatise Displaying the Chief Curiosities Among the People of Scotland as They Are in Use to This Day.

It is reasonable now to ask how Manlove summarizes his views on Scottish fantasy; accordingly, we turn to his conclusion and to his own words: "In every Scottish fantasy we have looked at, the self is either outside society, open to question, subject to doubt or shame, undermined, divided, defiantly asserted, or transformed" (246).

He continues: "At the level of individual works, this assault on the self is sometimes seen as a good...sometimes as a destructive evil.... But at the deeper level of the recurrence of this motif, it seems to express a continual desire to reach bedrock, to plumb a depth of certainty...beyond what life can normally offer..." (246). And again: "What Scottish fantasy seems to register is a fundamental lack of confidence in the conscious or civil self...often...ex-pressed in a journey away from that self, into the innermost or unconscious areas of the mind" (246).

Another distinguishing characteristic of Scottish fantasy is its emphasis on female power and worth, found certainly in many of the Child ballads, though Manlove does not consider them, in the Makars, and on into the present.

"These three features--the stress on the unconscious, on uncertain identity and on femininity--draw together some of the characteristics of Scottish fantasy .... They seem to be not only defining features of Scottish as opposed to other fantasy, but literary expressions of one side of the Scottish character itself--the inwardness and love of mystery and dream that are often ignored, the uncertainty and passion that are so often denied . . . . In their fantasy the Scots seem continually to express a lost wholeness, a sense of a threatened or dispossessed self, an acute sense of a distant paradise that beckons, and mocks, and frustrates, and which sometimes, when not looked at, is momentarily there. And so for them their own country, Scotland, is always not fully there, a presence beneath a distant hill, a desire that runs like blood through every frail imagination of the place" (146-47).

Reservations about the book are minor. In addition to those omissions noted, the following asseveration on p. 238 is highly problematical: "There does not seem to be that in Scottish culture which particularly values the child as child." This does not square with a culture in which "bairn," "lass," and "lad" appear with great frequency, each having its own diminutive form further adding a sweetness and intimacy and delicacy to childhood.

With those reservations out of the way, the book can be praised highly and recommended to the reader whose special interests are fantasy and Scottish literature.

[*Because of the interest in Scottish materials stimulated by the recent movies dealing with Wallace and Rob Roy, it is perhaps worth a footnote to say that Robert Kirk, a Church of Scotland minister who served the parish of Balquhidder, was a contemporary of, and almost certainly the minister to, the MacGregor family. Robert "Rob Roy" MacGregor, his wife, Helen, and two sons are buried in the churchyard there. ]

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