MUD AND MAGIC SHOWS: ROBERTSON DAVIES' FIFTH BUSINESS
Volume 21 Number 5
Mud and Magic Shows: Robertson Davies' Fifth Business is the latest in the ECW Press series "Canadian Fiction Studies." "Canadian Fiction Studies" was designed to respond to a specific need and audience: a concise reading of major Canadian novels accessible to students at high schools and colleges in Canada. Each volume contains biographical material on the author, a discussion of the work's importance to Canadian literature, a description of the critical reception the book received upon publication, a reading of the text, and a substantial list of works cited throughout the volume.
When it first appeared in 1970, Fifth Business (Penguin Books, 1977) received a somewhat mixed response from reviewers and critics. They did not know quite what to make of it, thematically or stylistically. However, as time passed and subsequent volumes of the Deptford trilogy appeared, Fifth Business came to be seen as the work responsible for firmly establishing Robertson Davies' high stature on both the national and international literary scenes.
As Monk points out, Fifth Business is a multi-layered work and, like all great works, bears repeated readings. She offers a variety of perspectives from which to approach a text peopled by characters who are both ordinary and astonishing, real and symbolic, actual and mythic. Additionally, she provides a readily understandable discussion of Jung's archetypes of the self, which underpin all three works of the Deptford trilogy. Finally, and most importantly, Monk leaves it to the reader to decide how he or she will work at understanding the world of wonders in which Dunstan Ramsay and indeed all of us live.
Fifth Business is a popular curriculum choice for upper level senior high school English courses, and school libraries would do well to add Mud and Magic Shows to their general professional collections. The excellent reference list also makes it a suitable choice for first year college or university students.
Joanne Peters is a teacher-librarian at Sisler High School in Winnipeg, Manitoba.
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