The Enchanted Forest

The Enchanted Forest

The Enchanted Forest

The Enchanted Forest

Excerpt

Like most kinds, including literary criticism and interpretation, the study of influences is never definitive but merely tentative and dialectic. Though he may favour one influence or interpretation at the expense of others, the student of sources can 'illuminate masterpieces' uniquely by shedding light on obscure passages or allusions, as on the craftsmanship and hence stature of the writer influenced. For Shakespeare looms larger beside Holinshed or Bandello. But the student of sources should try to maintain perspective by frequent reference to other influences. In this book the author has made that attempt and has been most fortunate to have very comprehensive earlier studies like the Road to Xanadu to draw upon, supplement, or confute.

The Enchanted Forest is also more than a series of essays in literary history, genesis, and critical interpretation. It is in good part a kind of detective story, which begins where the Road to Xanadu ended: it traces overlooked clues in a tract along the way. After some essential introductory sections it is concerned first with a neglected problem in Coleridge biography, and then with a series of chapters presenting the evidence of his use of a crucial source till now undetected. These chapters deal with the part Wieland's daemonic tale Oberon (which Coleridge admitted translating about 20th November, 1797) seems to have played in the genesis not only of the Wanderings of Cain, but especially of the Ancient Mariner and Christabel, as well as Kubla Khan. These central chapters, which repeatedly reveal the creative process, contain extensive additions to Lowes's classic The Road to Xanadu. They present new evidence which he admittedly missed and which entails modifications of his conclusions as to the 'ways of the imagination'. These chapters also shed new light on the structure, the often cryptic symbolism, and inner logic of the Rime and Kubla Khan as well as Christabel; trace their interconnectedness; and make plain sundry puzzling features, passages, and symbolic imagery in the poems. Thus Chapter III suggests that in Oberon Coleridge found what might fairly be called the missing . . .

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