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Robertson Davies.
Toronto, ON: Macmillan, 1987.
864pp., cloth, $29.95.
ISBN 0-771-59384-8. CIP.

Grades 12 and up / Ages 17 and up

Reviewed by Bohdan Kinezyk.

Volume 16 Number 1
1988 January

Robertson Davies' trilogy of novels - Fifth Business, The Manticore and World of Wonders - appears together in hardcover for the first time. If you don't already have these titles separately, or in the one volume King Penguin edition (The Deptford Trilogy, 1983), you'll want this book for your Canadian Literature collection. It is a remarkable achievement.

Davies has complained that "the fear and dread and splendour of wonder have been banished'' from the modern world. In The Deptford Trilogy the worlds of wonder within the human psyche make a triumphant return. In Fifth Business ¹ Dunstan Ramsay goes soul-searching. Fascinated by myth and magic, he pursues saints, meets devils, explores illusion and reality, and finally, after sleeping with the devil, finds himself.

The novel begins with a blow to the head. Ten-year-old Dunstable Ramsay and his lifelong friend and enemy, Percy Boyd Staunton, quarrel because Staunton's "fine new Christmas sled would not go as fast as (Dunstable's) old One." When Dunstable sets off for home, Staunton begins to hurl taunts and then snowballs after the retreating boy. At exactly 5:58 p.m. on 27 December 1908, an errant snowball (with a stone tucked inside) strikes Mrs. Dempster on the back of the head. Later that evening she gives birth to a son, Paul, who grows up to be the world's greatest magician. Mary Dempster achieves secular sainthood; Boy Staunton becomes a wealthy philanthropist, and is eventually named lieutenant-governor of Ontario. Before he assumes office, though, he is found dead in a harbour. There is a stone in his mouth.

Who killed Boy Staunton? That, of course, is the mystery that leads us deeper into the worlds of psychological terror and wonder.

The less intense middle novel, The Manticore, ¹ is a Jungian interlude, a gathering of forces which leads into the more satisfying World of Wonders ¹. Here Magnus Eisengrim (formerly Paul Dempster), preparing for a film role in which he is to play Robert-Houdin, the master illusionist, tells his side of the story. Ramsay takes over the final section of the novel and retells the story of the errant snowball, thus bringing the trilogy full circle.

Told second hand like this, the story sounds contrived and implausible-even . . . (gasp) unrealistic. If you are comfortable only with ordinary perceptions of reality, perhaps you'll find The Deptford Trilogy unsatisfactory: if you're in search of wonder and magic and psychological truth, though, Davies' trilogy will speak to you eloquently and passionately. You'll praise him for casting that first stone.

Bohdan Kinezyk, Central Elgin Collegiate, St. Thomas, ON.

¹ Reviewed vol. Vl/3 Summer 1987, p.l58.

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