The Liminality of Fairies: Readings in Late Medieval English and Scottish Romance 9780367858605, 9781003056768

Examining the fairies of medieval romance as liminal beings, this book draws on anthropological and philosophical studie

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The Liminality of Fairies: Readings in Late Medieval English and Scottish Romance
 9780367858605, 9781003056768

Table of contents :
Cover
Half Title
Series Page
Title Page
Copyright Page
Contents
Introduction
1 Liminal Fairies: The Anthropological Paradigm
2 Modes of Liminality in Medieval Romance
3 The Philosophical Paradigm
4 The Khoratic Nature of Fairies
5 The Gift and the Promise: Ambiguity in Khoratic Contracts
6 Games, Gifts and Taboos: The Art of Rule-Bound Interactions
Conclusion
Works Cited
Index

Citation preview

The glamourie of the fairies continues to appeal and hold us in their mischievous grip. Spyra has provided a masterful insight into the slippery nature of the fairy folk in the context of medieval literature and romance texts such as old favourites Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Thomas of Erceldoune, Sir Orfeo, and Robert Henryson’s Orpheus and Eurydice, shedding new light on old tales. The inbetwixt nature of the fairy motif— in literature and in folklore—is examined in close detail. A particular strength of the book is its focus on the concept of liminality and its wider application to the fairies of romance. The author endeavours to make sense of what fairies are and how they functioned in literary understandings and interpretations, striding the divide somewhere between reality and fction, at once literal and metaphoric. Drawing on an erudite range of theoretical perspectives, from Arnold Van Gennep, to Victor Turner, to Mary Douglas, this study presents a conscious blend of old and new approaches to folk belief in the context of literary criticism. Like King Orfeo or Thomas the Rhymer, the reader will be spell-bound on a venture “through the maze of fairy-ridden texts” and be all the better for the journey. —Dr Lizanne Henderson, University of Glasgow An interesting and original application of heavy-duty anthropological and literary theory to a celebrated and beloved group of medieval texts. —Professor Ronald Hutton, Bristol University The Liminality of Fairies offers an innovative, superbly researched study of the relationship between medieval romance and fairy lore, one that offers new insights and provides a frm foundation for future research. —Dr Juliette Wood, Cardiff University

The Liminality of Fairies

Examining the fairies of medieval romance as liminal beings, this book draws on anthropological and philosophical studies of liminality to combine folkloristic insights into the nature of fairies with close readings of selected romance texts. Tracing different meanings and manifestations of liminality in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Sir Orfeo, Sir Launfal, Thomas of Erceldoune and Robert Henryson’s Orpheus and Eurydice, the volume offers a comprehensive theory of liminality rooted in structuralist anthropology and poststructuralist theory. Arguing that romance fairies both embody and represent the liminal, The Liminality of Fairies posits and answers fundamental theoretical questions about the limits of representation and the relationship between romance hermeneutics and criticism. The interdisciplinary nature of the argument will appeal not just to medievalists and literary critics but also to anthropologists and folklorists as well as scholars working within the felds of cultural history and contemporary literary theory. Piotr Spyra is Assistant Professor in the Institute of English Studies, University of Łódź (Poland), where he teaches medieval and early modern English literature. He is the author of The Epistemological Perspective of the Pearl-Poet (2014) and a number of articles on medieval English poetry and Renaissance drama.

Routledge Studies in Medieval Literature and Culture

Beowulf’s Popular Afterlife in Literature, Comic Books, and Film Kathleen Forni Disability and Knighthood in Malory’s Morte Darthur Tory V. Pearman From Medievalism to Early-Modernism Adapting the English Past Edited by Marina Gerzic and Aidan Norrie Avid Ears Medieval Gossips and the Art of Listening Christine M. Neufeld Zöopedagogies Creatures as Teachers in Middle English Romance Bonnie J. Erwin Before Emotion The Language of Feeling, 400–1800 Juanita Feros Ruys Forging Boethius in Medieval Intellectual Fantasies Brooke Hunter Sanctity and Female Authorship Birgitta of Sweden & Catherine of Siena Edited by Unn Falkeid and Maria H. Oen The Liminality of Fairies Readings in Late Medieval English and Scottish Romance Piotr Spyra For more information and a full list of titles in the series, please visit: www.routledge.com

The Liminality of Fairies Readings in Late Medieval English and Scottish Romance

Piotr Spyra

First published 2020 by Routledge 52 Vanderbilt Avenue, New York, NY 10017 and by Routledge 2 Park Square, Milton Park, Abingdon, Oxon, OX14 4RN Routledge is an imprint of the Taylor & Francis Group, an informa business © 2020 Taylor & Francis The right of Piotr Spyra to be identifed as author of this work has been asserted by him in accordance with sections 77 and 78 of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reprinted or reproduced or utilised in any form or by any electronic, mechanical, or other means, now known or hereafter invented, including photocopying and recording, or in any information storage or retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publishers. Trademark notice: Product or corporate names may be trademarks or registered trademarks, and are used only for identifcation and explanation without intent to infringe. Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data A catalog record for this book has been requested ISBN: 978-0-367-85860-5 (hbk) ISBN: 978-1-003-05676-8 (ebk) Typeset in Sabon by Apex CoVantage, LLC

Contents

Introduction

1

1

Liminal Fairies: The Anthropological Paradigm

42

2

Modes of Liminality in Medieval Romance

58

3

The Philosophical Paradigm

104

4

The Khoratic Nature of Fairies

136

5

The Gift and the Promise: Ambiguity in Khoratic Contracts

162

Games, Gifts and Taboos: The Art of Rule-Bound Interactions

179

Conclusion

198

Works Cited Index

202 217

6

Introduction

The eminent British folklorist Katharine Briggs begins her book on The Fairies in Tradition and Literature (1967) by saying that it “is not an attempt to prove that fairies are real” and clarifes that she is “agnostic on the subject” (ix). Briggs was a towering fgure in folklore studies and her scholarly achievements command respect. If one wanted to read her disclaimer in a tongue-and-cheek manner, however, the inclusion in the book of a chapter on the Cottingley fairies, supposedly captured on photographic flm in the early decades of the twentieth century, defnitely sounds an alarm. Briggs herself explains that she includes this section “for the sake of fairness” since the photographs “have never been proved to be fraudulent” (Fairies ix–x).1 Should anyone assume that such a candid expression of unqualifed sympathy for the various testimonies collected in the book, and giving credence to “aesthetic truth [rather] than fact” (Briggs, Fairies ix), refects an earlier state and climate of scholarship, a look at some of the latest publications on fairies is bound to raise a few eyebrows. In their excellent study of Scottish Fairy Belief (2001), Lizanne Henderson and Edward J. Cowan somehow consider it relevant to mention that they “are not concerned with proving the reality, or otherwise, of fairies; such an endeavour would be as futile as it is irrelevant” (2). Barbara Rieti grants the issue more relevance and goes so far as to include a section titled “A Note on My Own ‘Belief’” in her Strange Terrain: The Fairy World in Newfoundland (1991), in which she follows one of her informants in remarking that fairies “probably don’t exist, but I wouldn’t say they don’t” and claims that “there is a certain unwarranted arrogance on the part of those who dismiss them out of hand” (13). And in Dennis Gaffn’s Running with the Fairies (2012), an anthropological study that seeks to draw scholarly attention to the modern phenomenon of fairy belief, interpreted by Gaffn in religious terms, the author confesses he is a convert and that just like his informants, he “too came to ‘feel’ fairy energy” and its subjective reality inasmuch as he “recognise[s] and accept[s] the limits of traditional scientifc investigation” (11). Fairies are indeed a curious subject of scholarship and invite different methodologies from various disciplines. Book-length academic studies

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Introduction

dealing with the topic are still few and far between, with writers sometimes fnding themselves veering between the Scylla of dismissing the vivacious tenacity of the fairy faith for the sake of academic rigour, and the Charybdis of unmoderated enthusiasm. Studies of fairies in literature, to which this book belongs, seem to escape this dilemma by virtue of dealing with mediated fairy lore, which need not even communicate or involve actual belief, but acknowledging this only leads literary scholars to another problem. They may, on the one hand, adopt an approach that sees fairies in literature as a straightforward textual representation of a body of popular beliefs and customs, and doing so leads some to a position of treating literature instrumentally. As a result, one way to look at literary fairies has been to follow the socio-historical conditions of particular acts of translation from folk belief or popular culture to the written page.2 On the other hand, they may view works of literature or the systemic presentations of fairies in particular genres as self-enclosed worlds with their own internal folklore and logic and ignore the issue of their relationship with the broader cultural and folkloric context altogether.3 While both approaches have yielded interesting results, in this book I intend to focus precisely on how in order to make sense of what fairies are and what they do in literature one needs to attend to both aspects simultaneously and see them as essentially intertwined—and by no means contradictory. The three genres of medieval literature that make extensive use of fairies and build on popular belief are the romance, the Breton lay and the popular ballad. Of these, the last category furnishes a number of interesting examples of fairy-themed texts, all of which, however, post-date the Middle Ages, although it must be noted that some of the later ballads almost certainly had medieval antecedents.4 With the former two, the extant material allows for a comprehensive analysis of fairy references, which form the structural core and thematic centre of several surviving texts and punctuate a number of others. In this study, I deal with a selected corpus of late medieval English and Scottish romance, of which Breton lays—the mini-romances that purport to derive their themes from the folk songs of early medieval Brittany—form an important subgroup.5 Five texts receive the greatest attention in the course of the book. These include Sir Orfeo, an English Breton lay in which “[t]he otherworld is more concretely evoked . . . than in any other romance” (Saunders, Rape 228); Sir Launfal, an idiosyncratic English rendering of Marie de France’s lay of Lanval that provides a detailed picture of a human–fairy relationship with its usual set of gifts and taboos; Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, the Arthurian masterpiece of the Gawain-Pearl poet fraught with subtle allusions to the fairy world and to the power of fairy illusion; Thomas of Erceldoune, a ballad-like romance remarkable for its conglomerate of religious imagery and poignant symbolism; and the Scottish poet Robert Henryson’s Orpheus and Eurydice, admittedly not a romance proper but

Introduction

3

a work that provides much useful context for the study of romance fairies through its double structure of romance-like narrative and allegorical moral commentary. The poems serve as excellent examples of the degree to which medieval fairy lore infused romance literature, and while it is true that the genre of fairy romance focuses on the human characters rather than on fairies, the selected texts taken together come close to composing an internally consistent primary-source compendium on the romance vision of the fairy world and its inhabitants. Thematically related to the lay of Sir Orfeo, Henryson’s Orpheus story also has much to contribute to this vision even if it does not mention fairies as often as the other works, and the conspicuous absence of fairies from its Moralitas section receives much attention in this context. Readings of the fve romance narratives are also complemented with references to other works of English literature notable for their inclusion of fairies, such as Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales or ballads from Francis James Child’s collection, and to related continental material that served as inspiration for the English writers. Rather than providing a cross-section of the entire body of medieval romance literature that features or mentions fairies, the book focuses in depth on a number of representative texts to consider both their internal logic, rhetoric and structure and the rich legacy of critical writing they have given rise to. This is because instead of dealing with the broad topic of literary themes and motifs associated with fairies, my approach focuses specifcally on the concept of liminality and its applicability to the fairies of romance. A major criterion in the selection of texts was therefore the legacy of criticism and the engagement of critics with the notions of ambiguity and in-betweenness, however variously understood or implemented in particular readings. An important goal of this study is thus to make sense of and integrate the often contradictory pronouncements of critical readers and to point out the need to tackle directly the problem of what liminality is understood to denote, an issue that romance criticism has mostly hitherto only skirted around. In the remainder of the Introduction, I explore the signifcance of the liminal for folkloric and anthropological research into fairy lore as well as the ways in which the term has been invoked in literary criticism. The argument that follows suggests that liminality is an indispensable concept in the study of romance fairies and a foundational context for any investigation of the cultural manifestations of fairy belief. The guiding assumption of the book is that fairies in literature need to be studied from both ends, that is, both as refections of extraliterary beliefs and practices and as literary formations that draw on non-fctional real-world sources but are subject to uniquely literary transformations. The goal of this study is therefore to investigate how the two planes relate to each other and to probe into the logic and dynamics of these connections in the context of liminality. The six chapters of the book are organized around different theoretical perspectives on the

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Introduction

liminal that inform the readings of romance texts offered here with a view to furthering knowledge both about fairies and the hermeneutics of medieval romance. Since the guiding principle of the argument is that it is worthwhile to set the literary constructions of fairies against their extraliterary sources founded on popular belief, it is frst necessary, however, to address directly the issue of fairy belief as such.

The Perpetual Recession of Fairies One surprising thing every student of folklore and popular culture is bound to discover is that fairies have defeated the expectations of numerous fgures throughout history who predicted the ultimate decline of fairy belief and claimed to have witnessed the onset of its demise. The conviction that this belief is dying out can be traced back to the late Middle Ages. In one of the Canterbury Tales, Geoffrey Chaucer, writing in the late fourteenth century, presents an Arthurian world of magic “fulfld of fayerye” but quickly adds that he speaks “of manye hundred yeres ago / But now kan no man se none elves mo” (“The Wife of Bath’s Tale,” ll. 859, 864–865).6 Chaucer’s overall scepticism and a sense of playful ridicule of naivety are almost paradigmatic of his approach to fairy belief. Nonetheless, almost exactly two centuries later, Reginald Scot reveals in The Discoverie of Witchcraft (1584) that not only was his generation brought up on old wives’ tales of “elves, . . . fairies, . . . changlings, Incubus, Robin good-fellowe . . . and other such bugs” but that this also left such a lasting impression that some of them were “afraid of our owne shadowes” (86). Scot’s book is a sceptical treatise on witchcraft, and the point he makes is that no reasonable person should take reports of the witches’ demonic activities seriously. Witches, Scot argues, belong to the same category as the goblins of the scaremongering tactics of taleweaving grandams and nurses and would also one day be viewed as little more than a childhood scare, which is what fairies were slowly turning into in his age. The following hundred years apparently had little effect, however, for as Keith Thomas notes, in the late seventeenth century, Sir William Temple also had the impression that he was witnessing the beginning of the end of superstition and “assume[d] that fairy beliefs had only declined in the previous thirty years or so” (607); Temple repeats Scot’s argument as if nothing had changed, claiming that tales of fairies not only “fright children into whatever their nurses please, but sometimes, by lasting impressions, . . . disquiet the sleeps and the very lives of men and women” (qtd. in Fox 195). A jump forward in time of another two hundred years or so once again seems to bring us to the very brink of extinction of fairy belief. Reading the rich collection of tales of fairy encounters by Walter Evans-Wentz, The Fairy-Faith in Celtic Countries (originally published in 1911), one has the impression that the author is trying to preserve a dying world of

Introduction

5

belief, one that had somehow survived unscathed since the Middle Ages and through the early modern period yet is bound to succumb eventually to twentieth-century urbanization and globalization. Although highly fantastical in its quasi-scholarly analytical commentary, Evans-Wentz’s book is still a valuable repository of late nineteenth-century folk belief insofar as it preserves and systematizes a large number of testimonies collected across the British Isles and Brittany. These often come from the very aged, such as the ninety-six-year-old piper Donald McKinnon, whose views on the nature of fairies, the existence of which he takes for granted, the book records (Evans-Wentz 103–104). In this respect, the collection presents a decline of a worldview rather than looks forward to the future. And yet it seems that the future brought little change. In 1990, Margaret Bennett visited the Scottish village of Balquhidder, the birthplace and original home of the Reverend Robert Kirk (ca. 1640–1692), author of The Secret Commonwealth of Elves, Fauns and Fairies, one of the best textual sources for seventeenth-century fairy lore. Kirk is the hero of a local legend; after he moved to Aberfoyle and produced his book, he was allegedly taken by the fairies, and the legend says that he remains in Elfand trapped to this day. Bennett interviewed two of the senior residents of the village, who “regarded the fairies as an unspoken part of everyday life” but “were both of the opinion that these old beliefs were becoming a thing of the past” and could not name a single younger person that might share their attitude (105). However, subsequent interviews with the children of the village produced a surprising revelation; quite contrary to the expectations of the elderly Mrs. MacGregor, the children exhibited a great deal of enthusiasm for the topic and substantial knowledge. What they said about fairies and their nature matched perfectly the testimonies found in Evans-Wentz and Briggs and the general body of fairy lore, but even more signifcant, the extent to which the children’s worldview was infused with thoughts of fairies led Bennett to conclude that “belief in the fairies is clearly an important part of their world—even in the 1990s” (113). The fact is that “[t]he notion that the fairies were always slightly out of reach, slipping beyond human ken as they vanished into the mists of time, is exceedingly tenacious and of long duration” (Henderson and Cowan 24). Throughout the ages, people time and again consigned fairy belief to previous times, backward and remote places or the ignorance of childhood, which makes what Barbara Rieti refers to as “the perpetual recession of the fairies” (Strange Terrain 51), a fundamental feature of this belief that must be taken into account in any scholarly attempt to make sense of it.7 As Diane Purkiss puts it, [f]olklore, including the works of early modern folklorists like John Aubrey and Robert Kirk, fgures the fairies as always departing, or “fitting”; fairy beliefs, too, are always already on their way out,

6

Introduction always already a matter for half-forgotten tales told by grandmothers or nurse-maids to forgetful children. (“Old Wives’ Tales” 105)8

Indeed, to quote Briggs, “[t]he strange thing is that rare, tenuous and fragile as it is, the tradition is still there, and lingers on from generation to generation substantially unchanged” (Fairies 3). A recent (2004) collection of reported tales of fairy encounters in Ireland by Eddie Lenihan and Carolyn Eve Green differs in no respect from earlier voices of folklorists and folklore-oriented enthusiasts. Lenihan expresses his positive surprise at the number of people in contemporary Ireland who take fairies seriously or at least exhibit a vivid interest in the subject, records an impressive array of stories from an apparently living tradition yet laments its imminent death, soon to be brought about by the development of technology and media as well as changes in mores and family structure: [T]his strange conglomeration of respect, doubt, fear, hesitation, and conviction I have discovered in the swirl of modern Irish life . . . will not, cannot survive the immense pressures and distractions I have already mentioned. Under a different guise, maybe, but not as fairy belief. And what a tragedy that will be[.] (Lenihan and Green 11) One may hazard an educated guess that reality will somehow prove him wrong, and it is perhaps the awareness of all the times when such predictions have indeed been proved false that motivates some scholars to include disclaimers stating that their book does not mean to prove the reality of fairies. It is worth remembering that whatever their intentions and motivations were, the writers of fairy-infected medieval and early modern literature similarly drew on a body of lore surrounding a phenomenon “always already on the point of disappearing” (Purkiss, The Witch 159) but never quite gone for good. Yet while fairy beliefs may indeed be “a sign of an outmoded structure of belief” (Purkiss, The Witch 159), viewed synchronically they perform important social functions regardless not only of the reality of actual fairies but also of the sincerity of belief. Differentiating among fervent belief, a positively inclined ear, proclivity to take interesting tales seriously or a mere sceptical acknowledgement that some unusual events may theoretically be possible is extremely diffcult, especially with regard to past belief in historically remote times. Modern scholars of the fairy phenomenon often draw parallels between belief in fairies and unidentifed fying objects (Rojcewicz 479–498), and the same methodological problems hold for the latter. If, as one survey suggests, more than ffty per cent of Americans, Germans and Brits claim they believe in aliens (Main), does this mean that none of the “believers” would be in the least surprised

Introduction

7

if the alleged alien visitors openly revealed themselves to humankind? Quantifying belief is methodologically problematic, and the sociological turn in fairy research has convincingly illustrated that one can successfully circumvent the whole issue and focus on what the presence of fairy belief does within a given community rather than become involved in futile attempts to gauge the extent of “genuine” or sincere belief. The notion of the changeling is a perfect example of how fairy belief may operate within the world-view of a particular group. Common to a number of traditions across the British Isles, it allowed people to make sense of congenital disorders and of “failure to thrive” in infants and children (Munro 251–279), which would be interpreted non-medically through a paradigmatic model of child abduction and substitution by supernatural forces. Additionally, it provided parents with a loophole in the generally upheld moral code, allowing them to mistreat the child with impunity due to its supposedly alien nature. Often, traditional methods used to get rid of changelings, which included extreme physical abuse, were “little more than socially countenanced forms of infanticide” (Eberly 232). The changeling narrative could also be used “as a white lie to soften the cruel reality of accidental death” (Lamb 42), with the supernatural explanation defecting blame from those responsible for the untimely demise of the unfortunate child (Lamb 42–43). Munro, Eberly and Lamb provide many examples, ranging from the early modern period to the early twentieth century, in which the idea of the changeling operates as a mutually intelligible notion within a given community, allowing its members to name and interpret certain phenomena through a common interpretive key, to communicate uncomfortable truths or to report unwelcome facts in a non-overt manner—all this regardless of the sincerity of any given individual’s belief. This kind of dynamic, one involving acknowledgement of a shared world-view rather than arising out of the fervency of shared belief, can also be identifed in many other accounts typical of fairy lore. The stories of berry-pickers in Newfoundland collected by Peter Narváez supply a few interesting examples. In one report, a married girl known for her obsession with fairies went missing in the woods after going berry-picking all on her own and was found the next day half-naked and in a distraught condition (Narváez, “Newfoundland Berry Pickers” 346). She claimed she had been beckoned to by the fairies, which served as an explanation for the entire affair, and it may be argued that the “allusion to fairies shielded her from further violence by her attacker and implicitly protected her reputation by denying that the act even occurred” (Lamb 38). In another, similar story that ended with pregnancy, the girl’s father refuted the doctor’s suggestion that she was pregnant by frmly asserting she had been taken by the fairies—the ultimate explanation for fnding the girl in a delirium out in the wild (Narváez, “Newfoundland Berry Pickers” 357). Whether used as an alibi or as “a reasonable, comprehensible

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Introduction

cause” for certain occurrences, fairy beliefs “furnished one of the few culturally sanctioned explanations available for temporal disjuncture and embarrassment, an acceptable rationale everyone has been familiar with” (Narváez, “Newfoundland Berry Pickers” 357). “Familiarity,” in such cases, does not need to involve sincere belief, and all it takes to let the matter rest is the mutual recognition and acceptance of a convention, or mere possibility, from all parties involved. The same holds for another story, reported in the seventeenth century by John Aubrey, in which a man, asked by his wife where he got all the extra money he kept bringing home, answered that it was of fairy origin. Predictably, the infow of money stopped immediately, and whether because his wife’s objections became unpleasant in themselves, or else endangered his activity by signaling her withdrawal of silent assent, he ceased the practice, or at least he ceased telling his wife about any future sums of ninepence he “found.” (Lamb 40) For the convention to be operative within a given group, a degree of sincere belief must be diffused between its members, but, like in the preceding story, the individuals directly involved need not fully believe in order for successful communication making use of fairy beliefs to occur—in fact, one can easily read the man’s statement as a non-explicit admission of theft and see the change in his behaviour as the intended result of the women’s implicit chastisement. With this in mind, let me state that this book not only does not attempt to prove the reality of fairies but also avoids the problematic of the sincerity and degree of fairy belief, focusing instead on how folklore and popular culture contributed to a number of medieval literary narratives. The fact that belief in fairies was widely accepted in the late Middle Ages will loom large in the analyses that follow, but the context is important regardless of the extent of genuine belief of any given group or individual, including the authors of the texts analysed here and their readers. The subject of this study is the liminality of fairies, a defning feature of their presentations both within literature and in the extant body of fairy lore. The book explores various ways of understanding liminality and their applications in literary hermeneutics, but before outlining the nature of the problem and its signifcance for understanding the phenomenon of fairy belief and its literary infections, it would be instructive to defne the beings in question and thus delimit the scope of critical focus. This proves rather challenging, especially that the category encompasses a whole variety of creatures and is subject to some historical change, with the term fairy arriving in the English language only at a particular point in history. A brief historical overview of fairy lore in the British Isles will outline the problems that arise with attempts to produce a clear and distinct

Introduction

9

defnition of fairies in order to suggest, in the end, that the solution lies precisely in seeing the issue as essentially intertwined with the challenge of making sense of the concept of liminality.

The Nature of Fairies, or What’s in a Name No general academic history of fairies either in the European or the British context has yet been written. The closest to a comprehensive diachronic account of the development and mutations of fairies in British culture is an article by Ronald Hutton, published in 2014. “The Making of the Early Modern British Fairy Tradition” focuses on the period between the twelfth and the seventeenth centuries. This is because our knowledge of earlier fairy belief is at best sketchy—in fact exponentially sketchier and sketchier the further back one moves from the comfortable vantage point of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, which provide a plethora of relevant sources and a frm foothold for research into the fairies of the past. What we do know is that “the term ‘fairy’ itself arrived in Britain from France only in the high and late middle ages, and that the beings to whom it was to be applied were known before this, across most of Britain, as ‘elves’” (Hutton, “Making” 1138). In addressing the Anglo-Saxon period, Hutton rightly singles out Alaric Hall’s in-depth analytical study of texts referring to elves. In Elves in Anglo-Saxon England, Hall draws concrete conclusions from a limited body of textual evidence such as charms or even single references to “the elf-word in Old English” (Elves 4). He argues that what we know about Old English belief is only elite culture and that it is diffcult to posit a more general Anglo-Saxon understanding of fairies that would apply across the social spectrum (Hall, Elves 18–20). What we learn from his work is that there is no reason to believe that elves were “small, invisible or incorporeal” (Hall, Elves 68); quite the opposite, they “were like humans in some crucial respect(s)” (Hall, Elves 66), and “the early Old English evidence suggests corporeal anthropomorphic beings mirroring the human in-groups which believed in them” (Hall, Elves 68). One piece of evidence for this is the fact that the declension of aelf was uniquely similar to the declension of words denoting people or peoples (Hall, Elves 62). In being so much like human beings, Hall observes, Old English elves were no different from their equivalents in medieval north-west Europe such as the Scandinavian “álfar, the medieval Irish aes síde, the inhabitants of the medieval Welsh Annwn, medieval Latin fatae and Old French fées, Middle English elves, and the Older Scots elvis” (Elves 68). They were not monsters, and their alignment with ogres, evil phantoms and giants that one fnds in Beowulf (ll. 111–112), which lists all these alongside elves as the ancestry of Grendel, may have been a result of “the early pressures of Christianisation” (Hall, Elves 74). Interestingly, there were apparently no changelings in Old English fairy lore (Hall, Elves 117), and no word for a

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Introduction

female elf until “the earlier eleventh century, [when] the meanings of aelf had extended to include a female denotation, later to be well attested in Middle English” (Hall, Elves 88). Still, the paradigmatic beauty of fairies, especially fairy ladies and fairy queens, and of the fairy kingdom, that was to be the hallmark of later Middle English sources, is already hinted at in the description of Abraham’s wife Sara (in the Old English Genesis A) and Judith (in the Old English poem Judith) as aelfscyne, that is, “not simply beautiful, but perilously so,” “in a dangerously seductive way” (Hall, Elves 93). With regard to the Middle English period, Richard Firth Green’s Elf Queens and Holy Friars (2016) stands out as a particularly valuable resource. Green’s book is predominantly about the demonization of fairies, a process through which elite church culture sought to discourage positive or lenient attitudes towards fairy lore. Fairy-belief was, according to Green, a phenomenon of popular culture, but he understands the latter term as denoting not only the cultural expression of the lower classes but also involving the secular elite, that is some at least among the nobility, including medieval aristocrats, “perfectly capable of entering into the belief system of the little tradition as fully participating members” (Elf 44). Green prefers therefore to speak of fairy lore rather than fairy folklore, and in his view, the social divisions between the two perspectives on fairies have more to do with involvement with the church’s didacticism and doctrinal policies than with social status (Elf 42–47). Demonization, which was a major factor in shaping medieval attitudes towards fairies, subjected vernacular beliefs about these beings that posited them as morally ambiguous to the rigour of the dualistic moral grid of Christianity. In effect, it confated them with the more openly demonic agents of evil such as fallen angels, positioning them as the enemies of God and the Church Militant. Green’s discussion of the process includes a bold but convincing suggestion, supported by much textual evidence, that the idea of purgatory may in fact have been introduced so that it could supplant common beliefs about the existence of the fairy otherworld—which, like purgatory, could not be identifed with either heaven or hell—or, at least, that it was “sedulously promoted . . . as a corrective to it” (Elf 191). The notion of the fairy otherworld, sometimes referred to as Elfand or Faerie,9 brings us to an idea fundamental for fairy belief at large— that of a “parallel world to the human one, with human-like inhabitants who occasionally have their own sovereign,” one into which “humans could blunder” (Hutton, “Making” 1138). Highly infuential, this idea structures numerous medieval and early modern stories of human–fairy interactions. But while romance literature made much use of it, allowing Geoffrey Chaucer to produce his cliché-laden “Tale of Sir Thopas,” a parody of fairy-themed romances revolving around the protagonist’s venture into this realm and his love for the fairy queen, non-literary sources provide a more complex picture. Tales of marriages or sexual encounters

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11

with fairies presuppose their generic similarity to human beings in both appearance and size, but it would seem that a parallel tradition of smaller beings existed alongside, as exemplifed by Walter Map’s story of King Herla and the pygmy king (Map 13–16)10 or Thomas Walsingham’s little red man (J. Wade 81).11 Although their presence in extant sources is to be noted, diminutive fairies did not, however, leave a distinctive mark on English literature until the times of Shakespeare, and it is their humansized counterparts that predominate in late medieval literary texts. In fact, all the fairies discussed in the present study fall into this category of “human-like beings who have sumptuous lifestyles, mirroring those of the contemporary human social elite, and dispose of apparently superhuman powers” (Hutton, “Making” 1140). Hutton is also right to point out that medieval chroniclers such as Gerald of Wales or Gervase of Tilbury also mention “a tradition of human-like creatures which live in or enter homes, where they can make themselves useful to the human occupants by helping them with tasks, or play mischievous tricks on them” (1139). This particular strain of fairy lore was to prove particularly infuential and prominent in the early modern period, but it is worth noting that it was already there in the Middle Ages. The overall picture that emerges from all this is one of heterogeneity, and it may well be that in addressing medieval fairy lore as a whole it would be wiser to speak broadly of various “fairy creatures” than of fairies as such, since the latter term was, initially at least, a literary one and usually appeared in the context of fairy “lovers, councillors, and protectors for the human knights or ladies . . . and sometimes . . . predators upon them” (Hutton, “Making” 1140) rather than the various other types of similar supernatural beings found in the native tradition.12 Facing such a hotchpotch of different images, one may feel inclined to agree with Hutton that fairies “could not easily be ftted into conventional Christian concepts of angels and demons” (“Making” 1138), but as Green has persuasively shown, that is precisely what happened, with the medieval church effecting a certain fattening of the fner differences between various members of this class of beings by labelling all of them as demonic in nature and origin. This only fostered the sense of their reality, however, since the discourse of demonization took fairies seriously, and even when it suggested that they were merely demonic illusions, it viewed the presumed supernatural source of these illusions as alarmingly real and threatening. The process progressed gradually to reach its peak in the early modern period, and some of the most intriguing source materials concerning fairies from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries come from witchcraft trials where fairies emerge as the witches’ familiars.13 This is particularly prominent in the Scottish records, with the cases of Bessie Dunlop, Elspeth Reoch and Isobel Gowdie serving as representative examples.14 The attitude is best encapsulated in the treatise Daemonologie (1597), authored by King James VI of Scotland, in which, after dividing

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spirits into those that haunt solitary places or houses, another class that pesters people, yet another consisting of demonic agents that can take possession of individuals, and fnally fairies, he explains that although in my discourseing of them, I devyde them in divers kindes, yee must notwithstanding there of note my Phrase of speaking in that: For doubtleslie they are in effect, but all one kinde of spirites, who for abusing the more of mankinde, takes on these sundrie shapes, and uses diverse formes of out-ward actiones, as if some were of nature better then other. (57) James mentions stories of how “there was a King and Queene of Phairie, of such a jolly court & train as they had, how they had a teynd, & dutie, as it were, of all goods: how they naturallie rode and went, eate and drank, and did all other actiones like naturall men and women” (74), only to dismiss them as the work of the devil playing on the fallible senses of simpletons; he is therefore uninterested in the fner details of these illusions or the variety that they exhibit. Yet, just like in the Middle Ages, several different classes of beings seem to be bundled together under the label of fairies. In The Anatomy of Puck (1959) Katharine Briggs summarizes the various views on fairies in the sixteenth century by arguing that “[w]hen the Jacobean writer drew upon his native traditions for fairy ornament he had, so far as one is able to judge, four main types of fairies to choose from” (Anatomy 12). To make matters even more complex, the frst category, one that provided the greatest inspiration for writers of literature, can further be subdivided into an arbitrary number of subordinate classes (Briggs, Anatomy 12). The two main groups among them are the humansized aristocratic fairies that roam the countryside in cavalcades—hence known as the “Trooping Fairies”—often found “hunting, hawking . . . and feasting in their palaces” (Briggs, Anatomy 13) and their more lowly, ordinary counterparts; the latter, too, like to ride in procession but sometimes take on diminutive forms or shape-shift and have a special penchant for cleanliness (Briggs, Anatomy 14). The second major category discerned by Briggs includes various household spirits that “do domestic chores, work about farms, . . . keep an eye on the servants and generally act as guardian spirits of the home” (Anatomy 14); she mentions here the hobgoblin and Robin Goodfellow, but the brownie would also easily ft this profle. The third class, in turn, is composed of mermaids and water spirits, and the fourth, of giants, monsters and hags. Briggs also mentions a number of differences between fairies of the various countries and regions of the British Isles (Fairies 105–110); her works present the aristocratic Irish fairies and the monstrous kelpies, bodachs, glaistigs (Fairies 106) and other fairy monsters of the Scottish Highlands as quite unlike

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each other in many ways, some common features notwithstanding.15 If it is possible, the way Briggs does, to outline the distinctive dissimilarities among the fairies of the Lowlands and Highlands of Scotland, Wales, Cornwall, the Isle of Man, the Eastern Fens, the Midlands and the North, how is one to justify approaching them all critically as a single class of beings? It would be prudent to inquire whether seeing all these various creatures as essentially being of one nature is not a product of modern folkloristics. But that is certainly not the case, as may be seen in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Shakespeare’s play features a pair of human-sized fairy royalty and the concurrent motif of a fairy mistress surrendering herself to her mortal lover; Robin Goodfellow, who cleans the stage with his characteristic broom—a nod towards the tutelary spirits of the day that made sure the country maids kept the kitchens tidy; and a number of diminutive, insect-sized fairies that serve as Titania’s train, a product of the “fashion for the miniature” (Briggs, Anatomy 56) that was a standard feature of early modern fairy lore, especially so in literature. All these form a supernatural conglomerate that clearly belongs together in the woods of Athens, despite their ostensive differences. Richard Firth Green reacts quite strongly against approaching the challenge of defning fairies proper with the tools and hopes of folkloristic taxonomy: Are fairies different from elves? or goblins? or dwarves? or pucks? or brownies? and how do they relate to the French netons and luitons? or German Nixen or Kobolde? Moreover, are they of human stature or smaller? Are they ruled by a king, or a queen, or even a trio of queens? And what color are they? In my view all such questions as unanswerable, and any attempt at a totalizing defnition will prove illusory. . . . It is not a matter on which we can properly legislate. (Elf 2–3) Green himself understands fairies as “that class of numinous, social, humanoid creatures who were widely believed to live at the fringes of the human lifeworld and interact intermittently with human beings” (Elf 4). This excludes both the “solitary creatures who inhabited the wilderness (giants and the like) [and] the social creatures who lived among humans (the various kinds of household spirit)” (Green, Elf 4). Green explains that he “shall treat as fairies all creatures who behave in the way I have just described” (Elf 5), and his defnition is thus largely behavioural, although he tries to circumscribe fairies within a certain horizon of expectation concerning their physique (“humanoid”), affnities with the world of the spirit and spirituality (“numinous”) and their position of outsiders in regards to human society—the last of these criteria leading to the exclusion of tutelary beings such as the brownie. Since brownies and various Robin Goodfellow–like beings tend to appear more frequently in

14 Introduction early modern sources,16 his defnition is arguably well suited for the late medieval period, but the stress it lays on the society of “the other folk” is also perfectly in line with post-medieval fairy lore, such as Robert Kirk’s late seventeenth-century depiction of the commonwealth of fairies existing in parallel to the human social world. In this book, I take issue with Green’s approach only insofar as I fnd his defnition lacking emphasis on the notion of liminality, a concept that he never mentions in Elf Queens and Holy Friars despite elaborating on it elsewhere.17 This omission is most likely due to the fact that his book is a study of the demonization of fairies, a process which seeks to do away with their overall in-betweenness and moral ambiguity, but as I wish to argue, any general defnition of fairies must acknowledge the full dynamics of this process, that is, both the subjection of the understanding of their nature to a dualistic conceptual grid and their original and essential liminality that is the starting point for demonization, which then challenges and modifes it in shaping the fairies’ cultural representations. While fairies may indeed be predominantly humanoid and social, it is not inconceivable to classify as fairy creature beings that do not meet either of these criteria, such as kelpie shapeshifters or brownies, and folklorists such as Briggs have often done just that. By contrast, unless a given creature exhibits liminal features, or derives, in its demonized form, from an originally liminal template, it is diffcult to speak of it as belonging to this class. It is the argument of this book that a working defnition of fairies can best capture their nature precisely when it avoids defnitive pronouncements, and while the following elaboration on the meaning of liminality will not in any way invalidate the claims made by Green, it will substantially complement them, doing so not by pointing to selected features or forms of behaviour usually exhibited by fairies but through inquiring into the underlying logic behind them. In short, fairies are to be understood as liminal beings par excellence, but the challenge in making use of this defnition lies in ascertaining what this actually means and what its corollaries are. The term liminal has often been used loosely in scholarship and without clear methodological affliations, which is a major issue in fairy research and one that this study seeks to overcome. A look at some of the manifold applications of the notion within fairy scholarship and literary studies at large will reveal the potential pitfalls and benefts of focusing on the fairies’ essential in-betweenness.

The Liminality of Fairies Richard Firth Green’s point about fairies living “at the fringes of the human lifeworld” (Elf 4) is a valid one, although the exact meaning of “fringes” requires some additional commentary. The framework of liminality that underlies beliefs concerning the fairies’ place of habitation can be brought into focus if one compares the original folkloric material

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with the image of an elf as it emerges from the popular culture of the twentieth century, largely Tolkienian in scope. Being a medievalist, J. R. R. Tolkien dismissed the post-Shakespearean predilection for diminutive fairies and in creating his fctional world drew extensively on medieval literature, making his elves similar to human beings in stature and appearance, although certainly, just as medieval romance had it, more beautiful, noble and awe-inspiring. What his highly infuential vision belies, however, is the original nature of the relationship between elves/fairies and humans. In the fctional world of Middle Earth venturing into the fairy realm is a rather straightforward enterprise. The hobbit protagonists of Tolkien’s books need only head east, and after traversing a few lands and passing through a remote town or some other familiar point on the map that marks the fringes of the civilized world and then moving into a wilderness, often across a mountain range, they succeed in predictably reaching their destination. It is a matter of long-distance travel that differs in no respect from reaching any far-off human kingdom, and while the journey may be fraught with danger, this danger is no different from that generally inherent in long-distance travel across scarcely populated areas of Middle Earth. By contrast, according to medieval and early modern folklore and popular culture entering the fairy realm required hardly any travel, and this characteristic feature of folkloric belief has persisted through the ages well into the turn of the twenty-frst century. Folklore has it that Elfand occupies the exact same space as the human world but in a parallel dimension. Hence, “[i]n old times children were often exhorted not to fx their eyes because this was taken to be an attempt to see the fairies, or at least a condition in which they might be seen” (Briggs, Fairies 155), intent human gaze having the potential to penetrate the thin veil between the two worlds under some circumstances. This also explains the wealth of materials relating to “fairy ointment,” a substance that, once smeared into the eye, grants immediate visual access to the fairy plane of reality.18 Moreover, “[f]airy houses are sometimes underneath human hearths, and the hearthstone is often their door” (Briggs, Fairies 118). This is not to say, however, that reaching the fairy world is readily available through any domestic space. Places that connect the two realities tend to be both domestic and foreign, both familiar and to a degree alien: Fairies are believed to inhabit liminal zones: in the wilderness they are encountered in the parts of the forest where people go to pick berries or gather frewood; in the domestic realm they live in barns and outbuildings or enter the house at night when humans sleep. . . . Thus, fairies belong not to places that are completely shut off from human access but to places that are incompletely incorporated into the mundane world. (Jones 128)

16 Introduction This observation about the fairies of medieval folklore holds just as well for modern times. Examining the fairy beliefs of Balquhidder in the 1990s, Margaret Bennett discovered that the children of the village considered a little knoll behind the local church to be a portal to the otherworld as well as a graveyard for the dead who return to the earthly world as fairies (106–107). The spot was, in Bennet’s words, “a silent, fresh smelling, soft knoll, of very deep vegetations, quite dramatically different to its surrounding area” (108), but despite its sense of otherness and that of nature intruding on the civilized space of the vicinity of the church, it was also a favourite and much-domesticated haunt of the children, who would often visit it during their lunch breaks. By the same logic, the hearth can serve as a door to the fairy world because it is an area at the very heart of the house—symbolically the epitome of the safety and security that human dwellings offer—yet provides direct access to the outside world through the smoke hole or the chimney. When folklorists note the association of fairies with liminal places and spaces, they often understand the liminal as denoting the simultaneity of the familiar and the unfamiliar or the domestic and the foreign. Such is the case with fairy mounds in Ireland that can often be found in cultivated areas yet retain the quality of places “that should not be interfered with in any way, even with the permission of the landowner on whose farm [they] stood” (Lysaght 31). Patricia Lysaght argues that [t]he ambivalent status of these places guaranteed their survival to a large degree and may be compared with the immunity conferred on modern day diplomatic missions in foreign countries by virtue of their recognized special status. (31) Both in terms of authority over the land and spatial topography then, fairy hillocks intrude on the human world, and taboos and legends among the local population have been found to reinforce “the traditional recognition of places on the landscape associated with the fairy race as liminal” (Lysaght 31).19 While the external boundaries or edges of the social space of a given village or farm—places where the world of culture meets that of nature—may also exhibit similar properties, “the fringes of the human lifeworld” where people come into contact with fairies can just as well be located right at the very centre of this lifeworld, comprising spatial pockets of the outside invaginated inwards, into the very heart of domestic space. The term liminality derives from the Latin limen, that is, threshold, and the liminality of fairies manifests itself precisely in that they tend to inhabit or haunt threshold spaces. Asa Mittman notes that this kind of liminality is inherent not only in “places located between two territories” but also in “places which see[m] to be located between two elements” (134–135)

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such as marshlands, which are neither land nor water but which could be seen, from another perspective, as both. Mittman furthermore points to research into the association of Anglo-Saxon elves with the fens (135), the logic of which would seem to follow this understanding of liminality. Generally speaking, any sites where two areas or spatial regimes meet or converge, and in particular places that challenge the binary logic of human thought by being simultaneously common and alien to both surrounding orders, have traditionally been associated with fairy activity. The same is true for places such as crossroads, which mark a passage from one section of the local area to another and, as Martin Puhvel notes, put the traveller in a condition of apprehension and confusion, necessitating a choice of the right way by challenging the straightforward identity and security of the path already taken (“Mystery” 168). Puhvel lists a number of supernatural creatures associated with the crossroads, among them not only fairies (“Mystery” 173) but also witches and the dead (“Mystery” 168–170), the latter two being closely associated with fairies either through the process of demonization or by virtue of the identifcation of fairies with the dead. Fairies are also liminal in the temporal sense, often appearing on particular days of the year or specifcally liminal times during the day: They are encountered on boundaries either in space—between town and wilderness—or in time—at midday, at midnight, at the change of the year, on the eve of a feast, on Hallowe’en or May Eve, in a festive space marked out from normal life, like Yule[.] (Purkiss, At the Bottom 86) Days or moments characterized by a sense of temporal liminality when fairies may be seen also include quarter days, when, according to Robert Kirk, they change their lodgings (79); various festive days (Henderson and Cowan 82); the time of the full moon; and, signifcantly, twilight (Briggs, Fairies 125). Midnight and twilight are both liminal but in different ways, the former marking a transition within the black of the night and the latter a passage from light to darkness. Similarly, the New Year and Yuletide (as well as the winter equinox) mark a passage from death to the rebirth of nature and from the old year to the new, while Halloween, the last night of the Celtic year, also ushers in the new year, although two months earlier.20 The same doubling also holds for May Eve and Midsummer. Faced with the challenge of making sense of the signifcance of both Halloween and the end of the calendar year, Briggs concludes that [t]hese rival dates are so important and so near to each other as to incline one to guess that the fairies were formerly worshipped by two different sets of people, one which divided the year by June and December, and the other by May and November. (Fairies 126)

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While the two calendars may indeed have been in competition at some point, there is no reason to dismiss the possibility that the duality of these dates is not a historically motivated oddity but a perfectly natural state of affairs that follows the logic of the liminal nature of fairies. Their association with both midnight and twilight surely does not lead to the conclusion that this duality originates from two different groups of believers. What both these cases reveal is that the liminal status of a given moment in time is purely arbitrary, concordant on the particular system or conceptual grid at work, and that the various systemic grids that render particular days or moments liminal tend to overlap, effectively producing a sense of linear time punctuated again and again by moments that challenge the certainty and security of this linearity and allow for fairy intrusions, not unlike in the case of Puhvel’s crossroads travellers. Such examples of the temporal and spatial liminality of fairies seem to spring from a particular folkloric understanding of their ontological status. The way fairies may be said to have being differs substantially from the nature of existence of any other beings or entities in the world, a feature of theirs that Tolkien rejected in fashioning his literary elves, rendering the latter no less real than the human inhabitants of Middle Earth. In folklore, unlike in Tolkienian fantasy, fairies do not so much exist as subsist, that is, remain subordinate in their mode of existence to the human world. In a short chapter in The Fairies in Tradition and Literature that is perhaps the most analytical and insightful of all of her fairy-centred observations, Katharine Briggs refers to the issue as “fairy dependence” (113–122). She notes that [t]ales, descriptions and anecdotes of the fairies from all over the country and, indeed, from all over the world, make it clear that they are not generally conceived of as existing in an independent and selfcontained state, but have great concern with mortal things. (Briggs, Fairies 113) Although their world is similar to ours, and they may be observed to engage in typical human activities, or even excel in them, they rely on the human plane of reality in a variety of ways, and their dependence informs almost any aspect of their observable behaviour. Thus, for instance, they “are great in music and in medicine; yet human musicians are often inveigled into the fairy hills, and it seems necessary for a human midwife to deliver fairy babies” (Briggs, Fairies 116). They abduct men and women to act as their lovers as well as children to increase their stock. Although there are tales mentioning fairy cattle, “for meat, meal, butter and cheese, they seem to depend chiefy on human resources” (Briggs, Fairies 122). Human food, in general, is something they seem to be in need of, and even when they do not physically snatch it away, they may deprive it of its nutritional value, “leaving the unnutritious substance to deceive human

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senses” (Briggs, Fairies 114).21 They hold their own markets but often visit human fairs, sometimes in order to steal some of the products they need, such as butter (Briggs, Fairies 121). All in all, “human help is necessary to many of their activities,” and thus, they are “never thought of as indifferent to men” or independent from our world (Briggs, Fairies 113). “Fairy dependence” manifests itself in frequent reports of fairy borrowing and lending, such as in tales of “pans, meal, and occasionally even salt . . . borrowed by the fairies, usually those that live underground near a human house” (Briggs, Fairies 117). Fairies need human resources and technologies for a variety of purposes, ranging from the use of the freplace to the borrowing of sophisticated tools and equipment. They enter human houses to warm themselves by the fre or to wash their babies, sneaking in at night to spin their wool with the help of human spinning wheels or to use griddles and iron pans for cooking (Gwyndaf 165). They also frequent mills (Bruford 132), where they make their porridge (Briggs, Fairies 119) or bathe in the water (Gwyndaf 165), rely on borrowed boats for fshing (Bruford 131) but also, paradoxically, use boat-building yards to build boats of their own (Briggs, Fairies 120). The last example fnds its parallel in their use of tools, for they borrow these to spin their wool and bake their bread (Gwyndaf 165), much as they may also steal wool or food from humans, doing so presumably because they do not produce wool or food on their own. The same goes for abducting human babies and paradoxically—since they cannot reproduce—using the services of human midwives to help deliver theirs.22 It is diffcult to explain such conficting reports of fairy behaviour in rational terms if one imagines fairies to be an actual race, existing just as we do yet lacking certain skills or technologies, but extant fairy lore is far from suggesting that this be the case. Briggs reaches the crux of the matter when she notes that fairies “work and play and fght and dance and hunt, but it sometimes seems doubtful if they are doing more than acting over what they have seen humans do” (Fairies 122). This kind of fairy mimicry is therefore not pragmatically oriented or merely aimed at collecting resources that would not be available to them otherwise, although a superfcial overview of evidence may indeed suggest this. Rather, fairies are seen “to live as parasites on men” (Briggs, Fairies 122), exploiting their human neighbours, and this observation is a fundamental feature of any proper defnition of these beings one may want to offer and best encapsulates their modus operandi. Such an understanding of “fairy dependence” reveals an important facet of the fairies’ ontological status, but there is more to be said about their mode of being. Signifcantly, this has to be done in the form of negatives. For one thing, fairies are neither alive nor dead. The fairy familiar of the Scottish cunning woman Bessie Dunlop (tried in 1576), Thomas Reid, claimed to be one of those who had fallen at the battle of Pinkie twenty-nine years earlier but went about his daily business just like any living person. Bessie ran into him in the streets of Edinburgh one day,

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fnding him “going up and down . . . upon a market day, where he . . . went up and down among the people and put his hands to the lavis [loaves of bread] as other folk did” (qtd. in Wilby, Cunning Folk xvi).23 The fairy familiar of another accused witch, Elspeth Reoch (tried in 1616), similarly admitted that he was her slain kinsman, a person “neither living nor dead but [one that] would ever go between the heaven and the earth” (qtd. in Purkiss, At the Bottom 91). The idea is not peculiar to the Scottish sources or the beliefs of the past, and the children interviewed by Margaret Bennett in Balquhidder in the 1990s made a similar point, arguing that the spirits of the dead come back as fairies (107). Another diffculty with pinpointing the nature of fairies lies in the fact that they are neither material nor immaterial. They can certainly interact physically with their surroundings and with human beings, as tales of sexual intercourse with them indubitably prove, but their “bodies be so plyable thorowgh the subtilty of the spirits, that agitate them, that they can make them appeare or disappear at pleasure” (Kirk 79). The idea of immateriality, or the power of fairy illusion, has been identifed as a key feature of the cultural constructions of the fairy folk (Olsen and Veenstra), but even a cursory look at surviving fairy-related material will indicate, whatever its historical or geographical focus, that fairies have bodies no different than ours in most respects. This, too, to use Green’s phrase, is not a matter on which we can properly legislate. It is effectively impossible to predicate of fairies any particular quality, because they possess none yet exhibit all, mimicking, or mirroring, the human world in their nature and behaviour without revealing any distinguishing features of their own. Even when they are demonized, as in the Daemonologie of King James, their evil is not really theirs: “they are an evil force, but because of the devil’s power in their manifestation, rather than in and of themselves” (Buccola 33). James himself makes it quite clear that it is impossible to speak of fairies in and of themselves, since any reports of human interactions with them only mark the devil’s successful attempts at masquerading his true activity and making people “beleeve that they saw and harde such thinges as were nothing so indeed” (74)—he thus warns people about the real danger that fairies pose to their souls yet asserts that they are nothing at all. The nature of fairies is “Chamaeleonlike” (Kirk 79) and not just by virtue of their tendency to adapt their form and behaviour to suit the appearance and customs of those who encounter them. While this may not be the most common element of fairy lore, they are sometimes reported to exhibit a certain “chromatic instability” (Green, Elf 65–66) and thus to be liminal colourwise, sometimes in the sense of changing their colour the way chameleons do but sometimes also by being “elusively polychrome” (Green, Elf 66; cf. Gwyndaf 174).24 It is impossible to say anything defnitive about them, and the structure of their society resembles, or copies, that of their human neighbours on all levels of its organization. Hence, medieval and most early modern tales of

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fairies tend to emphasize their monarchical governments and the fgures of the fairy king or queen, while Robert Kirk, writing in Scotland some thirty years after Cromwell’s Commonwealth, stresses that the “secret common-wealth” of fairies (77) has its “aristocratical Rulers and Laws” (82) but fails to mention fairy royalty. Kirk explains that [t]heir apparell and speech is like that of the people and countrey under which they live: so are they seen to wear plaids and variegated garments in the high-lands of Scotland and Suanochs heretofore in Ireland. (82) He adds that “they are distributed in Tribes and Orders” (Kirk 80), and thus subdivided socially in a way quite similar to the Scottish clan system. A late sixteenth-century geographical treatise from Iceland, attributed to Bishop Oddur Einarsson, similarly asserts that “their . . . people are said to have a similar stature, clothing, and even way of life to that of their human neighbours” (qtd. in Green, Elf 13), and this kind of mirror principle informing fairy belief is one of the most characteristic and widespread elements of their image in folklore and popular culture as well as in literature. It should not come as a surprise that the children of Balquhidder imagined them to wear kilts (Bennett 107). Fairies are a race which, in the words of Walter Scott, might best be “described by negatives, being neither angels, devils, nor the souls of deceased men” (121), its recurring associations with all three notwithstanding. They are so similar to humans that it is virtually impossible to say what exactly makes them different, although to say that they really “are” what they seem is to endow them with more ontological stability than fairy lore permits. C. S. Lewis makes an interesting remark about them in The Discarded Image, a book devoted to the medieval model of the universe and the Neoplatonic concept of a great chain of being that Western Christianity adopted from late antiquity. This model espouses a universal hierarchy of being, from the lesser beings at the bottom all the way up to God at the very top—God, whose essence is existence and compared with whom all other beings exhibit a degree of lack in their nature. Every single entity has a place within the hierarchy, which encompasses all, only not quite, for as Lewis remarks, fairies “are marginal, fugitive creatures. They are perhaps the only creatures to whom the Model does not assign, as it were, an offcial status” (122).25 Their ontological condition is therefore highly problematic, and they emerge as liminal in this respect, suspended halfway between being and non-being, just like between countless other binary oppositions. Folklorists and anthropologists struggle with fnding a proper way to express the fairies’ nature. Peter Narváez sees them as both “exoteric” and “esoteric,” that is, simultaneously classed as belonging to the world

22 Introduction of the Other and contributing to the “collective identity of a community” (“Social Functions” 299–300): The entrance of fairies into social consciousness . . . yields . . . a double image: one being that fairies constitute a foreign, external, challenging, “other” society (“them,” “the gentry”); the second image being that of fairies as intimate . . . , domestic, local (“good neighbours”) provocateurs. (“Social Functions” 300) Richard Jenkins fnds an apt phrase in calling them “a society outside society” (314), an expression that captures well their essentially liminal nature. For Leslie Ellen Jones, in turn, fairies are “both more and less, both seen and unseen, both canny and uncanny” (129). Depending on the perspective, they are both or neither, whatever two opposite qualities one tries to predicate of them—and they are never simply one thing and not the other. When Briggs reports that “under ordinary circumstances men are supposed to see them only between one blink of the eye and the next” (Fairies 155),26 this is folklore’s way of dealing with the same challenge of communicating the fairies’ sense of ontological dubiety.27 It is this understanding of fairies as liminal that underlies the logic of statements such as that collected by John Webster in the seventeenth century, in which a cunning man who had visited fairyland, “being asked by the Judge whether the place within the Hill, which he called a hall, were light or dark, . . . said [it was] indifferent, as it is with us in the twilight” (qtd. in Wilby, Cunning Folk 280). The same kind of ambiguity holds for the fairies’ moral alignment. While the learned authorities of the Middle Ages and the early modern period stressed their demonic nature, folklore presents fairies as quite dangerous but certainly not malicious or evil. Briggs expresses this well when she notes that “in folklore a good fairy is a fairy in a good temper, and a bad fairy is one that has been offended” (Fairies 127). In other words, folklore posits fairies as “a parallel race of beings, capable of helping humans, but capricious and best avoided” (Ballard 48). One ought to shun their company because of their unpredictability, not their malevolence: they are “beings not hostile but . . . dangerous to us” (Purkiss, At the Bottom 52). Bishop Einarsson similarly observes that they “are amicable and not so dangerous unless they chance to have been harmed by some kind of injury and provoked to wickedness” (qtd. in Green, Elf 13). The problem lay in the fact that they were extremely easily provoked or offended, and the punishment was often “all out of proportion to the offence” (Briggs, Fairies 105).28 Calling them to collect their food was sometimes enough to incur their spite and with it bad luck (Briggs, Fairies 41). Even “a word of thanks would sometimes drive away fairy help [and] a word of criticism was equally resented” (Briggs, Fairies 42). The

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very act of invoking their name by referring to them as fairies or elves was considered to be fraught with danger. In fact, when they were referred to as the “good people” or the “good neighbours,” this was not a statement of fact but rather an attempt to ward off evil that might result from provoking them to action. Robert Kirk begins his Secret Commonwealth by noting in its frst sentence that “[t]hese sith,’s or Fairies, they call sluag[h] maithe or the good people: (it would seem, to prevent the dint of their ill attempts: for the Irish use to bless all they fear harme of)” (79). Kirk recognizes the apotropaic nature of the expression and acknowledges that it is a charm of wish-fulflment invoked in the hope of placating the fairies and preventing potential harm. The same folk wisdom fnds its expression in the following Scottish rhyme published in 1842: Gin ye ca’ me imp or elf, I rede ye look weel to yourself; Gin ye ca’me fairy, I’ll work ye muckle tarrie; Gin gude neibor ye ca’ me, Then gude neibor I will be; But gin ye ca’ me seelie wight, I’ll be your freend baith day and night. (Popular Rhymes 33) The fairies’ moral liminality manifests itself in their “erratic oscillation between benevolent and malevolent treatment of humans” (Buccola 10). Signifcantly, the rhyme “implies that the defnition of the fairy was dependent on the actions of their human allies” (Wilby, Cunning Folk 114)—yet another instance of “fairy dependence,” one that illustrates how the various understandings of the liminality of fairies intersect and interlock. Fairy scholarship stresses again and again that fairies are “utterly liminal fgures” (Buccola 10), “constantly on the borders of being” (Purkiss, “Sounds of Silence” 84), that they “are liminal in every possible way” (Purkiss, “Sounds of Silence” 84), being “of such an indeterminate nature that it seems a fool’s enterprise to assert that they ‘are’ ambiguous” (Buccola 39). The concept of liminality often invoked in this context appears to be useful and productive, perhaps even indispensable in addressing their nature. However, in order to make sense of what various scholars dealing with fairies across the disciplines are saying, it is necessary to examine what exactly they mean when they present these beings as liminal. Certainly, up to a point, the word functions simply as a broad synonym for ambiguous, whether in the sense of being doubtful and uncertain or capable of being understood in two or more possible ways. This is evident in cases of moral or ontological liminality, in which referring to fairies as liminal with regard to their moral alignment or ontological status merely

24

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serves to indicate that they stand astride the binary oppositions of good and evil or being and non-being. There is no directed movement here between the categories other than a permanent shifting to and fro between the two, one that makes a defnitive pronouncement about the nature of fairies impossible. The notion of fairy dependence works in a similar way, since folklore posits fairies as another race but endows them with human features as if they were a mirror refection of their human neighbours, creating an image of beings that are ambiguously both alien and familiar. The same also holds for the perpetual recession of fairies, whose logic presents them as belonging to the past rather than the present yet assigns them to the very recent past, or asserts their disappearance through a voice still enmeshed in living belief, as in the case of Reginald Scot, whose words are an ambiguous mix of rational scepticism and a frank recognition that the old wives’ tales of fairies and other bugbears have not left his generation unaffected. Positioned halfway between reality and fction, good and evil, or past and present, fairies may thus quite adequately be described as utterly ambiguous, or ambiguous in every possible way, and this puts in question the very need to invoke “liminality” in the frst place. What liminality adds to the critical vocabulary and to observations of the fairies’ ambiguity is, however, a clear and distinct sense of a threshold to be crossed. This emerges in particular from instances of spatial and temporal liminality, the latter communicating metaphorically what the former does on a literal level—that fairies are associated with a transition or passage, whether across space or time. Signifcantly, the surplus of meaning that liminality contributes to the idea of ambiguity springs not only from the word’s etymology but, above all, from its use in anthropology, following Arnold Van Gennep’s seminal book on The Rites of Passage (1909) and his coinage of the term. Van Gennep originally applied it in his study of such rites to refer to their middle phase, one that follows the process of “separation” from a given position or status and precedes “incorporation” into the new condition (11). In addressing the dynamics of the “change of condition or passage from one magico-religious or secular group to another” (11), which is how he understands rites of passage, Van Gennep stresses the universality of the scheme across cultures. His point is that despite ostensible differences in their practical realization, all such rites exhibit the same structural characteristics and tripartite division, the various “ceremonies whose essential purpose is to enable the individual to pass from one defned position to another” (Van Gennep 3) serving to ensure the success of the transition. Van Gennep’s theory was later developed by the British anthropologist Victor Turner, who took particular interest in the liminal phase, noting how initiands or neophytes undergoing the rites may be regarded as “neither living nor dead from one aspect, and both living and dead from another” (Forest of Symbols 97), or how they remain essentially unaligned to either of the two conditions yet paradoxically fgure as both within the logic of the rite. Turner further

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defned liminality as “the Nay to all positive structural assertions, but as in some sense the source of them all” (Forest of Symbols 97), a view that agrees with the position of Mary Douglas, who elaborated on the danger and power inherent in liminal states and their connection with the idea of purity in Purity and Danger: An Analysis of the Concepts of Pollution and Taboo (1966). Fairies are known to appear not only at certain times of the day or year and at borderline or ambiguous places but also at key moments of transition in the course of human life, whether “social or physical . . . : birth, copulation and death, adolescence, betrothal, deforation, and, of course, death and burial” (Purkiss, “Sounds of Silence” 83). They target people in transitional stages: “young men, women in childbirth, and babies and children” (Purkiss, At the Bottom 48), and, in particular, those that have not yet been reincorporated into the community following a separation or never have been incorporated in the frst place, such as new mothers prior to the rite of churching or nameless children before the rite of christening (Skjelbred 215–223). They thus seem to be particularly active during both transitions of a calendrical type and those connected with “life crises,” that is, the two main categories of liminal times traditionally accompanied by rites of transition according to Turner (Ritual Process 168–169). Moreover, fairies themselves “are like people who have become trapped at a certain indeterminate phase of life” (Purkiss, At the Bottom 48), which is how once again they may be seen to mirror the status and character of the human beings they interact with.29 Moral liminality informs the nature of these interactions, since fairies were “alternately fgured as protecting or attacking those who enter liminal zones” (Buccola 43). The potential for such encounters was an incentive for action, for “it was important to keep up some sort of balance between the fairy world and the world of humans” not to become victim to the fairies’ trickery (Skjelbred 215), and [t]he balance was achieved through the use of magical rites. . . . Formally, rites are characterized by special words, objects, and prescribed actions, and through the manipulation of these elements people could protect themselves, avert crises, and placate the fairies and other dangerous powers. To do so was of utmost necessity to secure life and health. (Skjelbred 216) In other words, folklore studies and anthropology have established direct links between fairies and ritualism, which makes it possible to identify liminal moments in the human life cycle, associated with certain rites, with fairy activity. Thus, when folklorists refer to fairies as “societies of liminal personae” or “creatures ‘betwixt and between’”30 (Narváez, Introduction ix), the critical vocabulary draws on the intellectual tradition

26

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of Arnold Van Gennep and the implicit connection between liminality and rites of passage.31 Curiously enough, the concept of liminality has never been applied as a hermeneutic key in readings of Middle English romance that devote considerable space to fairies and their role within romance narratives. Only in The Forest of Medieval Romance (1993) by Corinne Saunders do we fnd a degree of reliance on the notion, but the book is about fairies only insofar as they inhabit the space of the romance forest, and it is the latter that Saunders sees as liminal—or rather as a limen, for she prefers not to use liminal as an adjective. Discussing Chrétien de Troyes, she notes that “the forest literally becomes a limen, a threshold over which Yvain passes to the otherworld of Laudine, even traversing a drawbridge” (Saunders, Forest 68). But apart from acting as a literal “boundary or limen, dividing one world from another” (Saunders, Forest 96), “[t]he forest acts as a limen [by] offering to the hero the means of embodying chivalry and of fulflling his role of a knight” (Saunders, Forest 80). This, as Saunders observes, deserves recognition as an important generic feature of romance texts and invites the application of anthropological methods in the quest to fnd “a defnition of the nature and unity of romance form, according to recurring patterns” with a view to its employment of the “structure of ‘setting forth’” (Forest xii). In other words, the pattern of leaving the court, venturing into the forest, experiencing transformation, and eventually returning to the world of civilization renders romance an essentially liminal genre by virtue of structural resemblance to rites of passage. Thus, speaking of the lay of Sir Orfeo, Saunders observes that “[t]he forest is the transitional area in which faery and human meet, in which two perceptions of the forest come together, but also the physical limen to another world, and the psychological limen which Orfeo must cross to regain Heurodis” (Forest 141–142). Although the forests she analyses either constitute the fairy realm or provide passage to it, Saunders does not draw on the inherent liminality of the fgure of the fairy in the medieval outlook. Much as her argument leads to the conclusion that fairies are indeed liminal in the sense of inhabiting liminal space, one fnds in her book no attempt to delve deeper into this particular feature of theirs, largely because the ultimate focus is on the space of the woods, and not their ambiguous denizens. It should also be noted that in two other books authored by Saunders that raise—however indirectly—the problematic of fairies in medieval romance, Rape and Ravishment in the Literature of Medieval England (2001) and Magic and the Supernatural in Medieval English Romance (2010), there is no mention of their liminality other than a few remarks about the transitional nature of the place of their encounter (Rape 228, Magic 202). Liminality has never been acknowledged as a foundational context in the study of romance fairies. In a chapter on fairies in The English Romance in Time (2004), Helen Cooper makes sparing use of the concept.

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She acknowledges that fairies are usually encountered at topographically “liminal settings, alongside wood or water” (Cooper, English Romance 181), but seems to understand the term as a vague synonym for the ambiguous or the enigmatic, with no clear theoretical affliations. So much can be inferred from her commentary on the fairy knight in the romance of Adamas et Ydoine, whom she refers to as possessing “as many qualities of the uncanny—the liminal, the unexplained—as of the Otherworld” (Cooper, English Romance 201). Her use of the word suggests that Cooper generally sees the liminal as akin to the uncanny (English Romance 82), possibly even roughly synonymous with it, but while she traces back the latter term directly to Sigmund Freud, she remains altogether silent on the anthropological paradigm from which the former derives.32 All in all, Cooper prefers to focus on the fairies’ arbitrariness of action, their capriciousness and the taboos they impose on their mortal partners, and although some of her observations do relate to various forms of inbetweenness—as when she notes that “fairies occupy an equivocal position between humankind and the angels” (English Romance 182)—she ultimately avoids falling back on the idea of the liminal, whether in order to adopt it or dismiss it. In James Wade’s Fairies in Medieval Romance, which is the only booklength study openly dedicated to fairies in medieval English literature, the emphasis is, in turn, on how “in each romance containing the ambiguous supernatural there is a unique imagining of fairies and of the Otherworld at large” (3). Wade acknowledges that fairies are “ontologically unique fgures” (1), but his project is above all “concerned with the ways fairies function in the specifc texts in which they appear” (6) rather than with what they are like. While he enumerates a number of “certain intrageneric expectations as to the essential qualities that fairies possess” (Wade 12), such as beauty, arbitrariness of action or moral ambiguity, his point is that these tell us more about the textual mechanics of the romance genre and the idiosyncratic strategies at work in particular texts than about medieval ideas of fairies as such. In fact, being mostly interested in the “internal folklore” of individual romance texts (Wade 1–8), he hardly ever considers the extraliterary perspectives on fairies, doing so only when he points out the consistency in presenting them as “ft[ting] outside any censoring, licensing, or regulating system” (Wade 14–15). In passages such as this, or when he explains that fairies existed “outside orthodoxy without also being strictly unorthodox” (15), Wade is not far from formulating a proper statement about their quintessential liminality, although, in the end, he never makes use of the term in this way. Instead, his main focus is on the creativity of the authors of romances and, in particular, the narrative uncertainty about the fairy identity of some characters, which leads him to direct his attention predominantly to problematic cases, that is, works in which the fairy nature of a given fgure is either eventually denied or remains an open question. Confning

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Introduction

himself thus to the internal folklore of the romances, Wade elaborates mostly on how romance authors played with the idea of fairies in the act of structuring their texts, and he takes little interest in how their efforts connect with the broader vision of fairies in the medieval imagination. Wade’s main theoretical paradigm draws on Giorgio Agamben’s ideas of homo sacer and the state of exception. That is why in his biopolitical readings of the romances he prefers to focus on the fairies’ ambiguous relationship with power structures, rightly pointing out that they “existed outside the established order of traditional customs, practices, and power relations . . . but they did so without contradicting, or even directly opposing, such orthodoxies: they were adoxic” (Wade 15), both in the romance texts and in the medieval world-view. In probing the fairies’ adoxic position in the worlds of romance, Wade effectively highlights a key aspect of their liminality. Accordingly, speaking of the fairy realm, he describes it as “a place where . . . the logical laws that govern the normal world of the text give way to the liminal and strange” (Wade 80). However, while the word liminal occurs in his book three more times (Wade 5, 81, 102), it must ultimately be read only as a synonym for the ambiguous or the strange, as no attempt is made to connect it with either the idea of the threshold and its anthropological signifcance or any of the various ways of understanding the liminality of fairies established in folklore-oriented scholarship. In the end, even if he succeeds in uncovering an important aspect of the fairies’ liminality, albeit under a different name, Wade falls short of setting his claims against the extraliterary reality of medieval folklore and popular belief, creating the impression that the fairies of romance had little to do with it. In a broad perspective, romance scholarship either ignores the liminality of fairies altogether or—even when it touches on the issue—tends to seek alternative ways of expression that have never so far done full justice to the importance of the problem and its magnitude in the study of medieval and early modern folklore and popular culture.

Liminality and the Study of Literature One of the reasons why scholars dealing with romance fairies may have felt wary about employing the vocabulary of liminality is that the idea has arguably lost some of its potency and substance by coming to denote a whole variety of phenomena, processes and cultural products that seem to have alarmingly little in common. Outside of the disciplines of folkloristics and anthropology liminality has enjoyed such a tremendous success that, as Bjørn Thomassen contends, [i]t would be utterly impossible and probably also futile to undertake any comprehensive literature review of current usages of the term, not least because one would need to stretch such a discussion across at

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least twenty disciplines, ranging from religious studies and anthropology to marketing and consulting. (Liminality 7) Thomassen concludes that “the danger must be recognized that as a concept it can . . . easily come to signify almost anything” (Liminality 7). This is due in part to a shift in the focus of Victor Turner himself, who developed a special interest in the “institutionalization of liminality” (Ritual Process 107), seeing it not only as a transitional state but also, in some instances, a permanent condition. With this expanded meaning of the term, Turner himself labels as liminal such seemingly diverse phenomena as neophytes in the liminal phase of ritual, subjugated autochthones, small nations, court jesters, holy mendicants, good Samaritans, millenarian movements, . . . and monastic orders. Surely an ill-assorted bunch of social phenomena! (Ritual Process 125) Thomassen, who narrows down the scope of the term’s application in Liminality and the Modern by insisting that it “has to do with the passing of a threshold and therefore with transition” (15), still manages to add to the list the Lisbon earthquake of 1755 (94–99), the political philosophy of Thomas Hobbes and Cartesian epistemology (113–139), the city of Venice (156), Casanova (160–164), the early modern period at large (117), bungee jumping (141–166) and the Global War on Terror (217), as well as economic globalization (218). And how much more can be subsumed under the name of the liminal if one dismisses his initial reservation! Thomassen himself not only believes that “single moments . . . or even whole epochs can be considered liminal,” but he also suggests that the notion can be applied to individuals as well as “whole societies, and arguably even entire civilizations” (Liminality 89). Such ideas are a natural consequence of the fact that [w]hile on the one hand the term can and must be given an extremely narrow and technical delimitation as belonging to the middle stage in concretely acted out ritual passages, on the other hand it is also evident that liminality lends itself to a wider application, as the term captures something essential about the imprecise and unsettled situation of transitoriness. (Thomassen, Liminality 2) This particular feature of liminality continually opens up its semantic feld to new perspectives offered by various disciplines and theoretical paradigms, which sometimes hijack its meaning by appropriating the term

30

Introduction

in their own idiosyncratic ways, and literary studies are no exception to this general rule. The uses of liminality in literary criticism are just as many. One approach has been to associate it with modernity, or postmodernism in particular, whose inner logic or cultural economy it is believed to exemplify. This derives from sociology,33 but the idea has been transplanted to literary studies wholesale so that it is not diffcult to fnd writers that identify liminality as a foundational feature of literary postmodernism and a major critical term in postcolonial studies. 34 Whereas this would suggest that a given period can be exceptionally fraught with liminality, the same has also been suggested for particular themes, authors, national literatures or character types. Thus, we fnd some scholars contending that liminality is a particularly important feature of children’s literature (Joseph 138–141) or crucial for understanding authors who like to write about children and orphans, such as Charles Dickens (Woodbridge and Anderson 579). Meanwhile, others suggest that liminality is of special importance for Irish studies (O’Sullivan),35 but the same is apparently true for Shakespeare and a whole class of texts that present a literary journey, such as Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales or The Pilgrim’s Progress (Woodbridge and Anderson 579). Yet another critic argues that one “way of grasping the liminal is to equate it with the sublime” and draws on Immanuel Kant (Philips 25), which implies that the term may have a particular connection with the shift from the Enlightenment to Romanticism, a truly liminal time of momentous import for the development of Western culture.36 It would appear that the idea of the liminal has infltrated every corner of literary studies and can be mustered, should the need arise, regardless of the specifcities of genre, authorship, historical period or language. A way to organize approaches to liminality in literature has been proposed by Manuel Aguirre, Roberta Quance and Philip Sutton. Drawing on Van Gennep’s tripartite model, they frst attempt to clarify the difference between the marginal and the liminal by designating the limen as “a threshold between two spaces” that presupposes the “existence of a second territory on the other side” (6): A defnition of marginality invites or requires the postulation of a closed binary system the two constituents of which (centre, margin) deny, oppose or, at most, interact with each other. A defnition of liminality invites or requires the postulation of an open plural system the constituents of which include a known area A and, at least, a poorly understood area B, plus a recognition of a threshold separating but also relating A and B, the threshold itself having a variable breadth. (8–9)

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The pressing need Aguirre, Quance and Sutton feel for the contrast between the two springs from the opposite tendency to draw more explicitly on Turner’s binary model of structure and anti-structure and his conceptualization of liminality as a permanent condition. The latter approach derives from readings of Turner that imply a merger of the two ideas: for “[i]f liminality . . . becomes a potentially lifelong condition . . . it can no longer be deemed a temporal interface. In Turner’s theory the distinction between liminality and marginality here collapses” (Drewery 38).37 This is what Aguirre, Quance and Sutton reject, proceeding then to offer a positive defnition of liminality: by “liminal” we will understand texts or representations generated between two or more discourses, a transition area between two or more universes which thereby shares in two or more poetics. In a second sense, we will also apply the term “liminal” to texts, genres or representations centred around the notion of the threshold, or whose fundamental theme is the idea of a crossover, a transgression or an entry into the Other. (9) Two different levels of liminality are suggested here: one discursive and largely pertaining to the reception of form, and the other thematic, that is, related to the fctional world and a given text’s subject matter. Thematic liminality is certainly more tangible and amounts to the fctional treatment of processes or objects somehow related to a sense of passage. Peter Schwenger’s study At the Borders of Sleep: On Liminal Literature would seem to ft this category rather well, for it invokes the liminal through analyses of literary representations of states such as drowsiness, insomnia and sleepwalking. So would articles that treat of “the signifcance of liminal spaces such as waiting rooms, docks, thresholds and hotels” (Reus and Gifford 11). The only caveat here is that while the themes scrutinized may indeed have much to do with crossovers or transitions and employ the idea of passage, whether literally or metaphorically, they need not necessarily be related to rites and ritualism and, as such, may turn out to be only vaguely connected with the original anthropological paradigm.38 The discursive plane of liminality is even more loosely connected with rites of passage. Aguirre, Quance and Sutton explain that “in a weak sense, Postmodernism, Popular Literatures, Folktales (the list could be expanded) all constitute liminal systems insofar as they ‘stand between’ and provide an interface with other systems” (30). This is because folktales are halfway between folklore and popular literature; popular literature, in turn, may be, and indeed has been, perceived as occupying an intermediate position related to both folktales and postmodernist fction, and fnally, postmodernist literature can be said to straddle the opposition of canonical and popular fction (Aguirre, Quance and Sutton 30). At the

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same time, “in a strong sense,” any of these “are liminal if they border on some area recognized as ‘axial’—some territory which, like the canon, is . . . viewed . . . as a privileged domain” (Aguirre, Quance and Sutton 30–31). This deserves some critique, for it is not immediately clear what exactly is to be gained by labelling as liminal any object that “stands between two or more items and shapes a system with them” (Aguirre, Quance and Sutton 71). Aguirre, Quance and Sutton acknowledge the generality of their claims, admitting that “all forms of representation may be said to be liminal insofar as they stand ‘between’ other forms and, explicitly or not, interface, overlap, interact with them, sharing in their poetics” (71). Apart from identifying the discursive and thematic levels of liminality in literature, the study also proffers another model, one of a tripartite rather than dual nature. Turning their attention to rock music and the narratives of rock lyrics, Aguirre, Quance and Sutton suggest an approach that recognizes three planes of analysis: fctional, equivocal and social (51). The fctional level is to be understood as “corresponding to the characters in the narrative” (Aguirre, Quance and Sutton 51), and liminality on this level manifests itself in the themes raised by a given work, as in the preceding examples. The social level is more or less coterminous with the discursive one and pertains to “the actual reception of the performed narrative and the joint integration of the story, the personae and the performers into a society’s culture” (Aguirre, Quance and Sutton 51). Literary liminality on this plane of analysis would amount to a common perception of a particular work or genre as transitional with regard to various poetics or literary modes and forms that it utilizes. The most interesting concept, however, is that of the equivocal plane, “a term deliberately chosen for its Shakespearean overtones, since it refers to the recorded or stage performance of the narrative, when the performer and the persona stand for each other in a dialectical two-way relationship” (Aguirre, Quance and Sutton 51). The idea here is that there is a certain confusion or overlap between the liminal situation of the persona within the fctional text and that of the performer. By analogy, literary liminality on the equivocal plane of analysis would manifest itself through a parallelism in the situation of readers and in-text characters. Signifcantly, just as the characters and readers, according to this scheme, often fnd themselves together in analogous liminal situations, so, too, do all three levels of liminality supposedly overlap in a regular manner. The argument is that “a fnite set of liminal attributes can be identifed on each plane, and that correspondences and movement between attributes on different planes are to be expected” (Aguirre, Quance and Sutton 52, emphasis mine). Aguirre, Quance and Sutton thus contend that “liminal texts exist on fctional, equivocal and social planes, and . . . the same archetypal attributes will be manifested on all planes (though the manifestations themselves will, of course, take somewhat different forms on each plane)” (52).

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A number of examples can be mustered in support of this claim. It is particularly easy to point to analogies between the fctional and social planes. The genres of western and science fction can be considered liminal in terms of “their relation to a given society at a particular time” (Aguirre, Quance and Sutton 48), that is, in the context of the relative position of these genres in the popular consciousness as contrasted with that of the canon and popular culture, but they are also obviously stories about the frontier and those who inhabit or venture into the borderlands. Schwenger’s study of oneiric literature similarly focuses on the threshold of sleep as a theme, but at the same time, it implies that there is something dreamlike about literature as such, which, like sleep, could be seen as just another state of consciousness: “[i]f, as Jorge Luis Borges has asserted, literature is nothing more than a guided dream, the dream aspect is arrived at through a state of uncommon alertness to the implications of the words on the page” (Schwenger xii). Hence, “liminal literature” is for Schwenger not just a body of texts that raise the problematic of liminal states but also an adequate name for literature in general (xii).39 Aguirre, Quance and Sutton also point to folktales as being liminal in a double sense of the word: “the folktale is a liminal genre in that it stands at the interface between our daily world and that of fction,” but it is also “about a hero’s crossing the threshold which separates his daily world from that of the wondrous” (71). The question that such examples pose is whether they are truly representative, that is, whether it would be possible to provide counter-examples that could upset the impression of the process being of a necessary nature. In other words, having acknowledged that such an overlap of liminalities is often to be observed, are there really grounds to say that it is to be “expected”? Much would appear to depend on the perspective adopted. Aguirre, Quance and Sutton espouse a view that nothing is inherently liminal, or that things only happen to be liminal, being afforded such a position within a particular confguration of a given system (69). Their example is the idea of “woman,” which like any other, they claim, is only liminal for a given group or from a given vantage point, in relation to certain interests and criteria (even if it does transpire that, for millennia, woman has consistently received a liminal characterization in our culture). Put in different words, to say that something is liminal is to foreground certain traits of it (and necessarily to downplay others), i.e., to enhance its liminality-in-a-given-context. (69) The observation that liminality never qualifes an object in an essentialist way as a category but is rather a function of its perception according to a particular conceptual grid leads to another amusing list of things—quite “disparate” as these may be, even in the eyes of the list’s compilers—that

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are all liminal “in some sense” (Aguirre, Quance and Sutton 69). These include the fgure of the Trickster in Amerindian myth; the Greek pantheon; priests, shamans and witches; the edges of mountains, leaves and clouds; metaphor and metonymy; all fction as such; and, fnally, “by extension, language itself” (Aguirre, Quance and Sutton 69–70). Aguirre, Quance and Sutton readily admit that “[c]learly, the criteria by which these are liminal are different in each case” (70), and this makes it diffcult to assume that there should be general laws governing liminality subject to predictable expectations that would cover all the items from their list, as well as the lists of Turner and Thomassen and others. It must be noted here that the observation that things are only perceived as liminal from a particular perspective and the list cited earlier go beyond literature and point to actual phenomena in the real world, literature being only one of them. But if one accepts the notion of thematic liminality in literature then literally anything from the list, once transplanted into a fctional world, should automatically make the work in which it appears liminal. And, as the argument goes, the readers of such texts should also fnd themselves in a liminal position. Undoubtedly, the fact that almost anything could be considered liminal in one way or another somewhat mitigates the potency of this claim, unless we accept that any reader is thus by defnition liminal by virtue of being suspended between the real world and that of fction— although it is diffcult to conceive what new insight into the nature of literature such a formulation might bring. If anything can be liminal “in some sense,” liminality ultimately carries little weight. And this certainly needs to be set against the insights into the ambiguous logic of fairy belief and the utterly liminal nature of fairies.

Liminal Fairies in Medieval Romance Folklorists and anthropologists have consistently classifed fairies as liminal in a myriad of ways. Whether one considers spatial or temporal structures, ontology or psychology, the beings predictably occupy the liminal position in any conceptual grid. As the example of temporal liminality has illustrated, no matter what calendar or perspective one adopts, fairies are believed to be particularly active at times which have a transitional status in the system: whether on Halloween or towards the end of the calendar year, whether at twilight or at midnight. Based on the defnition of fairies as essentially liminal and the consistent body of folkloric and historical evidence, my argument in this book is that fairies are not so much afforded a liminal status in a fnite number of systems due to historical circumstance but rather that they always embody the liminal by predictably occupying the liminal position in any conceivable grid. While Aguirre, Quance and Sutton may be right in that generally things only happen to be perceived as liminal, fairies constitute a striking exception to this principle. Indeed, they have not been culturally constructed as

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liminal the way women have. The historically invariable observations of their in-betweenness cannot be explained away by assuming that culture has continuously, and in an unfailing manner, emphasized some elements of what it construed as their nature to posit them as liminal. This is because they have never been held to have any nature other than that of their human neighbours, and that was ephemeral enough to make any stable imposition of qualities impossible. Any aspect of their supposed essential nature could easily be challenged: shifting from one system to another, one sees them either as unable to reproduce or as requiring the help of midwives for just that, as unable to create tools or engaging in the act of producing them, as having an independent society of their own or depending on the human world for every minute aspect of their existence. In other words, it would be a mistake to say that the idea of the liminal has been imposed on them, because “them” is ultimately a construct made up of nothing but precisely the liminal. Such an understanding of the ontological status of fairies and their overall liminality has far-reaching consequences for the study of medieval romance and poses a number of questions of a hermeneutic nature. When transferred into the fctional worlds of literature, do fairies retain their utterly liminal status or is their liminality subject to any major transformation or modifcation? And if liminality becomes a major theme in medieval romance, what kind of liminality is it, and who and what exactly acquire liminal characteristics? In the logic of narrative progression, do human characters become tainted with liminality as a result of direct contact with fairies, or is it their original liminality that attracts the latter in the frst place? Moreover, granted that fairy-themed literature is thematically liminal, does this also manifest itself on the equivocal plane? And if, as most scholars would contend, “there are abiding themes in depictions of the beings eventually classed as fairies” (Hutton, “Making” 1155), what do all these have to do with the notion of the liminal? The mirror principle, the notion of contamination by fairy food or mere physical contact, temporal disjunctions between the human and fairy planes of reality, the gifts fairies bestow on people and the taboos they impose on them—what is ultimately the relationship of all this staple fairy material to the liminal? In this book, I analyse fairies in medieval English and Scottish narratives with a view to presenting some of the best-known and oft-studied texts of medieval literature as infused with the liminality of fairies in ways and degrees hitherto unrecognized by scholarship. Although some aspects of the problem have already received cursory and others quite detailed treatment, this has never been done under the name of the liminal, a fact that, as I hope to illustrate, obscures much of the picture and leads to a critical celebration of the fairies’ arbitrariness of action as though it followed a purely aesthetic or didactic teleology. As I investigate various things that fairies tend to do in the fctional worlds of romance, my argument will spell out both the overt and latent affnities of their nature and actions

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with the notion of the liminal. This will, in turn, open a discussion of what exactly fairies may be considered to represent. Even the sceptical among the medieval readers, or those who preferred to read them metaphorically, would have acknowledged their reality outside of the world of fction to be at the very least plausible, but if we grant that fairies in medieval romance could be read as themselves, rather than representative of other ideas, it is not immediately clear what such a reading would amount to, given their ephemeral—or liminal—nature. The problem of the liminal is effectively enmeshed with the hermeneutics of medieval romance in a most intimate manner. In response to the overall tendency in contemporary scholarship to strip the notion of liminality of its original anthropological and theoretical affliations, Chapters 1, 3 and 5 provide different theoretical insights and perspectives on the concept and, together with the corresponding analyses of romance texts in Chapters 2, 4 and 6, develop a comprehensive theory of the liminality of fairies. Chapters 1 and 2 set their readings of romance texts against the original insights of Arnold Van Gennep and Victor Turner, as well as the thought of Mary Douglas, with the latter’s ideas of purity and danger emerging as fundamental for identifying and spelling out the link between fairies and ritualism. In Chapters 3 and 4, the focus shifts from specifc anthropological theories to the philosophical background that informs Western culture’s attempts to conceptualize liminality, as the argument delves into Plato’s formulation of the ultimate mode of liminality in The Timaeus and its modern appropriations by Jacques Derrida and Julia Kristeva. A fresh look at the romance texts will then serve to clarify further the role of liminality in shaping romance fairies and in contributing to the interpretative potential of the texts they inhabit. Finally, Chapters 5 and 6 look at the cultural framework of gift-giving and fairy taboos in the context of rule-bound interactions that defne human/fairy relations only to revisit the romance narratives once again. Converging at the meeting point of the various theoretical approaches to liminality is the liminal fgure of the fairy, and the stories of the human protagonists of medieval romance who come face to face with this enigmatic fgure mark the limits of human experience and logic in making sense of that which inhabits the ultimate threshold beyond human ken. Literature’s attempts to convey the temper of this encounter are the subject of the remainder of this book.

Notes 1. This was the case at the time of publication (1967), although, in the early 1980s, the two girls who took the photographs—now in their seventies— retracted their original statements, admitting that the pictures they took were faked. For a comprehensive history of the affair, see Paul Smith’s article “The Cottingley Fairies: The End of a Legend.”

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2. This is true of most works written from a historical (e.g. Henderson) or folkloristic (e.g. Briggs) perspective, which present literary evidence for the ubiquity of fairy belief on a par with written sources of a non-literary nature. 3. For this approach, see in particular James Wade’s Fairies in Medieval Romance (2011). 4. Francis James Child’s collection of The English and Scottish Popular Ballads (1882–1898) includes at least eleven ballads that mention fairies (Henderson and Cowan 5). Although “Thomas Rymer” (ballad 37) is clearly related to the medieval romance of Thomas of Erceldoune, the fragmentary “King Orfeo” (ballad 19, dated to 1880) seems somehow connected to Sir Orfeo, and Child himself manages to trace a few vague references to the story of “Tamlene” or “Tomalynn” (possibly related to ballad 39, “Tam Lin”) to the 1540s and 1550s (Child 335–336), the actual texts of fairy ballads from his collection come only from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries or, as is the case with “Sir Cawline” (ballad 61), from the seventeenth. 5. Apart from Sir Orfeo, which receives detailed treatment in the course of the book, one would have to single out Sir Degaré and Sir Gowther as Middle English lays relevant to the subject. Degaré includes the motif of fairy rape, which this study addresses both in Sir Orfeo, where a male fairy is the perpetrator, and in Thomas of Erceldoune, where a female fairy is the victim; the lay also hovers between sinister threat and benignity in its image of the fairy rapist, a characterization similar to that of the Green Knight, the latter discussed in detail in Chapter 2 (see Colopy 32–33). Sir Gowther, in turn, may be of interest to scholars considering the process of the demonization of fairies (addressed in Chapter 4) in how it presents its mysterious fairy-like lover as a creature both demonic and angelic. The present study discusses the issue through a reading of Sir Orfeo and Thomas of Erceldoune to take advantage of the multiplicity of versions that these romances have survived in. 6. All citations from Geoffrey Chaucer come from The Wadsworth Chaucer, edited by Larry D. Benson. Two centuries before Chaucer, Wace makes a similar point about the forest of Broceliande, a well-known haunt of fairies whose marvels of magic and nature have, as he explains, been quite altogether spoiled by peasants so that no magic can any longer be found there by the hopeful traveller. In Wace, fairies are only one of the marvels that have disappeared from the forest, while in Chaucer the attention is directed specifcally to their disappearance and its consequences. For a discussion of the relevant passage in Wace’s Roman de Rou, written in Norman French in the second half of the twelfth century, see J. Wade 58 and le Saux 187–189. 7. In British Goblins (1880) Wirt Sikes contends that “[t]he practice of every generation in thus relegating fairy belief to a date just previous to its own does not apply . . . to superstitious beliefs in general” (4) but to fairies only. Henderson and Cowan exhibit a degree of scepticism about this, pointing out that “similar comments have been made about other supernatural entities, such as witches, banshees and selkies” (33). The matter could certainly beneft from being reconsidered in the context of these beings’ intimate association with fairies, or fairy-like qualities, in folklore and popular culture. 8. See Marshall 144–146 for an overview of the dynamics of the process in the context of the English Reformation. 9. The use of faerie to denote a place or country can be found, among others, in Chaucer (Williams 469). Examples include line 802 of Sir Thopas and line 96 of The Squire’s Tale (Williams 475). 10. See Tupper and Ogle 15–18 for the English translation.

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11. Fairies are usually associated with the colour green (Hutton, “Making” 1139), but many sources mention red as well or a combination of green and red (Lysaght 32, Ballard 53, Gwyndaf 178–179, P. A. Smith 146; Briggs, Encyclopedia 108–109). 12. Williams notes that the word fairy “is best regarded as primarily a literary word, and therefore not initially an item in the vocabulary of the illiterate in Medieval England” (468). 13. See Wilby, Cunning Folk 112–120. 14. See Purkiss, At the Bottom 85–115; Emma Wilby’s Visions of Isobel Gowdie provides the most meticulous and detailed case study of the phenomenon. 15. Briggs notes that “[o]n the whole the fairy picture is gloomier in the Highlands than in the south” (Anatomy 32) and sums up “the Highland fairies” by noting that they “are fercer, more independent, more dangerous than the Southerners,” pointing to the strong association between fairies and witches in Scotland as relevant in this context (Anatomy 32). It should be noted that Sir Walter Scott referred to English fairy lore as “less wild and necromantic” than its Scottish counterpart (qtd. in Henderson and Cowan 208) and saw the relatively greater malevolence of Scottish fairies as resulting at least in part from the roughness of the Scottish landscape (Henderson and Cowan 18); hence, it is among the Highland fairies that one fnds a greater number of monstrous beings than elsewhere. 16. Robin Goodfellow is mentioned by name in the Paston letters (Green, Elf 22), and the Paston reference from 1489 is the earliest-recorded one (Hutton, “Making” 1146). Briggs classifes Robin Goodfellow as a hobgoblin, explaining that “[t]hese hobgoblins are rough, hairy spirits, which do domestic chores, work about farms, guard treasure, keep an eye on the servants, and generally act as guardian spirits of the home” (Anatomy 15). 17. Green, “Changing Chaucer” 184–185. 18. Examples of stories that involve the ointment are mentioned in Briggs (Fairies 4, 8, 105, 142–145), among them Gervase of Tilbury’s (ca. 1150–ca. 1228) account from his Otia Imperialia of the fairy-like water spirits known as the Dracae. See also Evans-Wentz 205. Fairy ointment is considered to be “a staple of folklore” (Purkiss, “Sounds of Silence” 97). If the eye comes in contact with the ointment once the human has already been transported to the land of fairies, this grants it the ability to see through the fairy magic of illusion, or glamour, and provokes the fairies to put out the affected eye (Baughman 205, motif F.235.4.1–4). Fairy ointment also features in early modern witchcraft cases (Purkiss, “Sounds of Silence” 86). For more information on magical ointments in the context of late medieval and early modern witchcraft, see Hatsis. 19. For a range of possible attitudes to Irish ringforts in the context of fairy belief, see Ní Cheallaigh. 20. The identifcation of November 1 with the Celtic new year is problematic, and Ronald Hutton characterizes the evidence in favour of this interpretation as “fimsy” (Stations 363). However, it is clear that the festival of Samhain marked an important division within the ritual year. 21. Robert Kirk explains that fairies “feed . . . on the foyson or substance of cornes and liquors” (79). Briggs also mentions the Gaelic word toradh as the equivalent of “foyson”; her examples are those of fairies taking “the goodness out of cheese, so that it foats in water like cork, out of butter, bread and bannocks” (Encyclopedia 158). 22. Richard P. Jenkins notes that fairies are usually considered to be unable “either to bear healthy children or to feed them—hence the need to abduct human babies and wet nurses for them” (315). While the wet nurses may

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23.

24. 25.

26. 27. 28.

39

be of use in breastfeeding the abducted human babies, it is more diffcult to provide a plausible rationale for abducting midwives, except that their help might be required in tending to the fairies’ abducted human lovers during labour. The confusion is similar to that surrounding the fairies’ need to steal human food: one explanation for the latter would be that the food is required by the fairies’ human abductees, but as Briggs points out, “[t]he belief . . . in the fairies eating human food is so widespread that it seems impossible to limit the habit to stolen humans; the borrowing is too systematic” (Fairies 116). Such contradictions within fairy belief can easily be reconciled in the context of the logic of fairy dependence. Tom Reid’s fairy identity is a questionable matter. Henderson and Cowan see him as “an enigma,” noting that “[t]hough he acted in most ways as a fairy, he was not, or at least was not always, a fairy” (59). Julian Goodare goes even further, seeing him as “no more and no less” than a ghost and defnitely not a fairy (148), and he looks to Emma Wilby for support, pointing to her use of the term ghost in reference to Reid (Wilby, Cunning Folk 3). Goodare’s study of the boundaries between fairies and other supernatural beings presupposes a defnite set of characteristics that each type of spirits possesses and does not admit the possibility that a certain haziness of categories may itself be such a defning characteristic in the case of fairies. The fact is that while fairies and ghosts may indeed have been different classes of beings in the early modern popular imagination, Scottish fairy-belief leaves room for a certain overlap between the two in that stolen mortals, taken at the moment of death, become part of the fairy court and effectively turn into fairies. This belief is well attested in later balladry (see Child ballad 39, “Tam Lin”), but it may also shed light on the curious detail of the presence of King James IV, killed at Flodden feld in 1513, among the fairies according to the testimony of the male witch Andro Man (tried in 1597). Goodare cites the latter to imply that Reid, like the Scottish king, was a ghost among the fairies rather than a fairy proper, but the two men could arguably count as both ghosts and fairies in their transitional position of captives at fairyland, the generally accepted distinction between the two categories of beings notwithstanding. The motif of rescuing a mortal from the clutches of fairyland found in “Tam Lin” further suggests that, in the Scottish tradition, a deceased mortal in fairyland is more of a fairy than a ghost in that his corporeality allows for a full readmission into the world of mortals. In his study of Irish fairy lore, Peter Alderson Smith notes that fairies have been held to possess “the power of glamour,” that is, to have the ability to “change colour at will” (146). Arthur O. Lovejoy outlines the conception of the hierarchy of being in great detail in The Great Chain of Being (1933), stressing throughout his book “the principle of plenitude,” or the “‘fullness’ of the realization of conceptual possibility in actuality” (52). The ontological liminality of fairies would, in this light, constitute an anomaly impossible to explain within the model, which is what prompts Lewis to proclaim that “[h]erein lies their [i.e. the fairies’] imaginative value” (122). According to Briggs, the earliest mention of this belief is to be found in Robert Kirk (Encyclopedia 67). “Ontological dubiety” is a phrase I borrow from Purkiss (“Sounds of Silence” 83). The danger resulting from the ill will of fairies could have dramatic consequences and lead to death, for while they would usually “give blessings to people who entertain them or otherwise treat them graciously,” they could “also affict them, notably by leading them astray at night into pits or bogs” (Hutton, “Making” 1139). Losing one’s way due to fairies’ tricks could be

40

29.

30. 31. 32. 33.

34.

35.

Introduction aestheticized in literature and thus perceived as a kind of errant wandering not without a certain charm to it, as exemplifed by the romantic comedy of errors in the woods of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. However, much as “[b]eing pixy-led could simply refer to losing one’s way and wandering in circles . . . it was also invoked in relation to the phenomenon of ignes fatui: methane gases, especially common in marshy areas, which had a misleading resemblance to lanterns,” and these “were a real danger for the early modern traveler” (Shell 92). Nymphs, that is, the Greek equivalent of fairies, serve as an excellent case in point (Purkiss, At the Bottom 38–46). Purkiss provides a number of other examples to support the idea that fairies embody the sense of being forever on the brink of what Turner would call a life crisis (At the Bottom 20–23). The expression comes from Turner, Forest of Symbols 93–111. See Narváez (“Newfoundland Berry Pickers” 337–338) for an interesting attempt to bring together the insights of Van Gennep and Douglas. It should be noted that the uncanny features in the index of Cooper’s book under the entry for Freud, whereas liminality is not recognized as a signifcant term at all. Sociological research that identifes liminality as an inherent feature of the (post)modern condition draws mostly on Victor Turner. The two ideas that have proved to be particularly inspirational in this context are the institutionalization of liminality (developed by Turner in The Ritual Process) and the shift from the liminal to the liminoid (Turner, “Liminal to Liminoid”). The former makes it possible to ascribe to modernity as such the quality of being permanently liminal (Szakolczai 207–217). The latter approach, in turn, capitalizes on the element of play in postmodern reality to argue that the “‘traditional’ rites of passage had lost much of their importance in modern societies, but that they had been replaced to a large extent by other more mundane out-of-the-ordinary experiences that he [Turner] termed liminoid. In art and leisure we recreate ‘life in the conditional’ and thus revive the playful” (Thomassen, Liminality 82). Accordingly, “postmodern liminality . . . considers the process or passage equally important as the end result, or destination” (Ortiz 219). See Klapcsik, who not only identifes the postmodern as a liminal condition but also retroactively projects postmodern liminality onto earlier genres, such as early twentieth-century detective fction, which, in his view, “prefgures the postmodern understanding and practice of liminality” (5). The postmodern fantastic in particular has come to be the subject of analyses drawing on the concept of liminality (Klapcsik, García). Quite apart from the thematic specifcity of “fantastic literature,” however, much contemporary criticism works from the assumption that “[t]o write from the interstices, from the in-between, can be recognized as a strategy in much postmodern and postcolonial literature and contemporary writing” (Thomassen, “Revisiting Liminality” 27). The upsurge in the recognition of liminality as a critically relevant concept for postcolonial studies can be traced back to Homi Bhabha’s book The Location of Culture, originally published in 1994. In the postcolonial critical paradigm, liminality is invoked to characterize the “space between colonial discourse and the assumption of a new ‘non-colonial’ identity” and goes “hand in hand” with the notions of hybridity and transculturation (Ashcroft, Griffths and Tiffn 130–131). Nordin and Holmsten’s anthology, which includes O’Sullivan’s article, has a number of essays dealing with liminality in the Irish context.

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36. It must be noted that the connection between the Kantian sublime and liminality is often posited in a way that transcends the historical moment of Kant’s formulations; such is the case with Thomas Philips, who invokes poststructuralist perspectives on the liminal sublime voiced by Jean-Francois Lyotard, Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari (25). At the same time, the theoretical outlook that sees the sublime and the liminal as at least partly coterminous also informs numerous works of literary criticism with a clearly historical orientation, such as Gary Harrison’s study of Wordsworth that focuses on the relation of the latter’s poetry to “the social, political and cultural landscape during the 1790s in England” (16). This handful of examples of the ubiquity of the concept of liminality in literary studies is by no means meant to be exhaustive and could easily be expanded further. In fact, it is doubtful if any major fgure in the canon has escaped the critical vogue for spying the threshold wherever possible. 37. Turner himself maintains that there is a difference between liminality and marginality, the two being—alongside inferiority—related but not identical conditions (Ritual Process 128–130). 38. Schwenger’s book mentions neither Van Gennep nor Turner and does not refer to rites of passage in any way whatsoever. 39. Mihai Spariosu, who also argues in favour of the general liminality of literature, provides an overview of approaches in historical poetics that support the claim (31–72).

1

Liminal Fairies The Anthropological Paradigm

The modern image of an elf is a spectacular one, beaming with radiance, power and nobility. Tolkienian elves have taken us far away from notions of shabby household spirits of the brownie sort and elevated the vision of fairy royalty to heights of splendour matched only by the loftiest of descriptions found in medieval romance. It is in this sense that Tolkien’s elves are arguably Celtic (Green, Elf 5), for their image capitalizes on ideas of fairy illustriousness, majesty and beauty characteristic of Irish beliefs in particular. While such a vision of fairy regality—one readily associated with Celtic provenance—proved to be particularly amenable for writers of medieval romance, this should not nonetheless blind us to the fact that fairies are a “pan–European” phenomenon rather than one originally restricted to the fringes of occidental civilization, and “the questions they raise should not be quarantined to the margins, either geographical or cultural, of medieval society” (Green, Elf 7). Richard Firth Green vehemently dismisses “the Celtic fallacy” (Elf 6) regarding the origin of fairy belief and sees it as seriously detrimental to scholarship in that it hampers efforts to recognize the ubiquity of ideas concerning fairies across medieval Europe.1 His point is that even when some elements of local lore do resemble Celtic sources, they should not be taken to constitute a case of borrowing without frm evidence, and there is no reason to suppose such borrowings to be common given the vibrancy of medieval fairy lore on the continent (Elf 6–7). Thus, while the Celtic material is of great importance and its general import must be recognized by any conscientious historian of fairy belief, one should not lose track of the fact that fairies are not a uniquely Celtic phenomenon—nor, indeed, a distinctly insular one, since a whole array of similar entities has for centuries peopled the imagination of Europeans across the continent. This observation will serve as an important context for the theoretical discussion to follow. Green’s medieval examples often come from France or Italy, but beings analogous to fairies can also be identifed in various other cultures and areas. The fairy creatures in Britain and Ireland can often seem wildly dissimilar from one another, and their counterparts in other areas in Europe, too, exhibit a great deal of variety, the fundamental thing that connects

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them all being a manifold sense of liminality. In Scandinavia, we fnd the huldrefolk (“the hidden people”), a supernatural race living in parallel to their human neighbours in an underground realm (Davidson 26).2 Also known as the underjordiske (“those under the ground”) or the haugfolk (“people of the mounds”; Bringsvaerd 11), the huldrefolk “strengthen their gene pool by marrying humans and stealing children” (Gilbertson 200) and are a constant threat to be reckoned with, being, “to the Norwegian mind, always lurking” (Gilbertson 200). These Norwegian fairies illustrate the principle of fairy dependence exceedingly well. To the south of Scandinavia, among the Western Slavs, similarities to the British tradition are less obvious. On a superfcial level, British fairies seem to have very little in common with tiny gnomes with red caps known among the Poles as krasnoludki (“the fair little folk”), but the name of the latter betrays an essential connection by combining two well-known apotropaic expressions: the fair folk and the wee folk.3 Polish folklore actually has a subcategory of “riverbank demons” (Dźwigoł 170–173), and their liminal association with the place where water meets land is matched by their inclinations to steal children and copy human activity. They may not resemble British fairies much, with their long, saggy breasts that hang about their necks and onto their backs, but these bogunki exhibit forms of behaviour that we can immediately recognize.4 Their name translates as demigoddesses (or goddess-like beings) and dates back to the sixteenth century (Brückner 34), which is incidentally when the English literary tradition began to acknowledge on a grander scale than before the confation of classical demigods and fairies (Cooper, English Romance 177). Bogunki not only leave their boginiaki (“demigodlings”) as changelings but also tend to ape their human neighbours—so much so that one of their folkloric names is małpy (“apes”): “when they see someone comb their hair, they too comb their hair; when they see someone wash clothes, they do the same”5 (Dźwigoł 165). Once again, this is fairy mimicry at its most prominent. Farther south, in the Balkans, the beliefs of the Southern Slavs are not much different. Their fairy creatures can act in both benevolent and malicious ways (Kropej 144). Local fairies, known as vile, can easily bring prosperity to the household and just as easily take it away when they take offence. They are generally thought of as a source of wealth and good luck, but one who interrupts their dances in fairy circles may end up paralyzed or even dead (Kropej 147). They are also known to interact with human beings in countless ways, including the substitution of changelings for human children (Kropej 145) and sexual liaisons with human lovers. Slovenian folklore knows stories of fairy wives imposing taboos on their mortal husbands and leaving them as soon as the taboos are broken (Kropej 148–149) that are little different from analogous tales in medieval romance. Vile also live in a kind of parallel dimension, for while they are usually seen engaging their human neighbours or roaming

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remote and wild places such as forests and mountaintops, the latter are believed to provide entry to a “hidden paradise” of their own, often accessible through cracks and hollow rocks (Kropej 147). The usual image of vile is that of beautiful young girls, and in this they resemble the Greek nymphs. Nymphs are themselves liminal beings through and through: they “are caught between the world of gods and the world of men” (Purkiss, At the Bottom 39), native to the transitional space “between heaven and earth” like the vile (Kropej 125). Imagined as young women on the brink of adulthood and motherhood, they are “‘stuck’ in a particular phase of life” (Purkiss, At the Bottom 39), seen as having “failed to pass from a transitional phase to a phase of completion” (Purkiss, At the Bottom 35), that is, from girl to woman. Diane Purkiss makes much of the fact that no stories are ever told about them, only about the mortals they abduct for lovers or otherwise interact with: “[t]heir story is to have no story. They are forever young, forever on the brink of love, marriage and commitment. But not there yet and so nowhere” (At the Bottom 40). Like British fairies, they may superfcially seem to be associated in the popular imagination with groves, lakes or hills, but they are not pure spirits of nature. “[E]ven modern Greeks believe that nymphs are connected not with the untamed natural wilderness, but with the housewifery that turns nature into culture” (Purkiss, At the Bottom 41), and thus, like their counterparts from across the continent, they occupy the conceptual space of transition, threshold and ambiguity. Purkiss adds a few examples from beyond Europe, looking to the Middle East for more liminal demigods, and her survey of ancient demons such as the Mesopotamian child demon Kubu—“trapped between states of being” (At the Bottom 15) by virtue of being unborn or stillborn—reinforces the impression of liminality being a defning feature of a whole class of entities intimately familiar to a variety of cultures and historical periods. Indeed, while not all such beliefs can confdently be traced back to the Middle Ages and serve as valid points for detailed comparison with the medieval British tradition, this only proves that the idea of a class of beings characterized by a manifold sense of liminality has persisted across both space and time. To understand British fairies, one must take this broad perspective into account, whatever the permutations found in local lore and its literary representations, and the anthropological paradigm inaugurated by Arnold Van Gennep is where such a universal theory of liminality has emerged.

Liminality, Danger, Pollution Alongside liminality, another key phrase in the intellectual tradition of Arnold Van Gennep is undoubtedly “rite of passage.” It is to numerous examples of these that he devoted his Les rites de passage, published in 1909, and while his study attempts to offer a broader analytic look at

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the phenomenon in its brief introduction, it mostly comprises a body of evidence on cultural practices that strikes the reader as quite repetitive in many ways but ultimately succeeds in adducing the book’s main point. The argument illustrates that despite much variation, there is a universal pattern to superfcially dissimilar ritual activity pertaining to, and performed in, a whole variety of situations by people across cultures. Perhaps the most interesting part of the book’s legacy is Van Gennep’s vision of society that underlies his claims: He saw society as a house with rooms and corridors in which passage from one to another is dangerous. Danger lies in transitional states, simply because transition is neither one state nor the next, it is undefnable. The person who must pass from one to another is himself in danger and emanates danger to others. The danger is controlled by ritual which precisely separates him from his old status, segregates him for a time and then publicly declares his entry to his new status. (Douglas, Purity and Danger 97) While most summaries of Van Gennep’s ideas begin with the division of rites of passage into phases of separation, transition and incorporation (Van Gennep 10–11), it is just as important to stress that the scheme serves a particular purpose, which Van Gennep identifes as making the passage possible, or facilitating its success: “there are ceremonies whose essential purpose is to enable the individual to pass from one defned position to another which is equally well defned” (Van Gennep 3). To understand the logic behind this vision, one must therefore attend not just to the remedy offered by ritual but above all to the danger lurking in the act of transition—one, it would appear, indiscriminately inherent in all acts of transition. Whereas Van Gennep himself never elaborates in much detail on the precise nature of the problem that ritual serves to alleviate, his insights become much clearer when viewed through the later work of two British anthropologists: Victor Turner, who brought Van Gennep into the spotlight roughly half a century after the completion of The Rites of Passage and continued his work on ritual and liminality, and Mary Douglas, who took a particular interest in liminal danger and its polluting nature. The universality of Van Gennep’s notion of rite of passage emerges quite clearly when one realizes that the passage in question occurs between “states” of numerous kinds. Turner defnes “state” as “a relatively fxed or stable condition” pertaining to “legal status, profession, offce or calling, rank or degree” as well as “ecological conditions, or . . . the physical, mental or emotional condition in which a person or a group may be found at a particular time” (Forest of Symbols 93–94): A man may thus be in a state of good or bad health; a society in a state of war or peace, or a state of famine or of plenty. State, in short, is a

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Liminal Fairies more inclusive concept than status or offce and refers to any type of stable or recurrent condition that is culturally recognized. (Forest of Symbols 94)

Furthermore, Turner is apt to point out that “Van Gennep himself defned ‘rites of passage’ as ‘rites which accompany every change of place, state, social position and age’” (Forest of Symbols 94).6 This works both on the level of the individual, at moments of “culturally defned life-crises,” and with regard to the entire community, as when “a whole tribe goes to war” or holds a harvest festival to mark the seasonal “passage from scarcity to plenty” (Forest of Symbols 94–95). Any change-of-state scenario invites ritual, and thus, the problem of “passage” proves to be of fundamental importance to the workings of culture.7 One reason why the legacy of Van Gennep exerted considerable infuence in the second half of the twentieth century is the proto-structuralist character of his method. Structuralism, which had its roots in Ferdinand de Saussure’s (1857–1913) approach to problems of language and linguistics, was later adopted by other felds of scholarship, and the structuralist method came to dominate anthropology and frame much literary theory from around the 1950s. Notes taken from Saussure’s lectures, published by his students in 1916 under the title of a Course in General Linguistics, were an inspiration for much innovative work done within both domains. While the fner aspects of the structuralist methodology of linguistics did not always translate smoothly into the exigencies of anthropological or literary scholarship, Saussure formulated a number of insights that profoundly affected the development of twentieth-century thought, and Van Gennep’s understanding of culture and society reveals a fundamental agreement with them. What overlaps here is the concern of both thinkers with the underlying system that subtends cultural practices, and a consequent methodological focus on deep-level structures rather than surface-level phenomena. As structuralism has it, while reality may be a continuum, the way human thought organizes it is necessarily in discrete and binary terms. Thus, in order to conceptualize anything, thought breaks it down into discrete units, and the meaning of any such unit is not inherent in it or derivable from its inner essential nature but rather emerges out of the differential interplay of all the elements in a particular system under scrutiny. According to Saussure, the meaning of any given word in a language is purely relational and system-dependent, and no element in a language has substantial value on its own—which is what makes it possible for the same word to have different meanings in different languages.8 Saussure was predominantly interested in language and the meaning of linguistic signs, but his theories lent themselves easily to broader applications. One of them was the idea of linguistic determinism, which suggested that “[s]ince the actual concepts which are available for speakers to

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encode and communicate are determined by the particular language they speak, thought itself must be dependent on language” (Chapman 149). The entire conceptual grid at the disposal of any human being came thus to be seen as dependent on his or her language, an approach that effectively equated the systemic confguration of concepts operative within the human mind with the way different languages broke down the totality of experience into discrete units of meaning. This approach stressed to a great degree the differences between various languages and invited much criticism on this account (Chapman 151), but on a more fundamental level, it suggested that however much particular languages or their concurrent conceptual grids may differ, each system is invariably structured in terms of discrete binary oppositions. In the words of Jonathan Culler, “[s]tructuralists have . . . taken the binary opposition as a fundamental operation of the human mind basic to the production of meaning” (Structuralist Poetics 15). Structuralism thus went beyond the study of language to make claims about the structure of human thought as such, and the laws that defned the operations of language could now be transposed to the fabric of conceptual thinking. It was a similar line of thought, and his understanding that the deeplevel structuring of culture was crucial for his scholarly enterprise which allowed Van Gennep to argue that ritual accompanies any transition between conditions taken to operate on the level of the system. This can be best illustrated by his refections on puberty rites. While the term puberty may seem to indicate a well-defned period with essential biological characteristics, from a structuralist perspective what determines its meaning are ideas framing it on both sides, that is the periods of human development understood to precede or follow puberty in a given culture. Structuralism—whether linguistic or anthropological—inquires into the system rather than the undifferentiated continuum, since it is on the level of the system that it locates the structural base for all operations and manifestations of culture, and it makes the claim that it is only through studying the binary organization of concepts that culture can be explained with any degree of insight. Accordingly, Van Gennep stresses time and again in The Rites of Passage that puberty rites have nothing to do with puberty as understood in biological terms, and even if the two sometimes happen to coincide, there is no necessary connection between them; to drive his point home he even points to legal regulations in the Europe of his time, pointing to signifcant differences between countries: “in Rome social puberty precedes physiological puberty, and in Paris it follows physiological puberty” (66). Any essentialist attempt to explain puberty rites, or initiation rites, was, in Van Gennep’s view, misguided and bound to fail (65–68), for these mark not biological puberty but a transition between two discretely conceived conditions whose exact defnitions in different societies may and do extensively vary. And yet, amidst this array of different ways and traditions of conceiving the transition from childhood to

48 Liminal Fairies adolescence or maturity, one thing invariably remains: at whatever age the passage occurs and whatever the two categories involved happen to be, it predictably invites the use of ritual to make the change possible. One way of explaining culture in these terms would be to say that [o]ur cultural framing is neither original nor universal; consciously or unconsciously, persistent, but not absolute, patterns emerge that reveal a dualistic undercurrent; a world viewed in terms of binary oppositions and symbolic polarities. (Agozzino 95) The concepts we operate with are not universal, because the way they structure the continuum of reality differs between societies; they are not original, because no individual or group can claim to be their origin or holds the power to institute meaning independently of them. The world is made sense of in binary terms, and any change of status or condition amounts to a leap between two discrete notions rather than a smooth transition. Such instances of a break or a lacuna need to be negotiated by the “passengers,” for the spaces in between pose a challenge to the frmness and all-encompassing nature of the system. It is there that the need for ritual arises to ensure a safe and successful passage. Mary Douglas communicates the same insight when she notes that “[i]t is part of our human culture to long for hard lines and clear concepts” but that “[w]hen we have them we have to either face the fact that some realities elude them, or else blind ourselves to the inadequacy of the concepts” (Purity and Danger 163). All in all, there appear to be two major weaknesses in the way we structure reality through our thought. One is that the grid we superimpose on it is arbitrary, and the concepts could just as well be arranged in a completely different way—since the system is not absolute, it cannot guarantee stability and invites the threat of reconfguration. The other danger is that wherever the transition falls to be, it “has different cultural properties than those of a state” (Turner, Forest of Symbols 94).9 Since initiands fnd themselves, in the liminal phase of rites, simultaneously beyond and prior to binary differentiation, they have access to “a realm of pure possibility whence novel confgurations of ideas and relations may arise” (Turner, Forest of Symbols 97), and they can tap into powers inherent in it that threaten to remake and reshape the world. That is the sense in which liminality is for Turner “the Nay to all positive structural assertions, but in some sense the source of them all” (Forest of Symbols 97). The understanding of the ontological position of passengers during the rites reveals their unique and paradoxical status relative to the world: “[l]iminal entities are neither here nor there; they are betwixt and between the positions assigned and arrayed by law, custom, convention and ceremonial” (Turner, Ritual Process 95). This is an essential feature of all rites of passage and not just territorial rites

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literally involved with moving from one regime of space to another. As Van Gennep notes, the “symbolic and spatial area of transition may be found . . . in all the ceremonies which accompany the passage from one social and magico-religious position to another” (18). Although “passage” is suggestive of a movement across space, the same symbolism applies to transitions across time and to all transitions as such, which is why the territorial passage may be regarded as a symbolic template for all ritual activity. Hence, initiands are “sometimes said to ‘be in another place.’ They have physical but not social ‘reality,’ hence they have to be hidden, since it is a paradox, a scandal, to see what ought not to be there” (Turner, Forest of Symbols 98), and their “structural ‘invisibility’ has a twofold character. They are at once no longer classifed and not yet classifed” (Turner, Forest of Symbols 96). In Turner’s view, this determines the way they are symbolically conceived of and invites the use of symbols drawn both “from the biology of death” and from “processes of gestation and parturition” (Forest of Symbols 96)—formlessness is “an apt symbol of beginning and of growth as it is of decay” (Douglas, Purity and Danger 162). Signifcantly, the diffculty of communicating the unique nature of transitionality with the vocabulary used to characterize fxed states and conditions fnds its refection in the fact than an “essential feature of these symbolizations is that the neophytes are neither living nor dead from one aspect, and both living and dead from another” (Turner, Forest of Symbols 96–97). Both Turner and Douglas make much of the danger inherent in the liminal phase and how it emanates outside and affects, or infects others, highly polluting and “always liable to attack” (Douglas, Purity and Danger 96). Both suggest that people in transitional states (or liminars) are dangerous and endowed with power simply because every chaos is endowed with power, as it is from chaos that any order necessarily has to be born: “[t]o have been in the margins is to have been in contact with danger, to have been at a source of power” (Douglas, Purity and Danger 98). It is according to this logic that formlessness is “credited with powers, some dangerous, some good” (Douglas, Purity and Danger 96). In rituals, this can be practically manifest through the suspension of customary codes of conduct and temporary breakdowns of the regulatory edifce of the law: During the marginal period which separates ritual dying and ritual rebirth, the novices in initiation are temporarily outcast. For the duration of the rite they have no place in society. Sometimes they actually go to live far away outside it. Sometimes they live near enough for unplanned contacts to take place between full social beings and the outcasts. Then we fnd them behaving like dangerous criminal characters. They are licensed to waylay, steal, rape. (Douglas, Purity and Danger 97)

50 Liminal Fairies Not bound by any structure, the liminars are likely to defeat behavioural expectations, and the ritual licence that provides them with the grounds to do so renders invalid any potential charges that could be levelled against them. Whatever crimes the initiands perpetrate, they cannot be held accountable for breaking laws because they are free from the constraints of structure as such, including the moral order. Neither good nor evil but licensed to do both as they please, they embody “the peculiar unity of the liminal: that which is neither this nor that, and yet is both” (Turner, Forest of Symbols 99). Characteristically, the danger that defnes their liminal condition proves to be virulently polluting and transmittable irrespective of the intention of the parties involved (Douglas, Purity and Danger 131); one fnds that liminal situations and roles are almost everywhere attributed with magico-religious properties . . . [and] regarded as dangerous, inauspicious, or polluting to persons, objects, events, and relationships that have not been ritually incorporated into the liminal context. (Turner, Ritual Process 108–109) And pollution rules, unlike moral laws, are absolutely straightforward. Whereas “moral situations are not easy to defne,” pollution rules leave no room for fne distinctions, rationalizing intentions or “a nice balancing of rights and duties” (Douglas, Purity and Danger 131). The fundamental observation made by Mary Douglas is that “[t]he only material question is whether a forbidden contact has taken place or not” (Purity and Danger 131). The danger inherent in the liminal pollutes by mere contact. The purpose of elaborate pollution rules according to Victor Turner is to “hedg[e] around with prescriptions, prohibitions and conditions” the “dangerous and anarchical” manifestations of the liminal, and the need to do so, in his view, is acutely felt “from the perspectival viewpoint of those concerned with the maintenance of ‘structure’” (Ritual Process 109): transitional beings are particularly polluting since they are neither this thing nor another; or may be both; or neither here nor there; or may even be nowhere (in terms of any recognized cultural topography), and are at the very least “betwixt and between” all the recognized fxed points in [the] space-time of structural classifcation. (Forest of Symbols 97) Mary Douglas certainly agrees with this, but she moves away from the psychological or social rationale rooted in conscious agency in order to suggest that both the danger of the liminal and the pollution rules that respond to it ultimately derive from the very structure of human thought. According to Douglas, pollution rules are a means through which structure protects itself; their function is to bring under societal control

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a particular class of dangers which are not powers vested in humans, but which can be released by human action. The power which presents a danger for careless humans is very evidently a power inhering in the structure of ideas, a power by which the structure is expected to protect itself. (Purity and Danger 114) That which challenges the stability of not just any particular categories but also of clear-cut binary differentiation as such emanates danger and pollution and invites the cultural response of warding off this danger by means of regulatory prohibitions and through labelling anything that challenges the conceptual grid unclean and dangerous. The famous example given in Purity and Danger is that of the dietary prohibitions of ancient Israelites, which Douglas easily rationalizes by pointing to the fuzzy status of unclean animals within their classifcation of the natural world: the animals deemed unclean are predictably those which challenge the overall logic of Israelite categories of thought, and that is the underlying reason why their fesh pollutes and must be avoided (Purity and Danger 42–58). If such rules indeed convey the terror of undermining boundaries and respond to whatever happens to challenge the binary structures of thought, it is logical that they should be valid irrespective of the intentions of the perpetrators, as is indeed the case. Within the structuralist paradigm, which Douglas draws on here,10 [t]he need to postulate distinctions and rules operating at an unconscious level in order to explain facts about social and cultural objects has been one of the major axioms that structuralists have derived from linguistics. And it is precisely this axiom that leads to what some regard as the most signifcant consequence of structuralism: its rejection of the notion of the “subject.” (Culler, Structuralist Poetics 28) The result of this approach is that the self can no longer be treated as the source of meaning and “comes to appear more and more as a construct, the result of systems of convention” (Culler, Structuralist Poetics 29). If the system was never instituted through conscious human intention, it is logical that the systemic pollution rules it employs likewise take no account of it. Structuralist anthropology thus proffers a vision of culture that quarantines the liminal with rules and prohibitions aimed at domesticating the danger and power of its ambiguity (its being both this and that) and its formlessness (being neither this nor that). The challenge for the stability of the categories of culture that lies within the experience of human life is that the latter is full of transitions and “every change in a person’s life involves actions and reactions between sacred and profane—actions and reactions to be regulated and

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guarded so that society as a whole will suffer no discomfort or injury” (Van Gennep 3). What is so unsettling and threatening for the system is the arbitrariness of its own categories: as a person moves from one place in society to another . . . [t]he categories and concepts which embody them operate in such a way that whoever passes through the various positions of a lifetime one day sees the sacred where before he has seen the profane, or vice versa. (Van Gennep 13) Van Gennep is well aware of the fact that these changes occur not on the surface level of material phenomena but across the systemic plane of analysis and concern thresholds, or margins between things as delimited in the underlying conceptual grid of a particular culture. The margins are arbitrary, hence unstable, and thus dangerous because “[i]f they are pulled this way or that the shape of fundamental experience is altered” (Douglas, Purity and Danger 122). The challenge this poses to the stability of the entire symbolic edifce of thought is precisely what needs to be bracketed, or insulated, with the use of ritual, for “[s]uch changes of condition do not occur without disturbing the life of society and the individual, and it is the function of rites of passage to reduce their harmful effects” (Van Gennep 13). In other words, the ritual “frame ensures that the categories . . . are not threatened or affected in any way” (Douglas, Purity and Danger 166). It is instructive to note how naturally the liminal metaphor of the frame fnds its way into the critical discourse of liminality. To speak of insulation, alongside framing, is likewise to invoke more than a purely contingent fgure of speech, for the notion features in the actual symbolism made use of in rites of passage. It is an expression of a fundamental understanding of the danger of liminality that “initiands coming out of seclusion [are treated] as if they were themselves charged with power, hot, dangerous, requiring insulation and a time for cooling down” (Douglas, Purity and Danger 98). It would appear that there are recurring symbolic ways of expressing the liminal, such as Turner’s imagery of “gestation and parturition,” territorial passage being the most natural and obvious but by no means the only example. In Natural Symbols (1970) Mary Douglas generalizes on a whole category of symbols through which “the image of the body is used in different ways to refect and enhance each person’s experience of society” (xxxvii). Pointing to a functional parallelism between ideas of the physical body and the social body, she highlights the fact that the dangers posed to the body are commonly held and represented in ritualized cultures to “come not so much from lack of co-ordination or of food and rest, but from failure to control the quality of what it absorbs through the orifces” (Natural Symbols xxxvii). This kind of imagery comes to dominate the symbolic dimension of ritualism, and according to Douglas, “ritual

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protection of bodily orifces” functions universally “as a symbol of social preoccupations about exits and entrances” (Purity and Danger 127). Why this should be so can again be explained through the power of liminality to undermine the stability of ideas and the fxedness of the margins that delimit them: “[a]ny structure of ideas is vulnerable at its margins,” and that is why “[w]e should expect the orifces of the body to symbolise its specially vulnerable points,” the logic of liminality endowing the margins of the body with special symbolic signifcance (Douglas, Purity and Danger 122). It is arguably for the same reason that “pollution fears do not seem to cluster round contradictions which do not involve sex” (Douglas, Purity and Danger 158). Quite apart from the sexual act and its obvious relevance in this context, the consequent experience of childbirth also brings those involved to re-evaluate their experience of identity and bodily integrity in a most profound way. It is logical that mother and child are both considered particularly vulnerable and that both pregnancy and infancy are framed with a whole range of protective rituals: “[t]hose vulnerable margins and those attacking forces which threaten to destroy good order represent the powers inhering in the cosmos. Ritual which can harness these for good is harnessing power indeed” (Douglas, Purity and Danger 162).

Fairies and Ritualism The signifcance of the connection between fairies and rites of passage is belied by the fact that inasmuch as folkloric fairies often seem to become involved with people at moments of life crises, it is not easy to identify in tales of fairy encounters as reported by folklorists anything that could be referred to as actual rites in the proper sense of the term. Granted Victor Turner’s defnition of ritual as “prescribed formal behavior . . . having reference to beliefs in mystical beings or powers” (Forest of Symbols 19), how to defne the role of fairies in the experiences related in folklore, in which they feature not as objects of belief but physical agents? Another problem is that we do not fnd in these beliefs an abundance of elements native to ritual expression, such as stylized bodily movements or symbolic gestures. Stories of people granted special powers by fairies, as in some witchcraft narratives,11 may perhaps be read as narratives of initiation or rites of passage in a loose sense, but it must be noted that human–fairy interactions have for centuries consistently been described as triggered either directly by supernatural agency or by humans unwittingly blundering into the latter’s domain. As a result, such experiences fall short of being conducive to analysis by the critical apparatus of Van Gennepian anthropology since they do not involve communal action of a symbolic nature. After all, if ritual is taken to be a form of “communication by complex symbolic systems” (Douglas, Natural Symbols 21), what are we to make of the nature, origin and direction of this supposed communication

54 Liminal Fairies in accounts of usually solitary encounters with what are believed to be supernatural agents? All this is certainly a challenge for identifying the link between fairies and ritualism, and it is arguably for this reason that some scholars—literary critics, in particular—shun attempts to analyse cultural manifestations of fairy belief through the notion of liminality. Failing to observe concretely acted out rites of passage, they revise the traditional understanding of the liminal and attempt to apply the term more loosely, effectively losing track of the ritual context altogether. Instead, a way to locate fairies within the paradigm of Van Gennep and his followers is to observe that fairies embody the danger of the liminal and its power to pollute and to see whatever ritual elements there are in fairy lore as a form of response to the power of structure to protect itself that fairies externalize. Before addressing the problem of liminality in romance literature, it is worthwhile to consider the issue within the broader context of folkloristics. Peter Narváez refers to fairies as “societies of liminal personae, creatures ‘betwixt and between’” (Introduction ix), which suggests a far-reaching analogy to liminars in rites of passage. As Turner notes, a “structurally negative characteristic of transitional beings is that they have nothing” (Forest of Symbols 98), and that is indeed the vision offered by the principle of fairy dependence, which presents fairies as altogether characterless, ontologically dubious and hovering between a structure of double negation (being neither . . . nor . . .) and ambiguous identity (being both . . . and . . .). If fairies are like liminars in some crucial aspects, this is not to say, however, that they undergo rites of passage or experience any kind of transition. Quite the opposite, they remain consistently and immutably mirror-like in the way they mimic their human neighbours, and if anyone is believed to experience a change in the process of interactions it is the latter. Such a transition is a common element of fairy lore, as the abundance of stories about mothers, midwives and changelings proves. Birth and christening are notable milestones in human life that invite the danger of fairy intervention, and to make sense of the connection between fairies and danger as understood by Mary Douglas, one may turn to Ann Helene Bolstad Skjelbred’s study of the rites of baptism and churching in Norwegian folklore. Arguing her case in distinctly Van Gennepian terms, Skjelbred observes that “the sacrament of christening . . . represents the decisive transition from heathen to Christian,” the two terms denoting “a set of binary oppositions used to characterize two structural categories” (216). Churching plays a similar role, allowing for a reincorporation of the mother into the community, and in both cases, the rites are absolutely vital for the well-being of those involved, because “during the liminal period between separation and incorporation . . . individuals are temporarily outcast and therefore subject to danger” (Skjelbred 216). Skjelbred makes it clear that this danger is to be understood as uncleanness, “a ritual uncleanness, in folklore expressed as an impurity with consequences

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for human relations and for the handling of food and livestock” (218). But just as important, to be liminal in this way, and thus unclean and polluting, is also “to be in danger from the fairies” (Skjelbred 218), that is, to be seen as liable to potential fairy attacks and inviting unwelcome interactions. Ritual is a potent means to manage this danger and avert potential harm, and that is why rites provide “visible proof of active fairy belief” (Skjelbred 216). Fairy lore lays great emphasis on avoiding interactions with the good people, and a major function of stories about encountering them is to deter members of the community from ever experiencing frst-hand what happens when fairies reveal how much they transcend the established notions of good and evil. The fact that “[o]rder rather than morality is part of the fairy code” (Briggs, Fairies 132) is itself a good indication of their role in the scheme of purity and danger outlined by Mary Douglas. Alongside the amoral—rather than immoral—nature of fairies, other links with the Van Gennepian paradigm include the power of their realm to mark mortals by pollution and the ritual response to their activity attested in popular culture. All this invites reading their liminality as coterminous with the powers of formlessness, ambiguity and danger identifed in the anthropology of ritual. That is certainly what one may infer from pollution rules and other practices aimed at maintaining the balance of order and disorder of which fairy belief is an integral part (Ó Giolláin 201). Such rules amount to “keep[ing] up some sort of balance between the fairy world and the world of humans . . . through the use of magical rites” (Skjelbred 215–216) or ritualized behaviour such as in the famous trope that has become one of the hallmarks of fairy lore: making sure the kitchen is tidy and clean water awaits the fairy visitors.12 As the poet Robert Herrick (1591–1674) warned in one of his poems, “Wash your Pailes and clense your dairies; / Sluts are loathsome to the fairies” (190), and this facet of fairy belief, surviving well into the twentieth century (Lysaght 32), illustrates the importance of ritual for the study of fairies even if it is not always proper rites of passage that the body of folkloric materials speaks of. Similarly, the ritualized practices of sweeping alleged changelings out the door as dirt or exposing them to the elements on dung heaps (Skjelbred 220, Eberly 232) may have a latent rationale in binary oppositions such as that of order and disorder (dirt being construed as the latter) which form the underlying structure of fairy belief. Much can certainly be gained from investigating fairies as liminal, or dangerous, in the strict anthropological sense of the term. The fairies of medieval literature are no different from their extraliterary counterparts in this respect. They, too, follow a strict code that has nothing to do with moral considerations and bring danger to the lives of those who fnd themselves in liminal positions and thus, unwittingly or not, fuel the fairies’ unceasing incursions into the human world. Observing taboos that are essentially pollution laws is of help in resisting their

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dangerous games, but the danger of contamination always looms large for the mortals who deal with them, and it is not just fairy food that may confne visitors to the fairy realm to remain there forever. The dangerous play involving fairies and the people whose lives they meddle with is reason enough to study the fascinating mixture of the fantastic and the systemically logical that we fnd in romance literature. The picture becomes even more complex, however, when the role of the reader in all this is accounted for. The hermeneutic progress of the readers through the maze of literary texts haunted by fairies can prove just as challenging as the fctional characters’ heroic ventures into the fairy realm. It is with this in mind that the following chapter proffers an overview of the various levels on which Van Gennepian anthropology emerges as a fundamental methodological context for discussing the fairies of medieval romance.

Notes 1. Among reasons why fairies have been assumed to have a predominantly Celtic origin, Green identifes the power of the Arthurian tradition, the high rate of survival of fairy lore in Celtic countries, a bias in scholarship (evident in Evans-Wentz) and the infuence of literary fgures such as W. B. Yeats and J. R. R. Tolkien (Elf 5–7). 2. Among a number of similarities between fairies and the huldrefolk, one fnds the curious detail that they both tend to herds of cattle (Briggs, Fairies 23, 28–29; Davidson 26). Slovenian vile are also known to drive their own herds of fairy cattle (Kropej 148). 3. The adjective krasny can denote either the colour red or fairness and beauty (both in a physical and spiritual sense). The latter meaning is attested to already in the ffteenth century and may underlie the earliest recorded reference to these beings, which dates back to the sixteenth century (Dźwigoł 23). 4. The term bogunki (alongside another variant of the name, boginki) often functions as a generic name for various creatures of this kind; other common names used to refer to them are mamuny (Dźwigoł 164–165) and dziwożony (Dźwigoł 173–174). 5. Translation mine. 6. Turner never provides details about the source of this citation, which he attributes to Van Gennep, and the fragment enclosed within quotation marks is not to be found in the English edition of The Rites of Passage, published in 1960, which Turner lists among his references. This oft-quoted passage has enjoyed a life of its own, with several scholars attributing it directly to Van Gennep without identifying the exact source or mentioning Turner, and others mistakenly providing various pages from The Rites of Passage as the supposed source. The reader is well advised to approach such attributions with caution. Whatever the ultimate source of Turner’s citational claim was, it is nonetheless clear that Van Gennep would have eagerly subscribed to the notion that the pattern of transition is universal, for he stresses that “every change in a person’s life involves actions and reactions between sacred and profane” (3) that subtend and produce the need for ritual. 7. Van Gennep refers to rites of passage as ceremonies, whereas Turner prefers to speak of “ritual” rather than “ceremony” since he considers the former term to be more applicable to “forms of religious behaviour associated with social

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8. 9. 10.

11.

12.

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transitions. . . . Ritual is transformative, ceremony confrmatory” (Turner, Forest of Symbols 95). For an in-depth study of the original structuralist paradigm of Ferdinand de Saussure and its later infuence, see Jonathan Culler’s Saussure. Turner makes this point notwithstanding his acknowledgement that in some contexts states of transition have become institutionalized and have taken on the quality of permanence (see Ritual Process 107). The indebtedness of Mary Douglas to structuralist methods is diffcult to gauge in unequivocal terms. Richard Fardon points to an early period of scepticism on her part but notes that “Douglas’s earliest antipathy to structuralism seems to have mellowed as it was domesticated in the form of a more sociological ‘Anglo Saxon’ structuralism, the broadest terms of which she shared with, for instance . . . V. W. Turner. In this sociologized form, structuralist methodology became a more or less common intellectual property of British-trained social anthropologists of the period” (204). The story of the Scottish witch Bessie Dunlop (executed in 1576) may serve as a good example. Lizanne Henderson notes that “[t]here is nothing in the record of Bessie Dunlop’s trial to suggest that she was a practising charmer previous to her encounter with the Queen of Elfand and her minion, Thomas Reid, and so it would seem plausible that the explanation for her healing abilities and second-sight was a direct result of this meeting” (“Witch, Fairy and Folktale Narratives” 152). Considering fairy lore’s consistent preoccupation with cleanliness through the work of Mary Douglas makes it possible to appreciate the fact that the state of the kitchen people traditionally aimed at was not so much physical cleanness as a condition of general orderliness, of which freedom from dirt was an important but by no means exclusive part. It is on the level of the system that this cleanness is to be understood here, through the binary opposition of order versus disorder.

2

Modes of Liminality in Medieval Romance

The fairies of medieval English literature possess almost unlimited powers and intrude on the lives of human characters at will, unstoppable in their inscrutable desires. They bring about personal and political crises, challenge authority, upset the balance of power and exercise an alarmingly effective control over the dynamics and directions of turns that the lives of their victims take at their behest. Magic is their tool, and the easiness with which they make their way into romance narratives, with no rationale necessary for their game-changing intrusions, makes them a formidable force to be reckoned with by the characters and a powerful tool for romance authors. Fairies make things happen, and in the hands of a skilful poet, their freedom and arbitrariness of action transform into a narrative licence to take the story wherever need be and by whatever turn of events proves serviceable.1 Since they are such a useful device for the construction of narratives and because of the element of the fantastic that they introduce, it is easy to lose track of the fact that they are an eminently plausible element of romance worlds, no less believable and arguably more familiar for the medieval readers than chivalric superheroes or rudderless boats. The modern reader ought to take heed of Richard Firth Green’s warning that to take the fairy machinery of medieval romance as nothing more than a convenient narrative device . . . is to ignore the fact that people in the Middle Ages were themselves far from indifferent to truth claims about fairies. (Elf 33) With the help of Van Gennepian anthropology, this chapter looks at fairies in medieval English literature as refections of popular belief and investigates the distinctly literary transformations that fairy lore undergoes in the texts analysed with a view to highlighting the importance of the fairies’ liminality for the hermeneutics of romance. Arguing that it would be unwise to ignore vital links between fairy-themed romance narratives and the popular culture of medieval Britain, I take the latter term to be roughly synonymous with folklore and denoting “that ‘low’

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layer of medieval culture . . . which had preserved vital links with the . . . folkloric-magic consciousness” (Gurevich xv). This book examines both romances consistently referred to as “popular” in criticism (such as Sir Orfeo or Sir Launfal) and texts understood to originate from a more courtly (Sir Gawain and the Green Knight) or learned (Orpheus and Eurydice) background.2 One advantage of speaking of popular culture rather than folklore in this context would be that although the former is often defned negatively as “unoffcial culture, the culture of the non-elite” (Burke xiii, cf. Putter and Gilbert 2–3), the notion does not seem to preclude active participation of the more learned or elite sections of the society so much as the idea of folklore, or that of the folk. The legacy of the early nineteenth-century conception of Das Volk (“the common people”) that lies at the historical roots of the discipline is apparently what underlies the reluctance of Richard Firth Green to fall back upon the vocabulary of folklore in his excellent study of the ubiquity of fairy belief in medieval culture. This reluctance is understandable given the ways in which the term misconstrues the nature of Green’s historical evidence that points toward the diffusion of such beliefs among not just the peasant population but also the elite (Elf 42–47). Yet to abandon the word should not lead one to abandon the insights of its discipline of origin. Suggesting as it does that a productive way of looking at medieval romance is not to draw sharp lines between the illiterate folk, on the one hand, and literate poets and readers, on the other, but rather seeing the latter as drawing on a reservoir of beliefs, attitudes and expectations familiar to both groups, this study approaches folklore and popular culture as one by arguing that medieval fairy romance is where the two meet and produce a unique literary testimony to the signifcance of fairy belief in the Middle Ages. Obviously an important procedure in discovering the connections between medieval literature and the fairy lore of the period is the search for one-to-one correspondences between literary material and extant non-literary sources. Green’s Elf Queens and Holy Friars deserves much praise in this respect for bringing to scholars’ attention numerous texts from Britain and beyond that shed new light on the vivacity of premodern beliefs concerning changelings and the fairy realm. It is reasonable to expect that future scholarship will bring further contributions to this predominantly historical enterprise of collating specifc elements of fairy lore emerging from literature with our knowledge of medieval popular culture. The approach of this book, eminently theoretical in character, is of a different nature. By establishing that medieval literary constructions of fairies follow a sense of liminality that ultimately derives from folklore, the subsequent chapters will investigate analogies and parallelisms on the level of the underlying system or the logic of fairy belief. As the British novelist Maureen Duffy once observed about Sir Orfeo, [t]here is no point of fairy law in this poem that wouldn’t have been acceptable and familiar to an English eighteenth-century milkmaid

60 Modes of Liminality in Medieval Romance or an Irish nineteenth-century labourer, testimony to the consistence and longevity of fairy belief. (qtd. in Buccola 38)3 This is not to say that popular culture is not subject to historical change, and Green’s warning against seeing it as conservative enough to warrant treating “any given nineteenth-century custom not only as a potential medieval relic but also as evidence for actual medieval practice” (Elf 7) is not one to be dismissed lightly. But while specific customs or aspects of belief may indeed change over time, and the borrowings may work both ways, a degree of indebtedness to folklore and popular culture can also be measured by the reliance of literary material not so much on particular motifs or themes as on the patterns of their combination and mutual intertwining. As this chapter illustrates, to trace fairies in medieval romance is to discover an effusion of interlocking modes of temporal, spatial, ontological, moral and ritual liminality. Combined together according to a systemic logic which derives from folklore, the various modes of in-betweenness contribute to a distinctly liminal experience of the readers and profoundly affect the shape of their hermeneutic encounter with these fairyhaunted texts.

Facing the Liminal: On Arboreal and Hermeneutic Grafting The insight into the social mechanics of fairy belief offered by anthropology is fundamentally the observation that “fairy liminality has prompted mortals to be cautious, observe prohibitions, and practice defensive and remedial magico-religious customs and rituals” (Narváez, Introduction x). Both during transitional periods of life crises and on days, or at particular times, when the fairy hosts were believed to pose a substantially more potent threat than was the usual case, people exercised a great deal of caution and attempted to avoid prompting any kind of contact. Considering this, it is curious to observe that in medieval romance, fairies typically catch people off guard. The times of the encounters and the places where these occur are highly suggestive and betray a sense of liminality at work that the characters signifcantly fail to appreciate, having then to face the consequences of their ignorance. While it is possible for the readers to identify with hindsight in the initial settings of the stories layers on layers of liminality, in-text characters seem utterly blind to the danger. The epistemological advantage of the readers has its limits, however. Beyond the level of the represented world, the hermeneutic experience of the readers is similarly structured by a pervasive liminal aesthetic, blindness to which also comes with its consequences, evident in criticism. With so many kinds and levels of liminality operating in these literary texts, it is essential to

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begin by sifting them one by one to understand how they relate and what effect they produce together. A natural place to begin is the narrative of Sir Orfeo, unsurpassed among works of medieval English literature in terms of the level of detail concerning the fairy realm and its denizens. This early fourteenth-century mini-romance, or Breton lay, is a retelling of the myth of Orpheus, and it transplants the story from ancient Thrace to medieval Britain, making Orfeo the king of Winchester. What sets the story going is the fairy abduction of his wife, Queen Heurodis, who is frst “taken” and returned in her sleep, only to be fetched away in the body as well the following day. There are elements in the text that seem to suggest it was the liminal circumstances of the time and place of action that provoked the intrusion: the incident takes place at high noon (“vndrentide”),4 in May, as Heurodis lays herself down to sleep under an “ympe-tre” (l. 70).5 The term ympe refers to the quality of being grafted (Jirsa 142), and this is the only information the text provides about the tree, its species never mentioned directly.6 The ympe-tre is effectively two organisms, as well as species, in one, its identity hovering between that of the base and the graft transplanted onto it—both unknown to the readers. It is also an orchard tree, growing—signifcantly—“bi an orchard-side” (l. 66), “at the supposed domain of human mastery over nature, but also where two worlds overlap” (White 6), or where the cultured space of the orchard meets the outside world of nature. In the words of Jeffrey Jerome Cohen, “[t]his living nexus is not simply two arboreal species conjoined into heterogeneous singularity, but nature and culture in a union that asks why we ever divided the realms” (301). Its liminal nature emerges afresh in the second half of the poem when Orfeo ventures into fairyland to retrieve his wife. He fnds her there just as she disappeared, spotting her “slepe vnder an ympe-tre” (l. 407) even though the original tree in his palace grounds that witnessed the abduction never disappears. One could crudely summarize the setting of the poem by saying that it features a tree that grows at two places at the same time, or exists in two different dimensions and acts as a portal between them, but this would be more of a summary of what happens in the text than a defnite pronouncement about the tree’s ontological status, which ultimately escapes both Orfeo—even granted that he surely knows the two species involved—and the readers. To state where exactly the tree grows proves to be just as elusive as determining what sort of tree it is, and the problem lies not just in the lack of information but also in the essential ambiguity of the thing itself. To lie under this liminal tree at high noon is evidently asking for trouble. Even more so, it would seem, is falling asleep under it, for it is one of the conventions of medieval romance to have supernatural events befall characters sleeping under grafted or fruit-bearing trees, the latter being often, as Curtis Jirsa notices, the products of grafting (142–143). The fact that Heurodis drowses at noontide and is taken in her sleep—in the

62 Modes of Liminality in Medieval Romance Auchinleck version at least7—is also signifcant because of the contrast provided by the events of the following day when she is taken away for good while perfectly awake. Here lies the essential ambiguity of the fairies’ nature: they seem to be material and evidently interact with material bodies, but there is something oneirically immaterial about them as well. The dilemma may perhaps be resolved by pointing to medieval beliefs about subtle bodies, that is, ideas concerning a quasi-material form that the human soul was believed to take on in its spiritual journeys, such as the fairy king afforded Heurodis on the frst day. Emma Wilby’s discussion of the case of Isobel Gowdie and of the interplay of witchcraft, fairy lore and beliefs in different forms of subtle bodies may be of some help here in making sense of the situation (Visions 247–300);8 Wilby argues, after Éva Pócs and Claude Lecoteux, that such beliefs “persisted throughout medieval and early modern Europe on both an elite and popular level” (Visions 291). Nonetheless, even if this mode of presenting fairies can be thus rationalized and disambiguated, the fact remains that the subtle body as such is a curiously liminal notion—neither fully material nor merely spiritual—and from a hermeneutic point of view the nature of fairies is yet another aspect of the poem about which no judicious critic can confdently claim interpretive mastery. The confusion does not stop there, and the fact that the fairy king accosts the sleeping queen in May, and with no clear reason, produces another puzzle, one confronting both the readers and the critics and Heurodis herself. The poem never makes explicit the motive behind the queen’s abduction, but the fact that it is May is highly suggestive of an amorous intent.9 The seduction of mortal lovers is a recognizable feature of folkloric fairy belief and medieval popular culture (Green 78–79, 82–83) as well as a common literary motif, with supernatural encounters that take place under fruit-bearing trees usually having an ostensibly erotic character (Jirsa 142–143). There is little evidence later in the poem to support such a reading of the fairy king’s agenda, but the initial context does create certain expectations in this respect. With no clear motive for the abduction provided, the awareness of the fairies’ proclivity to take mortal lovers gives rise to conficting interpretations as to what exactly happens to Heurodis. The text tells us that upon awakening Sche froted hir honden & hir fet, & crached hir visage—it bled wete; Hir riche robe hye al to-rett, & was reueyd of hir witt. (ll. 79–82) Such an overt suggestion of the queen losing her wits has inspired readings that see Heurodis’s madness as a fact of crucial signifcance for the interpretation of the poem.10 But the queen’s mental state is by no means

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obvious or transparent to the readers. As a matter of fact, it has also been convincingly argued that Heurodis’s self-mutilation, which she performs after she awakens from the dream that foretells her abduction by the fairy king, connects her to a tradition of holy and chaste women in the early Middle Ages who disfgured themselves in order to appear unappealing to would-be attackers. (Caldwell 291) Granting the possibility that Heurodis made the same educated guess about the fairy king’s intentions as most medieval and modern readers would given the fairies’ reputation as sexual predators,11 it is not diffcult to read the queen’s behaviour as a highly strategic, albeit radical, attempt to render herself unattractive. As with various other interpretive challenges in Sir Orfeo, the issue cannot be resolved, and the question of the queen’s madness must ultimately remain a matter of contention. The same arguably holds for the character of Orfeo and his supposed madness. Orfeo’s decision to abandon the life of a king and retreat to the woods upon losing his wife leads him to adopt the ways of a wild man, and there He miȝt se him bisides (Oft in hot vnder-tides) Þe king o fairy wiþ his rout Com to hunt him al about[.] (ll. 281–284) While some readers are adamant that “the text provides no evidence whatsoever that this fairy world is a creation of Orfeo’s disturbed mind” (Knapp 265), others point to “a continuous imbalance” of Orfeo’s mind (Hill 144) to suggest that “the passage constitutes a representation of the threat of madness: an objectifying of a mental state” (Hill 137). Hill, who adopts the latter view, nonetheless stresses the importance of the noontime (“vnder-tides”) and is critical of A. J. Bliss for putting this detail in parenthesis given its signifcance as a marker of fairy intrusion into the human world (Hill 138). Hill’s conclusion encapsulates the hermeneutic challenge of the poem: the presentation of the other world is essentially ambiguous here. Does it exist or not? . . . It assuredly exists. Yet its existence is also questioned in order to create a real feeling of hallucination. We must accept the other world and doubt it. (152)

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The hunt leads Orfeo to the rock portal to the fairy realm, which is an indication that it is to be read as more than mere illusion, and the liminal time of the encounter is quite suggestive in this respect too. At the same time one could dismiss the entire vision as post-traumatic hallucinations or the result of a sunstroke—which would be another way of reading the reference to noontime, one focusing, just as the Harley and Ashmole versions have it, on the heat of high noon.12 The midday setting of Orfeo’s encounter of the hunt clearly contributes to the overall ambiguity: “by opting to portray the fairy hunt as taking place during the daytime rather than at night, the Orfeo poet chooses a temporal setting of ambivalent, rather than unambiguous, otherness” (Schwieterman 142). All in all, Orfeo seems both mad and involved with an actual fairy hunt, and the hunt comes across as both real and illusory, further complicating the overall import of the narrative. This begins to make sense once the acknowledgement is made that the fairies of Sir Orfeo are the liminal fairies of the folk tradition. They appear at liminal places and at liminal times, and their ontological status, that is the mode of their existence, is founded upon ambiguity. Abducting mortals in the fesh yet appearing only in distinctly oneiric or quasihallucinatory contexts, they also straddle the binary opposition of life and death, with the fairy king acting as both an overlord of a parallel chivalric reality and the ruler of an underworld, presiding over it in the manner of Hades, his counterpart in the original Greek myth. Fairy dependence and the mirror principle are two ideas that underlie the way the text fashions this fairy otherworld and its people: the fairy king and his train hunt in a company of ten hundred (l. 291), just the number of knights that Orfeo dispatched around the tree on the day the queen was lost (l. 183), only to return to a rich land whose description (ll. 159–160) echoes in a sinister way the possessions that Orfeo relinquishes (ll. 245–246) upon losing his beloved wife. They hunt, but they catch no game—“no best þai no nome” (l. 287)—as if they were only mimicking the courtly activities of the human realm, and one never sees them doing anything that Orfeo’s court would not do. Theirs is an “an eerily familiar, parallel fairy world” (McInnis 41), but the sense of empty mimicry that subtends their activity also has a dark side, for while they take no woodland game, they do not return to their land empty-handed, taking humans instead. The havoc they wreak in Orfeo’s kingdom through their sudden intrusion and the trophy-like tableau of their victims, ominously arrested in movement at the moment of death and displayed in the fairy castle’s courtyard (ll. 387–400), have left many a critic feeling that the fairies represent evil. In the words of James Knapp, “the evidence that this is indeed a hostile race is strikingly clear” (263), and John Friedman goes so far as to read the fairy king as the fgure of Satan himself (“Eurydice” 26). Still, others see this in an exactly opposite way. Bruce Mitchell goes to great lengths to defend the fairy court, pointing out that Heurodis is never in the least

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hurt, the fairy hunt is an altogether harmless activity—they take no beast, after all—and their king is a “noble and kindly” person endowed with a proper sense of humour (156). In a by no means disingenuous way, Mitchell asks of the readers: “Where is the hostility and sinister chill in all this” (156)? Arguments that present the fairy race as a hostile one have reasonably drawn on the atmosphere of horror found in the depiction of the grim tableau of the mutilated victims of fairy abduction: Þan he gan bihold about al & seiȝe liggeand wiþ-in þe wal Of folk þat were þider y-brouȝt, & þouȝt dede, & nare nouȝt. Sum stode wiþ-outen hade, & sum non armes nade, & sum þurth the bodi hadde wounde, & sum lay wode, y-bounde, & sum armed on hors sete, & sum astrangled as þai ete; & sum were in water adreynt, & sum wiþ fre al for-schreynt. Wiues þer lay on child-bedde, Sum ded & sum awedde[.] (ll. 387–400) Finding no good reason elsewhere in the text to suppose fairies to be inimical to humans, Mitchell predictably concludes that the passage is an unwelcome and unoriginal intrusion to what is otherwise a markedly positive vision of the good people (158). That the fairies can be no demons may further be argued by noting that the crystalline luminescence of the fairy realm derives from biblical sources and their medieval paraphrases (Putter 237–241; Byrne, Otherworlds 93–95). The fairy landscape and castle bear a striking resemblance to the dream vision of the fourteenthcentury Middle English poem Pearl and its depiction of the heavenly city of New Jerusalem presided upon by Christ himself—surely, as common sense would dictate, no analogue for a Satanic fairy king. It is precisely in situations and debates such as this that the awareness of the folkloric provenance of the Orfeo fairies proves indispensable, for only once the liminality of fairies is duly acknowledged can the reader piece together the often conficting textual cues concerning the fairies’ moral alignment or, for that matter, any other aspect of their distinctly ambiguous nature. The case of a moral reading of the Orfeo fairies illustrates that when a literary text maintains the original folkloric liminality of these beings this has far-reaching repercussions affecting its interpretation. Answers to key questions tend to go beyond mutually exclusive binary formulations

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and tend to embrace the structure of both . . . and or neither . . . nor—a possibility that neither Friedman nor Mitchell allowed for. This does not pertain, however, only to issues or aspects of presentation directly transposed from popular belief. While questions concerning the fairies’ moral alignment or mode of being in Sir Orfeo must ultimately yield the same ambiguous answers as those provided by folklore, the liminality found in the text goes beyond the original contribution of the liminal dynamics of extraliterary material. In fact, what we observe in Sir Orfeo is a proliferation of various other, idiosyncratically literary modes of liminality affecting the hermeneutic experience of the readers. Folklore has it that the fairy plane of reality occupies the same space as the human world, and that is also how the two worlds come together in the poem, with the ympe-tre acting as a gateway between them. Curiously, the same structure of liminal confation recurs on what Aguirre, Quance and Sutton refer to as the equivocal level of analysis. The Auchinleck text introduces Orfeo as “a kinge, / in Jnglond” (ll. 39–40), only to qualify this with a note that “Þis king soiournd in Traciens, / Þat was a cité of noble defens” (ll. 47–48) and an immediate gloss: “(For Winchester was cleped þo / Traciens, wiþ-outen no)” (ll. 49–50). One of the effects of combining ancient Thrace and the city of Winchester is the myth’s domestication: In transposing the narrative from Thrace to “Jnglond,” the poet reimagines the plot of the myth in terms of insular fairylore, often introducing elements of fairy belief that have no obvious equivalent in the original tale, such as the affnity of fairies for hunting and hawking. And those aspects of the classical myth that are not consonant with British fairylore—such as the darkness of the subterranean otherworld—generally fnd no place in Sir Orfeo. (Schwieterman 99) This is true, but the strategy used here is not exactly one of “transposition,” for the term would imply a transfer, or shift, from one location to another. Instead, the Orfeo poet makes the two locations one, confating them without either losing their distinct identity. Similarly, the fairy king still retains the aura of the Hadean ruler of the afterlife, and his display of power over life and death in the form of the bodies frozen in time is a testimony to his god-like dominion over life and death. Anne Marie D’Arcy, who sees the tableau as a reference to the tradition of imperial displays of “statues in the round,” explains that “[i]n the manner of Xerxes, Alexander, Marcellus, Ptolemy Soter or Constantine, his seizures are displayed as testament to the superior power of the Faerie realm and to his own imperium” (21), “as testament to his seemingly allencompassing power” (13). Yet the passage also positions him as a fairy fgure of authority,13 rather than any other kind of ruler, since some at

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least among those mentioned in the tableau passage (ll. 387–400) are the traditional and usual victims of fairy abduction, with Patrick Schwieterman pointing to the mentions of the drowned, the mad and mothers in labour as indicators of the poet’s heightened interest in insular fairylore (126). Neither interpretation precludes the other, and although they do not exactly match, the passage makes it possible for both of them to be entertained simultaneously. The logic of such confations structures the poem both in terms of the elements of the represented world and when it comes to the ways in which readers make sense of how the narrative combines elements from different orders and discourses (cf. Fletcher 143–146) or provides contradictory cues. This is how the fairy and human worlds come together in the poem (their parallelism deriving from folklore), but such is also the nature of the confation of the ancient and medieval sources of the tale, as well as the logic of the Traciens/ Winchester connection,14 and these comprise the poem’s uniquely literary contribution to the overall aura of liminality characterizing fairies in popular belief. In each of the binary juxtapositions, one element is grafted to the other without superseding it, and the effect is akin to the ympe-tre, which grows both in Orfeo’s palace grounds and the fairy king’s domain but cannot be pinpointed without qualifcation to either one location or the other.15 In effect, Sir Orfeo is not only a story about liminality, but it also becomes liminal in how it handles its source materials and puts its readers in a position of hovering between conficting interpretations. Both characters and readers fnd themselves in liminal situations and negotiate their way through these as the story unfolds, and both struggle to produce a reading of the fairies that could guide their way. But even as they reach the tale’s end, no certainties are ever established. The thematic and equivocal levels of liminality overlap, and an affrmation of the essential irresolvability of the fairies’ enigma becomes a mode of response most appropriate to the text’s intractability—a fact eventually recognized by recent criticism. Neil Cartlidge sums up the reader’s encounter with the poem by noting that “the point is not that Sir Orfeo is dramatically discordant with any particular strategy of interpretation, but with all and any of the strategies that anyone might think to apply” (199). Listing various discourses that contribute to the shape of the poem, Alan Fletcher reaches a similar conclusion, suggesting that they “resonate incomplete, incapable of satisfactorily containing chaos in one totalizing explanation” (162). The confused experience of the reader comes to the fore in such readings, and the implication is that the signifcance of the poem might lie less in the text’s own contradictions than in the reader’s recognition of his or her inability to resolve them according to any of the interpretative registers likely to be available. . . . the reader’s inevitably frustrated attempts to impose some

68 Modes of Liminality in Medieval Romance sort of rational and signifcant framework on the text are themselves the substance of its drama. (Cartlidge 198)16 Sir Orfeo can therefore be designated as liminal not only in the thematic sense but also by virtue of actively producing a sense of “narrative aporia” in the readers (Cartlidge 199). With each instance of ambiguity in the poem, the suggestive force of the Otherworld as a motif depends not on the absence of interpretative clues but on the all too immediate availability of possible courses of rationalization, even in terms that seem provocatively simplistic. (Cartlidge 216) Indeed, sunstroke, hallucinations and madness may seem to provide easy ways out of the interpretive maze, but the readings they offer ultimately fail, and the framing ympe-tre motif reminds the readers of Sir Orfeo that the text’s main concern is the “simultaneous evocation and troubling of binaries . . . and . . . the creative potential of ‘in-between’ spaces” (Batt 102–103). Cartlidge suggests that such a construction of the poem is no accident and ascribes the liminal hermeneutics of Sir Orfeo to its handling of the theme of the fairy otherworld. His remarks point to a recurring correspondence between thematic and equivocal liminality in medieval fairythemed romance texts (much as he never uses the word liminal): by the fourteenth century there was a long tradition in medieval literature of reading the fairies’ incursions as a symbol of moral or social disorder; and the power of this symbolism depended to a large extent on the continual and deliberate cultivation of the fairies’ Otherworld as an embodiment of chaotic signifcation. Medieval writers made this a resonant image not by refusing to attempt to defne it . . . but by repeatedly pretending to do just that, to limit it to some particular feld of meaning (including those of death, hell, and madness). In doing so, they were often ironically conscious of the provisionality and artifciality of offering to determine the meaning of so obviously indeterminable a concept. . . . From this perspective, Sir Orfeo is not the uniquely problematic text that it might seem to be—and certainly not so threatening in its use of the fairies to mark a point of cognitive no-return . . . —but just one of a long series of texts to exploit the disorienting suggestiveness of the fairies’ Otherworld as a fgure for some sort of experience of entropy. (Cartlidge 200) Cartlidge seems to offer an interpretive foothold in this maddening confusion of possible meanings by proposing that the fairies’ interactions

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with mortals be read symbolically, that is, as a representation of moral and social disorder. However, the framework of fairy dependence that gives shape to the fairies of Sir Orfeo makes it diffcult to see them as a symbolic representation. After all, “their world is, to all appearances, a replica in another kind of that of Heurodis and Orfeo” (Keeble 205), so it would be problematic to read them as a condensed symbol of anything in particular. Even as they mimic the human world, they do so in ways that lead to no sense of accomplishment or fruition and appear to lack genuine purpose. Their army never accomplishes anything in its hunt, proving to be as ineffective as Orfeo’s knights who failed to prevent the abduction of the queen, and the seemingly amorous desires of the fairy king do not lead to any form of consummation, possibly refecting on the barren nature of the childless relationship between Orfeo and Heurodis. Kenneth R. R. Gros Louis sees the manifestations of the fairy cavalcade in the woods as a “repetitious, purposeless activity” (248), and in this respect, the fairies of Sir Orfeo are clearly the fairies of folklore, aping their human neighbours and copying their behaviour in ways diffcult to rationalize. Turner observed that a “structurally negative characteristic of transitional beings is that they have nothing” (Forest of Symbols 98), and the Orfeo fairies, too, do not seem to possess anything of their own, only a semblance of the human world, much as they simultaneously hold apparently unlimited power that allows them to do whatever they please with the lives of others—another instance of the paradoxical nature of their liminal position in the text. One way of reading them that a number of critics have been willing to follow is to focus precisely on the power they wield and to see them as representing this power. This claim is put to the test and challenged in Chapter 4, which begins by looking at Robert Henryson’s Orpheus and Eurydice, another version of the Orpheus myth, and what it has to say on the limits of representation. In the criticism of Sir Orfeo, however, this particular approach has proved quite popular and given rise to an infuential reading of the lay. To use the vocabulary of Van Gennepian anthropology, fairies embody the power and danger of the liminal phase, and their actions tap into the energies that constitute this “realm of pure possibility” (Turner, Forest of Symbols 97). In the vocabulary of literary criticism, this realization leads to a Boethian interpretation of the poem. Proposed by James Knapp, this reading points to similarities between the plight of Orfeo and Boethius, sixth-century Roman senator, consul and philosopher, famous for his semi-biographical Consolation of Philosophy, which actually relates the story of Orpheus in its book III, metrum 12. The book had a signifcant impact on medieval thought and channelled into it a “vision of the unpredictable nature of earthly Fortune” (Knapp 266), which is clearly the subject matter of the lay, with both Orfeo and Boethius “ravished of [their] happiness by an unexpected stroke of Fortune, a stroke that is baffing to [them] in its apparent senselessness” (Knapp 266). The crux

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of this interpretation is that “in our poem Fortune acts through the Fairy King” (Keeble 197), and the lack of a clear rationale for the abduction of the queen “heightens the sense of powerlessness” of Orfeo and his court, making the fairies stand not for any specifc threat—that would be “less frightening, less sinister” (Keeble 197)—but rather for “something which seems not to conform to our modes of thought” (Keeble 197). Indeed, Turner reminds us that “a transition has different cultural properties than those of a state” (Forest of Symbols 94), properties that do not conform to the binary logic that underlies the symbolic edifce of human thinking. Fairies, according to this interpretation, represent the unknowable, the undifferentiated, and thus paradoxically—circumventing the problem of what exactly they might stand for—nothing in particular. Signifcantly, as Cartlidge observes in the passages cited earlier, this preoccupation with entropy and aporia—terms of his that effectively denote the radical alterity of the liminal—is not limited to representation (or to the thematic level), as it shapes the process of reading these tales, making the readers’ experience essentially one of chaos and confusion. The idea that texts about fairies should bring their readers to experience the liminal by virtue of dealing with themes of chaos or entropy obviously needs to be tested against other works of romance literature, but there is also the problem of Sir Orfeo being classifed frst and foremost as a Breton lay. As Corinne Saunders explains, the Breton lay and the romance are in some ways quite different, notwithstanding the fundamental similarities between the two. Saunders sees the roots of this difference in the French-language literature of the twelfth century, and she contrasts the lays of Marie de France, considered to be paradigmatic for the genre and providing inspiration for later English lays, with the early romance narratives of Chrétien de Troyes. She notes that for the heroes of Marie’s lays, adventure “comes about through chance event,” while Chrétien’s knights “actively seek adventure through their wanderings, pursuing the potentiality of the forest” (Forest 58). Schwieterman points to another crucial difference: The rationalized fairylands of longer romances like Le Bel Inconnu, Partonopeus de Blois, or Chrétien de Troyes’s Le Chevalier de la Charrette are typically presented as exotic but terrestrial realms, accessible from and more or less in communication with the world at large; such romance fairylands are often ruled over by a person possessed of magical knowledge, but in other ways indistinguishable from most mortals. By contrast, fairies in most of the Breton lays in both French and English retain much of the alterity ascribed to them in folkloric accounts, and their realms tend to be diffcult of access by humans and are generally not described at any length in the text, if at all. In a number of these works, such as Lanval by Marie de France, or the anonymous Old French Lays Graelent and Tydorel, the fairy

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characters visit the human realm, and the reader is never vouchsafed a sight of the otherworld. (121) Sir Orfeo is unusual for a Breton lay in how much detail it provides of the fairy otherworld but also atypical of romance literature in terms of how it does not domesticate this realm or its rulers. Its inscrutable fairies, appearing at will and arbitrarily upsetting the balance of power, are the force behind the “chance event,” and they put the protagonist to the test at the heart of his world, invading his life and his palace grounds from within, and for no apparent reason. It should also be noted that many of the motifs recognizable from folklore that are to be found in Sir Orfeo do not appear frequently in the romance tradition; Schwieterman lists among these the abduction of humans by fairies, the depiction of fairyland as a subterranean world, the association of fairy abduction with pregnancy and drowning, artifacts carved from a single precious stone, the transformation of a human into a fairy-like being, or the fairy interest in music. (124) The discussion will now turn to the romance of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight to check whether the same preoccupation with liminality characterizes the Gawain poet’s work. A different text than Sir Orfeo in many respects, and one certainly less directly attuned to the aesthetics of folkloric fairy belief, the tale of Gawain illustrates the importance of liminality for the study of medieval romance.

Phantom and/or Fairy: Confusion at Camelot The late fourteenth-century Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is essentially a Christmas story, or that is at least how King Arthur tries to sell the events to his court and the poem’s readers—although not necessarily with much success. After a giant-like knight challenges his court and gets beheaded, picks up his bloodied head, scares Queen Guinevere out of her wits and rushes out of Camelot uttering a warning to the king’s nephew, Arthur has this to say: Dere dame, to-day demay yow never; Wel bycommes such craft upon Cristmasse, Laykyng of enterludes, to laghe and to syng Among thise kynde caroles of knyghtes and ladyes. (ll. 470–473) Urging Guinevere not to be dismayed, he then proceeds to his meal as if nothing alarming had happened, thus concluding the poem’s frst ftt. Admittedly, his carefree attitude may not seem particularly misguided,

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because the tale does end on a positive note: instead of losing his head, Gawain learns an important lesson in chivalric conduct and returns to Camelot safe and sound. This leaves some critics happy to exclaim that the Green Knight, who “exudes the Christmas spirit from the moment he appears” (Carrière 26), only meant to demonstrate to the knights of the Round Table that they were found wanting in perfection—and, moreover, that by accomplishing the task he leaves Camelot better off than before (Carrière 39). Still, other readers are not so convinced and conclude that “Camelot seems to remain as immature as before, and Gawain’s adventure turns out to be an . . . incommunicable experience” (Sadowski 67–68). Whether the court learns anything from Gawain’s quest and what to make of the Green Knight remain contentious issues, and the unwillingness of the poet to provide an unambiguous account of what it is that Camelot comes face to face with has not escaped scholars’ notice, leading some to proclaim that “ambiguity was . . . the poet’s deliberate intention” (Kowalik, “Man” 231). The role of fairies in shaping this atmosphere of ambiguity and its affnity with the notion of the liminal are the keys to identifying the ways in which the romance problematizes acts of interpretation. That fairies are actually involved in the frst place is not as plainly evident as in Sir Orfeo. A lot of critical effort has gone into identifying the Green Knight as a fairy, but the end result still leaves much to be desired. To begin with, the narrator refers to him as “an alvisch mon” (l. 681), which is suggestive but ultimately inconclusive, since “alvish” could easily communicate a sense of being only elf-like (Spangenberg 153). The bob of stanza seven also tells us that the Green Knight “ferde as freke were fade” (l. 149), which Cawley and Anderson translate as “he behaved like an elvish man” (164), but this, too, is speculative and based on the understanding that fade derives from Breton fata and means “elvish” (Spangenberg 133). Additionally, for some readers, the area of Castle Hautdesert and the Green Chapel seems to have a fairy-like aura to it. Puhvel notes that the mist which accompanies Gawain on his way to the chapel “may well recall the apparently magic mist that in medieval Celtic tradition not infrequently attends the passage to the Otherworld” (“Snow” 226), and Byrne points to line 2180, which mentions that the barrow-like chapel “hade a hole on the ende and on ayther syde” like the hollow fairy mounds of folklore (Otherworlds 60). Add to that the water barrier overgrown with hazel and hawthorn (traditional fairy trees) that Gawain has to cross to reach Hautdesert (B. Stone 118) and the fact that as he approaches the Green Chapel “aboute hit he walkes” (l. 2178), circumambulation being a popular method of obtaining access to the otherworld (Spangenberg 184), and the evidence grows. All in all, this evidence is nonetheless rather presumptive, and the fact that Gawain suddenly spots Hautdesert after a prayer to the Virgin Mary, which is suggestive of a divine intervention, and that we witness the castle celebrate Christmas—and in an ostensibly

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more religious way than Camelot—somewhat mitigates the claim that the bulk of the poem’s action takes place in a fairy otherworld. It is the poet’s awareness of the literary conventions of the romance genre that gives shape to the poem rather than direct inspiration with fairy belief. This is most evident in the narrator’s description of Gawain’s journey across the winter landscape: At uche warthe other water ther the wyye passed He fonde a foo hym byfore, bot ferly hit were, And that so foule and so felle that feght hym byhode. So mony mervayl bi mount ther the mon fyndes, Hit were to tore for to telle of the tenthe dole. Sumwhyle wyth wormes he werres, and with wolves als, Sumwhyle wyth wodwos that woned in the knarres, Bothe wyth bulles and beres, and bores otherquyle, And etaynes that hym anelede of the heghe felle. (ll. 715–723) Gawain fghts with dragons, wolves and wild men, as well as bulls, bears, boars and giants. At every ford he meets a challenger that he has to overcome to move on. But all this is brushed aside a few lines later and gives way to the true terror of the quest—the dead of winter—and the image of Gawain sleeping on the naked rocks with icicles hanging right over his head acquires ominous symbolism (l. 732). So much is encapsulated in just one stanza, which creates the impression that the poet is setting aside and poking fun at a number of romance conventions and indicating that his interests lie elsewhere—not in the combat bravado of the protagonist or repetitious episodic encounters with other knights, dwarfs or hermits that were later to populate the world of Thomas Malory’s Morte D’Arthur but in telling a psychologically plausible tale of a man facing the fear of the unknown and death. Fairy belief and the play with romance conventions converge in the image of Castle Hautdesert, which “may in many ways be characterized as an otherworld, a parallel reality where a different and perilous logic operates,” but which is never explicitly identifed as part of the fairy realm (Saunders, Forest 154). Like in Chrétien de Troyes, the otherworld here is nowhere near as otherworldly as in Breton lays and may easily pass for a particularly splendid and opulent location in the human world, although it has to be acknowledged that “the castle is described in the sort of superlative terms usually associated with fairy possessions in romance” and exhibits “the light-emitting qualities of explicitly fairy castles” (Byrne, Otherworlds 60). The mirror principle at work in this romance convention, which juxtaposes the human and fairy realms to stress the ways in which the mortal world is found wanting, ultimately derives from folkloric fairy dependence but acquires a literary poignancy

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of its own. It is by virtue of the intertextual references to the romance tradition that the readers can recognize Hautdesert as a fairy castle, and not through direct borrowings from fairy lore, much as some of these may, too, have made their way into the text and provide additional, subtle clues as to the identity of Sir Bertilak’s domain. When Bertilak—the alter ego of the Green Knight—and his household celebrate Christmas and attend mass, this comes into confict with numerous textual cues pointing to their fairy identity. But to argue that they simply cannot be fairies because Hautdesert is an ostensibly Christian community would be to miss the point. It is a mistake to ascribe to fairies a set of rigorous characteristics and to measure romance characters against such criteria to see if they meet the mark. Taking the Christmas celebrations at Hautdesert at face value is a problem not least because the text time and again puts into question the very reality of the castle. This is already implied in its initial description: “[i]t shimmers and shines, seeming ‘pared out of papure [cut out of paper]’ (line 802)” (Saunders, “Religion and Magic” 208) like a large-scale semblance of paper castles that “were the ‘subtleties’ of later Medieval banquets” (North 80).17 There is, however, more to be said about the illusory character of Hautdesert. In a thought-provoking article on the fairy magic of illusion, Richard North argues that Bertilak’s castle “may be understood as the Green Chapel itself in illusory form” (89). North notices something interesting about the moment when Bertilak fnds out his [Gawain’s] errand and offers to have Gawain shown the way to the Green Chapel, which just happens to be ‘not two myle henne’ (line 1078). All this seems a relief until, on a second reading, we might recall that the palisade around the park extends for ‘mo þen two myle’ (line 770), as if the castle in the park really is the Green Chapel and Gawain will eventually be led back there in a circle. (81) If the castle is indeed the chapel, this would explain the curiously inadequate name of the destination of Gawain’s quest, for in its fnal and ominous form, the “Green Chapel,” now in the shape a large earthen mound, has absolutely nothing in common with a place of Christian worship, which even prompts Gawain to exclaim, “Hit is the corsedest kyrk that ever I com inne” (l. 2196). There is also a puzzling “time-slip” in the description of Gawain’s stay with Sir Bertilak: “a day falls out of the calendar” (North 84). The timing of events in the castle does not add up, because the narrative fails to account for Holy Innocents’ Day (28 December).18 Superfcially recalling the folkloric trope of time warp, this may suggest that fairy magic is indeed at work, for it is a common folk motif that time in the otherworld fows at a different rate.19 Here, however, an entire day is missing from an otherwise plausible and well-ordered

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sequence of events. It is as if the narrative faltered for a brief space only to reveal the broken seams of its artifce, which brings North to conclude that “[n]ot only the whole Christmas season but also the effcacy of the castle chapels are thrown into doubt by this strange circumvention of Holy Innocents’ Day on 28 December” (84). Indeed, if time and space are illusory at Hautdesert, it is not necessarily a contradiction that fairies should be celebrating Christmas there. On the other hand, North himself admits that “[t]his castle seems real enough when we see it for the frst time in Fitt II. It is described as rock-solid: ‘Hit dut no wyndez blaste’ (line 784)” (79). The idea of an illusion, moreover, “is soon dispelled by the bustle of men inside the walls” (North 80). There are strong indications both that it is real and that it is not, and the two options do not necessarily preclude each other, for as fairy lore teaches us fairy glamour may take material form, and everything fairies do, however solid it may seem to our eyes, is but a form of empty mimicry. The text never puts a stop to this constant oscillation between possible interpretations. Unlike in Partonope of Blois, in which the supposed fairy lady turns out to be a Byzantine princess,20 the fairy nature of the Green Knight/Sir Bertilak and his castle is never dismissed, but the other possible resolution—one that would leave the matter at rest by confrming that fairies are indeed behind Gawain’s test—is not only not to be found in the text but actually impossible to imagine within the framework of fairy dependence. Hautdesert is not a mirage, but it is not a real castle either, and to proclaim, as a way of choosing between the two, that it is a fairy castle would be to offer no resolution at all, because fairies lie precisely halfway between mirage and reality. Hautdesert lacks the radical alterity of the fairy world in Sir Orfeo and resembles a regular medieval castle lost in some faraway woods, but the uncertainty of its nature, experienced both by Gawain and by the text’s readers,21 positions it as a liminal space and suggests that what Arthur and his knights come face to face with in the story is precisely the power and danger of liminality. There may be little direct borrowing from medieval fairy belief other than a few details scattered across the poem, but Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is a text fraught with the liminal, which governs the way the narrative makes use of the common romance motif of an alternative chivalric reality mirroring the human world—a fairy world that has absolutely nothing to offer on its own, only echoes and refections of Camelot itself, such as the religious observances of Christmas, putting the overtly secular games of Arthur and his court to shame.22 Hautdesert is liminal not because it has any particular well-defned characteristics but because of its essential ambiguity. The same holds for the fgure of the Green Knight: it is not so much the greenness that convincingly points to his fairy identity as his liminal characterization.23 He is a monstrous but courtly fgure, and he wields a giant axe covered with lace that brings terror to Camelot yet ultimately appears to be used as an

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instrument of the game he offers to play and not as a proper weapon—he is quick to stress that he comes unarmed (ll. 265–271). Half a demonic creature of the natural world unlike anything Camelot has ever seen and half a civil and verbose chivalric fgure, the Green Knight embodies the simultaneity of the familiar and the unfamiliar and utterly confuses Arthur and his men by holding in his hands both the menacing axe and a holly bob that seems to betoken his peaceful intentions. His intrusion into the banquet hall forces the members of the court to impose an interpretation on him, but no interpretation can do justice to his liminal otherness. He straddles the realms of nature and culture like the ympe-tre of Sir Orfeo, and “[o]f all the similes used in the service of describing the Green Knight/ Sir Bercilak, exactly half compare him and/or his property to purely ‘natural’ phenomena, and half to objects from the civilized, courtly universe” (S. Wade 375). In Sidney Wade’s words, he is an “essentially paradoxical” fgure of “constant inconstancy” (375).24 The knights of Camelot and the narrator seem suspended between conficting readings of the Knight, and that the choice in this respect is a weighty matter may be gauged from Arthur himself instructing Gawain: “if thou redes hym ryght, . . . / . . . thou schal byden the bur that he schal bede after” (ll. 373–374). The fact is that no one can bide the blow unharmed, because no reading can properly domesticate the green intruder. Attempts to do just that only produce a sense of hermeneutic oscillation. Camelot is unable to settle for a single reading: “for fantoum and fayyrye the folk there hit demed” (l. 240), and this ambiguity of phantom and fairy further strengthens the impression of the court’s interpretive helplessness.25 The narrator, similarly, considers the Green Knight an odd “half etayn” (half-giant) of sorts (l. 140), unwilling to choose between the categories of proper man and proper giant. Scholars have also long grappled with the problem of what to make of the intruder’s moral alignment, with some reading him as a devilish fgure, “a hunter of human souls” (Spangenberg 128),26 and others seeing him as a positive agent of moral regeneration (Carrière) or a symbol of courtly youth.27 Faced with so many conficting critical opinions, Lawrence Besserman lucidly notes that even when some scholars pick their sides and aim for “totalizing interpretations,” their readings “belie the poem’s incessant and inconclusive movement” (231). In other words, the only totalizing interpretation that holds together is one that acknowledges the unceasing oscillation. Besserman accordingly summarizes the fgure of the Green Knight by saying that “[f]rom start to fnish he is both godlike and demonic” (227) but in a special sense of both/and: not as a static conjunction of two ideas conceptualized simultaneously but as a shifting double image much like the famous duck/rabbit drawing, in which both animals may be discerned but not at the same time (228).28 The perspective (and the image perceived) switches ad infnitum but at any given moment the green man is either demonic or godlike, rather than both, argues Besserman. Yet the

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logic of either/or is superior only up to a certain point. Besserman musters the duck/rabbit analogy to point out that what he terms the “either/or” structure of “literary ambiguity” also fails to capture the nature of the Green Knight, because even if the reader only registers one aspect of his at a time, the knight is intrinsically both—that is, on a level transcending the discrete binary oppositions operating in any given reading: “the dichotomization that pertains in true cases of literary ambiguity is hardly applicable to the dynamic fuidity of the Green Knight’s . . . qualities” (228). Besserman’s brilliant critique of the traditional ways of understanding ambiguity reveals that the poem is structured at its very core by an ambiguity whose nature cannot be adequately explained either by the logic of “both/and” or that of “either/or.” The vocabulary that would best capture his insights is indeed that of liminality, which, in the words of Turner, points to a mode of being that operates prior to and beyond any and all “distinctions and gradations” (Forest 99), and it is there, in the liminal space that lacks discrete divisions, that the Green Knight is both a rabbit and a duck, being essentially neither—whatever two qualities we may wish to substitute for the animal names. It is this space of liminality that the Green Knight ultimately represents.29 The appearance of the Green Knight is less of a chance event than the abduction of Queen Heurodis in Sir Orfeo, because the text provides a kind of rationale for his sudden intrusion. It is Morgan, the readers learn, who challenged Camelot in this way and attempted to scare Guinevere to death. But although the benevolent laughter of the Green Knight may infuriate Gawain after he completes his ordeal in the chapel, the ending is nonetheless a happy one for everyone involved—so much so that it is diffcult to square with Morgan’s supposedly evil intentions. Thus, despite an apparent explanation provided for the entire affair, many questions remain, including the fundamental issue of how real were the events at Hautdesert and what was the true form of Bertilak/Green Knight (if he ever had one). Sir Gawain and the Green Knight makes interpretation a key theme, as witnessed in the reaction of Camelot to the enigmatic green visitor, but it also comprises a comprehensive hermeneutic challenge to its readers, whom it positions in the same space of wonder, dismay and ambiguity as the awe-stricken knights of the Round Table. Like in Sir Orfeo, the fairies invade the human world in a way that comes across as arbitrary, and once again, much of the terror that ensues springs from the fact that they stand for “something which seems not to conform to our modes of thought” (Keeble 197). Morgan’s game with Camelot is “se[t] in motion for reasons so apparently tenuous that they require continual scholarly rehearsal” (Heng 501) and fail to provide narrative closure. The revealing of Morgan’s role by the Green Knight towards the very end of the text only projects “Morgan’s signature . . . backward to the beginning of the poem’s action” (Heng 501) and further complicates the overall picture instead of offering a clear resolution. The rationalization of the

78 Modes of Liminality in Medieval Romance fairy otherworld and the text’s attempts to justify some of the events do go a certain way towards a romance aesthetic somewhat distinct from that of Breton lays, but the sense of the arbitrariness of the Christmas game or the Exchange of Winnings remains. Fairies defeat behavioural expectations and strike at will, their appearance affecting both the lives of the characters involved and the readers’ hermeneutic experience. As Victor Haines aptly noted, the tale of Sir Gawain is not just a story of something that looks like a “mass hallucination”: “the Gawain poet is able to make his own poem into one himself” (354).

Fairies as Agents of Change Fairies unsettle the worlds of medieval romance. They are the fgures of the threshold that, in the eyes of both readers and characters, take the shape of whatever anyone may wish to make of them, like a mirror pane that refects any image that reaches it—elusive in its essence but also recognizably, almost intimately familiar. As Cartlidge notes in his discussion of Sir Orfeo, it is “precisely by . . . prompting so many different registers of interpretation at once without actually authorizing any of them” that these works bring us “so effectively to the brink of moral and interpretative entropy” (225). This particular sense of liminality, which pervades fairy-themed romance literature and shapes its readers’ experience, is not, however, the only one to be identifed in these texts. The very idea that gave rise to anthropological studies in liminality, the notion of a rite of passage is itself of major importance in gauging the extent of medieval romance’s indebtedness to the liminal. It is now time to revisit the tales of Orfeo and Gawain and to consider the case of Sir Launfal, as well, in this context. As a point of reference, Yonec—one of the Breton lays authored by Marie de France—provides a useful framework for comparison. Dating back to the late twelfth century, Marie’s collection of stories drew extensively on folklore, presenting itself as a set of lays of the Breton folk and incorporating a number of references to fairy belief. Later works that took inspiration from Marie and other, anonymous lays would therefore borrow elements of folklore fltered through these texts, which created an additional, literary channel for the dissemination of folk beliefs concerning fairies, one that could complement direct inspiration from popular culture and shape the use of the latter through the application of particular literary motifs. In Yonec, the story of a mysterious bird-man, shape-shifting between avian and human form, focuses on a young maiden locked in a tower by her all-too-jealous husband. That her supernatural lover is a fairy may be deduced from the fact that she eventually traces him back to a luminescent city of silver, an imposing domain characterized by a splendour typical of parallel fairy worlds. But what is really interesting is that his intervention enables a major transition in the girl’s life, one diffcult

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to imagine otherwise. Folklore has it that fairies engage people in liminal conditions, and that is exactly the nature of the girl’s predicament. Married but locked away, no longer a maiden but not yet—despite the many years of captivity—a proper wife enjoying the benefts of matrimony, the girl is committed to a prison of stasis and in-betweenness, and her liminal status (both a maiden and a wife, yet essentially neither) makes her a target for fairy intrusion. What the fairy lover makes possible is for her to break out of this prison, experience the process of maturation and adopt a new and well-defned status: that of a mother. Yonec makes explicit the ways in which medieval literature featuring fairies draws on the dynamics of rites of passage: instead of depicting a whole ritualized process of transition, the poem presents a character being unexpectedly and forcefully shoved out of a fundamentally liminal situation in which readers encounter her in the frst place. Such indeed is the pattern of fairy intervention in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Sir Orfeo and Sir Launfal. The “passage” enabled by fairy intrusion need not always concern maturation and traditionally defned life crises such as growing up or becoming a parent. The initial liminal condition of the character who experiences transition can sometimes take different forms. Such is the case in Marie de France’s Lanval, where the protagonist is a foreigner at the court of Arthur, half-integrated into the king’s household and halfsidelined into a position of relative insignifcance, the latter manifest by the fact that Arthur fails to acknowledge him in his royal acts of largesse. The narrative stresses again and again that Lanval lives in an inn—and not on a temporary basis.30 The inn becomes his home, positioning him halfway between permanent residence at Arthur’s court and the role of a permanent outsider. Lanval’s encounter with fairies also takes place in an ambiguous space, liminal with regard to the culture/nature divide. Forgotten by the king, the knight heads out of town but does not get far, laying himself down to sleep by a brook in a meadow. It is there that he is approached by two female characters that take him to a mysterious lady who is never openly identifed as a fairy in Marie’s text but who offers her body and riches to Lanval in the manner of a seductive fairy queen. After they reach an agreement whereby the lady grants Lanval unlimited sexual and fnancial favours provided no one ever learns of their relationship, the knight returns to his inn in a cheerful mood, but the taboo imposed on him predictably leads to trouble. Lanval loses the lady’s love when he rejects Guinevere’s sexual advances by exclaiming the queen is no match for his lover’s ladies-in-waiting, let alone the fairy lady herself. What follows is a trial, which does not go well for the knight until the mysterious lady herself arrives and vindicates the knight, taking him to Avalon. A. C. Spearing notes that “[t]he stories of many medieval romances can be interpreted as offering reassurance about the possibility of growing up” (Medieval Poet 105) and follows Derek Brewer in asserting that the passage from “dependent childhood to independent maturity . . . is

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almost always the subject of medieval romance” (Brewer, “Escape” 8). In this context, Spearing sees Marie’s Lanval as somewhat anomalous, suggesting that the lay fails to follow the structure of a successful rite of passage. It is true, as Spearing points out, that we never see Lanval perform any knightly deeds, and the fnal scene in which he leaps on his lady’s horse, riding behind her, certainly does not seem to indicate maturation or a passage into independence (Medieval Poet 105). Marie’s version is nonetheless a tale of magic and romance that ends on a happy note. Lanval overcomes the problem of his ambiguous position at Arthur’s court with his lover’s help, and his life enters a new phase, even if it is diffcult to argue that he becomes more mature in the literal sense of the term. The fairy-driven transition changes his life, shoving him out of a state of unproductive stasis and enabling him to move on. The Middle English lay of Sir Launfal, attributed to Thomas Chestre,31 has often been measured against Marie’s work and almost universally found wanting. Spearing goes so far as to call it a “disaster” (Medieval Poet 106), and few have dissented from the view that seen against Marie’s work it fails to deliver.32 The question remains, however, whether it should be set against Marie and her poetic project in the frst place (cf. Seaman 107–108). Although the story is more or less the same as in Lanval, several differences are to be noted. These result mostly from the fact that Sir Launfal “must be called an adaptation rather than a ‘translation’ of Lanval” because Chestre “appears to have borrowed the story from Graelent and Sir Landevale, both of which he borrows from frequently and directly rather than from Marie herself” (Seaman 109). The anonymous Old French lay of Graelent, roughly analogous to Lanval in its plot, provided Chestre with some details that the relatively short Sir Landevale, an earlier English translation much more faithful to Marie’s poetic work, did not include.33 Above all, however, Chestre seemed to aim at something altogether alien to Marie’s text, possibly because he was not even familiar with her work:34 Sir Launfal represents quite a different type of story and cannot really be called a lay any more. It has a distinctly epic quality as compared to the more anecdotal character of the Breton lays, and this makes it quite a typical example of the English shorter romance. (Mehl 33) Dieter Mehl is right to observe that the text of Sir Launfal rationalizes the supernatural far more than Lanval, but when he suggests that the supernatural element “stands in striking contrast to the other parts of the poem and does not pervade its whole atmosphere” (30), this belies the fact that the divergences from Marie’s lay in terms of handling the supernatural go hand in hand with a number of other shifts in tone that

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do not contradict one another but instead transform the Lanval narrative into something quite different from Marie’s fairy tale of magic and love. Indeed, Timothy O’Brien has rightly suggested that Sir Launfal is a meta-poem, a self-referential textual artefact looking back at the history and style of Breton lays, perhaps even something of a parody of the genre (34–35). It is, in O’Brien’s words, “designed to invite its audience to refect upon its existence as poem” (39). Two general transformations with regard to Marie’s Lanval thus appear to have shaped the English text. On the one hand, alongside the rationalization of the supernatural there is more of down-to-earth depictions of knightly combat and more preoccupation with money and the sway it holds in the chivalric world (Seaman 114). On the other hand, the meta-literariness of the poem is sometimes strong enough to warrant reading Sir Launfal “as a humorous piece rather than as a serious romance” (Nappholz 4). For these reasons, the poem’s use of fairies and its application of the liminal deserves critical attention, because whenever some elements of the liminal disappear from the Lanval narrative in Chestre’s version, others take their place and reinforce the sense of connection between fairies and liminality. The English poem opens with Launfal being overlooked by Guinevere rather than Arthur. Being the only knight not to receive a token of value from the queen, the protagonist decides to make up a story about the death of his father with which he excuses himself from the court with no harm done to his reputation. Signifcantly, there is no indication of Launfal having dwelled in an inn before this and nothing to suggest that he was a foreigner in Arthur’s realm. The text of the English lay then devotes much space to stressing his poverty. The two knights that accompany Launfal decide to abandon him when their robes are all torn and he is no longer able to provide for them. They leave Launfal destitute and lodging in a chamber in the orchard of the mayor of Karlyoun—a former servant of his, who wants to have nothing to do with the knight now that he has left the court of Arthur. The depths of Launfal’s poverty are further highlighted when he is not invited to a feast held by the mayor, whose daughter takes pity on the knight and invites him to keep her company. In a conversation that ensues Launfal admits that he has not eaten for three days and cannot even go to church because he has no clean clothes but refuses to join the meal, asking for a saddle and bridle instead. Attempting to leave town so as not to attract scorn, he is, however, unlucky enough to end up slipping in the mud, facing open disdain from a crowd of onlookers. The text also shows a considerable preoccupation with material goods in its description of the gift granted to Launfal by the fairy lady, whom Chestre gives the name of Tryamour. Guy-Bray notes how Sir Launfal differs from other versions of the story, pointing out that in Sir Landevale and Lanval the offer is general, and

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while we know the protagonist has access to great treasure, the exact mechanics of the gift are left unsaid (38): In contrast, Triamour enumerates exactly what she will give Launfal, beginning with a magic purse: “As oft thou puttest the hond therjnne, / A mark of gold thou schalt wynne” (322–323). Chestre specifes what the gift is and replaces the generic gold of the earlier versions with a contemporary unit of currency. Furthermore, he even goes on to mention three gifts for which there is no equivalent in either of the earlier versions. (Guy-Bray 38)35 These include a dwarf-servant, the lady’s steed and her pensel (a small pennon). As Seaman has it, “Chestre’s changes support a redirection of our attention and interest from the spiritual values of love exalted by Marie toward the very mundane and pecuniary concerns of the world that her lovers must needs escape” (112). It is no wonder that some critics have suggested that the Lanval-narrative has undergone a “bourgeoisfcation” under Chestre’s hand (Anderson 116). What the fgure of Launfal loses in terms of the characterization of his place of residence and foreigner status is amply made up for by the unceasing focus on his destitute condition and its consequences for his identity. Living in an orchard shed all alone, abandoned and nameless to the community around him that chooses to ignore him once he is no longer part of Arthur’s court, Launfal loses whatever status he had, and the symbolic fall into the mud further accentuates his undifferentiated position. This is indeed the opening situation in the poem from which the rest of the narrative proceeds and to which the encounter with Tryamour ultimately provides a resolution that enables Launfal to move on. The resolution is effected only towards the end of the story and not as soon as the knight receives the fairy gifts, because the magic purse with whose help Launfal holds feasts, gives away clothes, rewards clerics, ransoms prisoners and clothes minstrels (ll. 421–430) only reinforces his liminal condition at frst. With unlimited money at hand, Launfal’s actions are governed by his arbitrary will, and his ability to do whatever he pleases coupled with his undifferentiated identity are reminiscent of the ways in which liminars tap into the energies inherent in the liminal phase. Ironically, it should be the king who distributes wealth among his people the way Launfal does, and the knight essentially usurps the regal prerogatives of Arthur—acting like a king without being one—which is how the narrative communicates that the latter’s court is politically indolent and defective. The fairy that helps the protagonist out of his poverty is also depicted in ostensibly liminal terms. Although she appears to him half-naked (ll. 289–290) and the initial encounter culminates in a night during which “[f]or play lytyll they sclepte” (l. 349), “[p]aradoxically, Triamour is a

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maid, described with images conventionally associated with virginity: she is white as a lily in May or as snow on a winter’s day (292–293)” (Anderson 119). She can also be quite belligerent: when she arrives at the court, she takes aggressive action against Guinevere and blinds the queen with a puff of air (a detail not to be found in Marie’s Lanval). When in Marie’s version the fairy lady comes to Lanval’s rescue, she refrains from revealing that Guinevere offered him her love and in this way gives the court a viable opportunity to reform its ways; in Sir Launfal, however, Tryamour is explicit about what happened between them, leaving the court in a state of absolute disrepair. Notwithstanding all this, just as in Orfeo criticism, some scholars have gone to great lengths to emphasize the fairy’s association with the forces of good: It would be diffcult to interpret Triamoure as anything but benevolent. Her home is the other world of fairie—an ambiguous realm, surely—but the description given her by Chestre, and her own actions, establish her as a power of goodness. She is continually compared to natural objects: lilies, roses, snow, a “blosme.” She is so delightful and beautiful, and her relationship with Launfal so lovely and natural, that it is nearly impossible to consider her as evil, or even as a shady temptress. . . . Even Gwenere’s husband and king, Artour, has to agree that she is not so fair as Triamoure. The latter is not, then, a demon lover, but a force of good that comes to Launfal’s aid in his confict. (Lane 285) The fnal observation made in this passage shows that the critic feels hardpressed to choose between a demon lover and a force of goodness, and given this choice, he opts for the latter. It is probably for this reason that he defends the act of blinding by pointing out that Arthur never questions it and that he accepts Trymaour “simply and without reservation or doubt. By her appearance and conduct she seems to command absolute trust” (Lane 286). Once again, the critical tendency to look at fairies through the dualistic grid produces one-sided misreadings and leads scholars to ignore much textual evidence, which itself presents Tryamour as a morally ambiguous fgure. Unsurprisingly, ambiguity also characterizes her place of origin. She is described as “The kynges doughter of Olyroun” (l. 278), but very much in line with the ontological liminality of fairies found in folkloric belief, her father is said to be “Kyng of Fayrye, / Of Occient, fer & nyghe” (ll. 279–280): Occient is either Old French for a Saracen land or a rare Middle English word meaning “the West.” . . . Yet “the king of Olyroun” (as Tryamour’s father is described) refers not to Avalon, as the source material would seem to imply, but the Ile d’Oleron near Brittany. . . .

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Modes of Liminality in Medieval Romance Tryamour and her father are, indeed, fere and nyie, they are far and near, but never here: they are always from somewhere else. (McLoone 7)

The readers never catch even a glimpse of this fairy otherworld, because Tryamour is to be encountered in a liminal space of otherness that lies in close proximity to the everyday world of Launfal’s experience. The two meet just a short ride away from town, and when the text explains that after the mud incident Launfal rode “toward the west” (l. 219), this seems to be more symbolic of the fairy-ward direction he happened to take than indicative of a long journey. Launfal could not have got far, because already in the next line, tired with the heat of the “vnderntyde” (l. 220), the knight decides to lay himself to rest in the shadow of a tree, which is what prompts the fairy encounter in a manner somewhat analogous to the much less pleasant adventure of Queen Heurodis in Sir Orfeo. The supernatural is indeed rationalized in Sir Launfal, and there is no doubt that fairies are involved, but this does not lead to a diminution of liminality. Different from Marie’s version of the story and possibly drawing on other sources, Chestre’s romance still maintains a sense of ambiguity in its description of Launfal and Tryamour and does not ascribe to either of them any fxed status. As in other fairy romances, both the human character and the fairy that comes to interact with him embody the unlimited power, confusion of categories and lack of differentiation that characterize the liminal. In fact, Sir Launfal illustrates that the liminal is not to be confused with the supernatural, the otherworldly or the uncanny, because the story retains its focus on liminality even as it becomes “a romance whose values are anything but otherworldly” (Seaman 111). The details concerning the magic purse and the way it works are a case in point here, and the vulgar image of Launfal repeatedly putting his hand inside the purse may carry with it a sexual innuendo, equating the two kinds of gifts he receives from Tryamour. A sexual pun has also been suggested to lie in a number of references to Launfal being “large” and in the poem’s use of the word largesse, which according to Carol Nappholz not only denotes generosity here but also carries with it certain less savoury overtones (4–9).36 All in all, fairy liminality still subtends many fundamental elements of the text even as Chestre introduces low humour into the story and “replaces his predecessors’ idealizing of the separate and superior world of love with an acceptance and appreciation of the material, secular world” (Seaman 110). There is much scholarly debate on whether to consider the ending of Sir Launfal a happy one,37 and this refects the antithetical relationship between the protagonist and Arthur’s court. An element of folkloric fairy belief that plays a crucial role in the romance is the idea of fairy dependence, because [t]he tale clearly mocks the courtly realm through its portrayals of King Artour as an inept and passive fgure and Gwenore as

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promiscuous, petty, and domineering and, like Marie’s version, presents what we might call a “counter-court” in the fairy world that Launfal ultimately chooses to join. (Pearman 133) Although a happy ending awaits Launfal, the conclusion of the romance is much bleaker for Camelot. Allied with the fairy, Launfal becomes part of a counter-structure to Arthur’s social order, and whatever positive transformation his life undergoes, this only affects the court in adverse ways, culminating in the exposure of Guinevere’s indecent proposal and her blinding. Much more than Marie’s Lanval, Sir Launfal questions and problematizes the success of the process of “passage.” Launfal is rescued and joins Tryamour in a life of bliss, but the fact that he resides in the fairy isle of Olyroun and that once every year he may still be seen, ghostlike, riding across Arthur’s lands (ll. 1024–1026), ominously suggests that the knight may, in fact, have progressed only deeper into the realm of the liminal, becoming—just like the fairies—one to be encountered “fer & nyghe.” And to add yet another, interpretive layer of liminality (an apparently indispensable element in fairy romance), the fnal stanza contradicts the earlier statement about the ghostly sightings of the knight and his steed, with the narrator stating that after Launfal’s departure with Tryamour “saw hym yn thys lond noman” (l. 1036) and then reinforcing this assertion with a fnal “[f]or sothe, wythoute lye” (l. 1038). Something is amiss at Camelot even after Launfal’s disappearance, and the moral ambiguity of the fairy, Chestre’s refusal to embrace the idealism of love that characterizes Marie’s tale, and the ending of the romance that leaves the readers oscillating between contradictory reports on the hero’s ultimate fate, all bring the lay closer to the sense of liminal terror inherent in Sir Orfeo than a cursory look at Sir Launfal’s fairy tale love story may suggest. Much more optimistic in its tone, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight presents a rite of passage with a different confguration in the relationship between the protagonist and his court. Here, too, something is wrong at Camelot, but being an integral part of Arthur’s household Gawain experiences the ordeal in its name. The Gawain poet’s work presents Camelot in the prime of youth and, as the Green Knight points out, immaturity. The intruder taunts the gathering by saying he can see no worthy opponent there: “Hit arn aboute on this bench bot berdles chylder” (l. 280). The beardless children of the Round Table do indeed have a problem with answering his challenge, because Arthur eventually rises in anger (l. 323) but only long after the silence in the hall has become uncomfortable and after the Green Knight has further mocked the fame and resolve of the king’s chivalric order. Gawain then volunteers to play the beheading game (ll. 343) and from this point on he “acts not only as an individual but as a representative of Arthur’s court” (Carrière 32), answering the call

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on behalf of Camelot. The subsequent quest for the Green Chapel thus becomes something of a “delegated” rite of passage for Arthur and his knights, and Gawain’s conduct throughout his journey refects not just on him but on the renown of the entire court, which is one of the reasons why he ends up so disappointed with himself after breaking the rules of the Exchange of Winnings game at Hautdesert. The experience teaches Gawain the limits of his mortality and proves to be a harsh lesson for the knight, who fnds it hard to accept that the desire to live made him accept the supposedly magic green girdle and keep it against the rules of a game he had accepted. As with any other aspect of the poem, it is not certain, however, whether Camelot really learns his lesson, because the court is exceedingly carefree in adopting the girdle as its new symbol after Gawain’s return and lavish in words of comfort to its representative, who still suffers from the shame he experienced. Whether the girdle can transform from a symbol of shame to a symbol of pride and renown is a fundamental interpretive problem that the text leaves its readers with, but it would seem that Gawain at least did undergo a process of maturation. The symbolism of death and rebirth informs his quest from start to fnish, evidenced by the action taking place during the Christmas season, in the dead of winter, and over the period of the Celtic festival of Samhain which marked the beginning of winter—around the feast of “Al-hal-day” (l. 536), when he departs from Camelot. The liminal nature of the end of the year seems to be of signifcance here, and the drama of Gawain’s ordeal comes to pass as nature itself struggles to come back to life. The description of the Green Chapel is also fraught with the kind of imagery that Turner associates with liminality: gestation and parturition. Turner mentions the widespread use in liminal rites of “huts and tunnels that are at once tombs and wombs” to represent the “logically antithetical processes of death and growth” (Forest of Symbols 99). The chapel, which is a hollow mound with a hole “on ayther syde” (l. 2180), meets this description and similarly combines the two notions, being the place of Gawain’s death—not just symbolically but also in terms of the knight’s and the readers’ literal expectations until the very end of the text—and rebirth, the latter idea represented by the wound he receives from the Green Knight, “powerfully reminiscent of the vulvaic or vaginal ‘gash’” (Heng 511). Romance criticism acknowledges the positive and transformative effects produced by outside intrusions that affect medieval courts, whether of supernatural origin or not: “[t]he outsiders expose inner rifts at court, deconstruct the false appearances of political harmony and unity, and challenge the inner circle of confdants” (Classen 69). Albrecht Classen traces this pattern across the literature of medieval Europe, fnding it in English as well as French and German sources, and notes that such interventions from the outside tend to prompt “central members of the court [to] embark on a quest for their own path through life” (69)—a turn of

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phrase that itself brings to mind rites of passage and their transformative and life-changing effects. Intrusions of a supernatural nature also characteristically work both on the level of the individual and on that of the community, initiating the hero’s quest and at the same time providing an incentive for reform within the court at large: They disrupt the order of a peaceful, stable aristocratic world, bring about the hero’s departure from that world, and launch the narrative. Narrative-launching otherworldly interventions may also occur, however, in response to pre-existing problems or tensions within the central aristocratic society which it cannot resolve on its own, or in order to bring to light faults in that society which might otherwise go unnoticed and uncorrected. In this case, the otherworldly intervention is not a threat to be countered but a catalyst that helps the central aristocratic society attain a new order by provoking a process through which a problem in that world is resolved or a fault in it is exposed. (J. Rider 118) This observation naturally leads to political interpretations, and romance texts where the outside intervention comes from fairies are no exception, indeed inviting much critical speculation of a political nature. In Sir Orfeo, this layer of the narrative may be less conspicuous than in Sir Launfal or Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, but it is nonetheless there. Oren Falk’s extensive reading of political tension in the Breton lay points to several problems noticeable in Tracience. The queen’s handmaidens that witness Heurodis’s apparent ft of madness run amok across the palace grounds, spreading the news of the incident in such a way that Orfeo is one of the last to fnd out, which puts the king in a diffcult position of relative helplessness and does “irreparable harm” to his authority (Falk 250). The lords of the realm fail to provide their king with useful help and advice. Even more important, their actions, just as those of the steward, may be a result of calculation. The crux of Falk’s argument is that the need for a steward to take over once Orfeo retreats to the wilderness is a symptom of a broader problem. The queen’s childlessness may be seen as undermining the stability of the kingdom and engendering internal opposition, and the scene in which the steward welcomes Orfeo back becomes, in Falk’s reading, fraught with tension and “verbal and political maneuvering” (257) that eventually leads to the steward surrendering his power not out of deference to his long-lost master but out of fear of Orfeo’s “veiled threats” (259). Whatever one thinks about the fne details of such readings, it has to be acknowledged that politics in Sir Orfeo is not a side issue. Orfeo’s successful venture into the otherworld to reclaim his wife repositions him as a fgure of authority and has the altogether positive and transformative effect of “consolidating [his] kingship” (Falk 260).

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Orfeo’s adventures bear a strong mark of the kind of liminality associated with rites of passage. When he leaves the courtly world behind in an “‘altered state’ under which the kingdom of Winchester operates while its king prolongs his wilderness retreat” (Caldwell 301), both the king and the kingdom enter a liminal phase. Living in the woods like a wild man and surrendering both his royal identity and the claim to be anything more than a part of the natural world, Orfeo becomes one with the undifferentiated world of nature, feeding on wild berries and wasting away year by year (ll. 241–262): He is a pilgrim travelling nowhere, a hermit living in a timeless void— it is as if he, not Heurodis, were in Hades. The fairy hunt catches no game. The fairy army of one thousand knights has banners raised and swords drawn—where will they fght? How long have they been riding? The fairy dance passes by—how long have they been dancing? When will the dance end? In this purgatory of repetitious, purposeless activity where he is acknowledged by no one and no thing, Orfeo undergoes a kind of purifcation, and learns how little it is to be a king. (Gros Louis 248) To continue to be a king after his return, he needs to be crowned again (l. 593): not so much to reclaim his old identity as to take on a new regal authority far beyond his helpless, former self. But in order to complete the rite of coronation, a ritualistic ablution is necessary: “To chaumber þai ladde him als biliue / & baþed him, & schaued his berd, & tired him as a king apert” (ll. 584–586). In fact, the lay presents a whole series of rites of transition, some embedded in others, following the basic pattern outlined by Van Gennep, who noted that “in certain ceremonial patterns where the transitional period is suffciently elaborated to constitute an independent state, the arrangement is reduplicated” (11): A betrothal forms a liminal period between adolescence and marriage, but the passage from adolescence to betrothal itself involves a special series of rites of separation, a transition, and an incorporation into the betrothed condition; and the passage from the transitional period, which is betrothal, to marriage itself, is made through a series of rites of separation from the former, followed by rites consisting of transition, and rites of incorporation into marriage. (Van Gennep 11) Beginning with the liminal position of the royal couple who are unable to have children and can only bide their time until their shaky grounds for authority crumble with the attack of the fairies, the text follows Orfeo through a number of such “passages.” The king sheds off his royal identity to live in the woods, attaining a more distinctly liminal status than

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before, only to adopt the fake identity of a beggar, which he again needs to leave behind in the act of being washed and receiving new garments. It is this fairy-driven series of ritualized transitions that makes his fnal adoption of the role of the monarch possible and consolidates his kingship. The same pattern of action could also admittedly be imagined without fairies. Classen’s examples point to foreigners and outsiders whose arrival at court initiates its transformation in a similar vein (69–74). It is this transformation, often effected through a quest, that is a hallmark of the genre, and this is what arguably makes romance thematically liminal. The following “liminal attributes of texts” provided by Aguirre, Quance, and Sutton read very much like a summary of the structure of romance: the existence of Space A related to a defective Core A; the recognition of the insuffciency by an agent or agents; the movement of an agent towards a border territory; the existence somewhere in this border territory of a limen; the crossing of the limen; the transformation of the agent or the agent’s circumstances as a result of overcoming the trial of the crossing; and the subsequent entry into Space B, related to a mysteriously dangerous and/or promising Core B. (53) The initial “insuffciency” may be highlighted and corrected by the arrival of either supernatural or non-supernatural outsiders, but there is also room elsewhere for fairies in this pattern, with the “border territory of a limen,” that is, the romance forest/wilderness and its analogues, providing ample space for transformation and “passage.” Corinne Saunders notes that in some texts (including Sir Orfeo) the fairy otherworld functions as a separate liminal world, while in others (among them Sir Launfal), the space of the encounter with fairies operates as a pure limen that does not lead to any otherworld proper (Forest 147). This matches Aguirre, Quance and Sutton’s observation that the threshold is essentially a line, but one which “tends to expand, until it itself becomes the Other territory” (9). This property of the limen allows for a variety of ways in which romance texts can handle their otherworlds and connects with Van Gennep’s observation about multiple thresholds to be crossed in the structure of a rite of passage. Just as initiands may, in some cases, move from one liminal phase to another, so do romance heroes sometimes fnd themselves not only venturing into a liminal space but also actually moving, or progressing, from one to another, deeper and deeper into the ever-expanding threshold. Orfeo’s retreat to the forest, his subsequent passage through the rocky portal and his journey into the fairy otherworld illustrate this well. While not all medieval romances feature fairies, when they do, this adds not just another thematic layer but a whole superstructure of liminality to the text and further augments its preoccupation with the hero’s transformation. Thus, in some works, fairies may not be particularly prominent,

90 Modes of Liminality in Medieval Romance but as Saunders argues, the “structural role of otherworldly encounter is fundamental to romance” and acts in both transformative and formative ways for human characters (Magic 204). The employment of the structure of the rite of passage is an important generic feature of medieval romance, and from this perspective, fairies may indeed be perceived as merely one of the many ways in which romance texts give shape to this preoccupation with transformation. However, when one considers romance fairies through the folkloric understanding of their liminality, it becomes evident that the standard model of a rite of passage is itself merely one of the many ways in which romance narratives play with the idea of the liminal. It is therefore for a good reason that this book did not begin its investigation of romance texts with the literary applications of the model of the rite of passage, devoting its attention frst and foremost to the oscillation inherent in the construction of the fairies’ morality and mode of being. Romance fairies do play a fundamental role in sending human characters on a journey of self-discovery and transformation, but they ultimately do much more than that. Their role is indeed often to provide the necessary push and shove to enable transition, but above all, they invariably embody the nature of the liminal phase and its ambiguous characteristics and represent the inscrutability of the liminal. One other fundamental feature that they exhibit—once again not so much a proper characteristic that could easily be predicated of them but rather a mode of action and interaction with human beings—is their polluting nature. The next section explores this key facet of the liminal in medieval romance by looking at the folkloric motif of fairy-related contamination and its manifestations in Sir Orfeo and Thomas of Erceldoune.

Fairy Danger and Pollution The term taboo as applied in fairy scholarship functions in two related but distinct ways. Most often a “fairy taboo” is understood to refer to any prohibition imposed on a human being by fairies, usually as part of a deal whereby the mortal side is obliged to keep a secret about the gifts they receive or refrain from taking a certain course of action on pain of forfeiting the fairies’ favour. A good example of the former is Tryamour’s injunction for Sir Launfal not to reveal their relationship, while the latter fnds its best-known realization in the French tale of Melusine, where the fairy fgure marries her human lover on the condition that he never attempts to see her on a particular day of the week (J. Wade 28–29). The structural signifcance of these taboos and their connection with fairy gifts has received some attention in criticism and will be revisited in the present study in its fnal chapter. There is, however, another kind of taboo at work in the body of fairy belief and its literary transformations. The other set of taboos comprises an array of invariable behavioural templates that may or may not be explicitly verbalized in particular works of literature

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or folkloric material but which determine the course of action whenever one comes to interact with fairies. The most common form of these is the prohibition against eating fairy food. Unlike the more legalistic taboos that go hand in hand with fairy gifts, these prohibitions are never explicitly imposed by anyone and are not corollaries of any kind of exchange between two parties. They are, rather, implicit laws that govern human– fairy interactions, ignorance of which leads to disastrous consequences for the mortals involved regardless of the intentions of either side. The taboo against eating in the otherworld has a long history and can be found universally across the globe, present in Greek and Babylonian mythology as well as Japanese, Maori and North American native beliefs (Silver 104). In most of these belief systems, the otherworld in question is a kind of an underworld (a realm of the dead), and to partake of its food is to become trapped, forever bound to its space of otherness. The ambiguous relationship between fairies and the dead may explain how the same set of beliefs came into prominence in British fairy lore, as in a story reported by Katharine Briggs, in which a man fnds himself in fairyland face to face with his dead lover, now a denizen of the otherworld, who warns him against tasting fairy fruits and ale and reveals that her failure to abstain from trying these was her own undoing (Encyclopedia 141–142). The same story also shows that representatives of the fairy world do not necessarily wish to exploit the mechanics of this entrapment and that it transcends their conscious choice, operating in the otherworld quite independently of anyone’s intentions. There is little either mortals or fairies can do about this law of contamination by otherworldly food, except perhaps warn others about it, which is a common motif in folklore, as evidenced by Briggs’s report, and one to be found in the romance of Thomas of Erceldoune. In this anonymous ffteenth-century work the fairy queen herself warns Thomas about the danger, which indicates that the way the two worlds are conjoined is not subject to control or discretion of anyone on either side. It is just the way things are, and the taboo against eating is by no means the only one. The dead lover from Briggs’s story mentions other prohibitions as well: the mortal is not to pick fowers in the otherworld, not to touch his former sweetheart in any way and generally to remain out of sight (Briggs, Encyclopedia 142). Safe return from fairyland seems to hinge on whether the visitor manages not to attract attention to his or her presence in the otherworld. Folklore teaches us that it is best not to interact with any elements of the fairy realm, but according to Diane Purkiss, there is more to the taboo against fairy food. Purkiss argues that eating fairy food and speaking to fairies can have the same consequences for a good reason, one going beyond the mere fact of some sort of interaction with the otherworldly environment: To speak is to give something of yourself away, and there are powers eager to make use of what you have. To speak is also to open the

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Modes of Liminality in Medieval Romance body. Just as one must not eat the fairy food, so one must close one’s mouth on words. (At the Bottom 57) Like eating the fairy food, speaking opens the mouth and allows change to become permanent; once the boundaries of the body have been breached, magic can be done. (At the Bottom 112)

Both eating and speaking have to do with the violation of bodily boundaries, not unlike sex; indeed, “[i]ngesting something from the otherworld tends to commit the human to that realm in the same manner as sexual congress with an otherworld being does” (Byrne, Otherworlds 49–50). The idea that “you are what you eat” (Silver 106) may therefore only partially explain these beliefs. The logic that “[t]o eat the food of a spirit is to partake of the spirit’s nature” (Silver 106) and thus to condemn oneself to remain in the spirit’s realm does offer some insight into the phenomenon, but it must be noted that according to many reports fairy food only contaminates when ingested directly in fairyland (Briggs, Encyclopedia 157). The common ground of all these apparently disparate taboos is the infltration of the body through its orifces that results in a sense of pollution by the other—one that eventually leads to the human being staying among the fairies or even becoming one, losing the sense of human identity in the process and acquiring the liminal characteristics of the fairy realm. The taboos may take different forms, as in Briggs’s story, where the image of plucking the fower signifes the act of sexual intercourse in a metaphorical way38 and the idea of touching the fairy lover achieves the same end metonymically. But whatever their exact shape, such injunctions against eating, speaking and sex all serve the same purpose of warning against the danger inherent in contact with whatever escapes clear defnition and reinforce the idea that the body is most vulnerable at its margins. Van Gennep, Turner and Douglas have all argued persuasively, albeit with different points of emphases, that ritual is what makes it possible to harness the creative and destructive power inherent in formlessness and that it arises out of the need to bring the dangerous, polluting forces of liminality under control. When Douglas explains that the “ritual play on articulate and inarticulate forms is crucial to understanding pollution” and that “[i]n ritual form it [pollution] is treated as if it were quick with power to maintain itself in being, yet always liable to attack” (Purity and Danger 96), she effectively indicates that a certain universal mechanics of pollution is at work in situations of exposure to the liminal. When initiands become transitional beings in the process of rites of passage they pollute irrespective of their will or intentions, and the same is true of anyone or anything that lies “‘betwixt and between’ all the recognized fxed points in space-time structural classifcation” (Turner, Forest of Symbols 97).

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The ritualistic remedy accordingly tends to take predictable forms, and as Van Gennep notes “[r]ites of entering a house, a temple, and so forth, have their counterpart in rites of exit, which are either identical or the reverse” (24). Thus, to leave a space of liminality safe and sound, one must retrace one’s steps, following the exact same pattern of action, annulling and reverting as much as possible of the dangerous effects that interacting with the polluting environment may have had. Penetration of the body results in immediate pollution, but in point of fact, any kind of interaction with such environment is best avoided, because even that may amount to exposing oneself to the dangers of the liminal. It is this apotropaic logic of ritualized exits that underlies the mode of return of Sir Orfeo from the land of the fairy king. The very moment Orfeo was allowed by the latter to take Heurodis as a trophy He kneled adoun & þonked him swiþe. His wiif he tok bi þe hond & dede him swiþe out of þat lond, & went him out of þat þede; Riȝt as he come the wey he ȝede. So long he haþ þe way y-nome To Winchester he is y-come[.] (ll. 472–478) The passage emphasizes the swiftness of Orfeo’s escape from fairyland through the double repetition of “swiþe.” In the syntactic parallelism of lines 474–475, the text also stresses the hero’s single-mindedness in attempting to leave immediately, reinforcing the image of Orfeo getting “out of that” accursed place as soon as possible. It would seem that folk wisdom about the polluting character of the fairy realm was not lost on Orfeo. While he did have to break the rules of precaution by approaching the fairy king in order to retrieve his wife, once the mission has been accomplished, he knows that he has to leave at once to avoid any further interactions with the dangerous environment. He also knows that he needs to retrace his steps, taking the exact same route that led him into the heart of the fairy domain, and he does not stop until he is absolutely certain that he is safe, allowing himself to rest only upon returning to Winchester. Only such an awareness of the implicit rules of conduct in travel between the worlds can guarantee the character his happy ending. Signifcantly, in Robert Henryson’s Orpheus and Eurydice, which ends with Orpheus looking back at his wife and losing her forever, the two lovers become immersed in a discussion, “talkand of play and sport” (l. 385) immediately prior to Orpheus forgetting about the “don’t turn back” taboo imposed by Proserpine. Orpheus’s mistake in Henryson’s story is to break an explicit taboo voiced by the fairies, but his sorry plight is also indicative of the general principle of prescribed silence that he ignores. In

94 Modes of Liminality in Medieval Romance the English Breton lay, Sir Orfeo knows better than to make this mistake, and his awareness of the convention is manifest in that inasmuch as he is in a hurry, he does not really hurry to Winchester, where he tarries for a day, but out of the subterranean land. In Thomas of Erceldoune the fairy queen helps Thomas to return safely to the earthly world by warning him against potentially harmful interactions within the fairy realm. She prompts him to leave to avoid being taken by the devil, and it would seem that her injunction for Thomas to be silent in the fairy castle serves a similar purpose: When þou commes to ȝone castelle gaye, I pray þe curtase mane to bee; And whate so any mane to þe saye, Luke þou answere none bott me. My lorde es seruede at ylk a mese, With thritty knyghttis faire & fre; I sall saye syttande at the desse, I tuke thi speche by-ȝonde the see. (ll. 225–232)39 The sexual union between the two that takes place in the earthly world prior to their arrival in the fairy castle—hence without the usual consequences for the mortal—may explain their relationship’s special status and the fact that they converse freely in the otherworld without any pollution occurring. To have Thomas speak to the fairy king and his retinue is, however, a different matter. In fact, the text suggests that by addressing the other fairies Thomas may not only risk condemning himself to remain with them by conspicuously interacting with the polluting environment but also somehow make the lovemaking known to the fairy king. The call for his silence is preceded by the queen saying that she would rather be hanged and drawn than allow that to happen (ll. 223–224), and it is precisely at this point that she begins to elaborate on the necessity of the human character’s abstention from speech. A part of her motivation is to keep the story of their intimacy secret, but for Thomas to reveal to the king what had transpired would amount to him opening his mouth in the otherworld and allowing the boundaries of his body to be breached. It would be a metaphorical reenactment of his sexual congress with the queen and a trigger for the pollution to come into place and entrap him in the otherworld forever. This is something that the queen never wished for, as her decision to take him back to the tree where they frst met to avoid the devil indicates (ll. 285–297). She never wanted it in the frst place, and what she has to say to Thomas on their way to the fairy castle, once they enter a hill and fnd themselves in a “faire herbere” (l. 177), makes this perfectly clear: He pressede to pulle frowyte with his hande, Als mane for fude þat was nere faynt;

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Scho sayd, ‘Thomas! þou late þame stande, Or ells þe fende the will atteynt. If þou it plokk, sothely to saye, This saule gose to þe fyre of helle; It commes neuer owte or domesdaye, Bot þer jn payne ay for to duelle.[’] (ll. 185–192) Were Thomas to eat the fruit of the otherworld, he would be confned to the fres of hell for eternity. The Thornton version provides a kind of an end date for the torment (his soul would not leave “or domesdaye,” i.e., ere doomsday), but the Lansdowne text is much more fnal in its pronouncement: “Thowe commyst neuer owte agayne” (l. 191). Here is a paradigmatic case of the folkloric motif of contamination by fairy food— and a literary instance of the logic of pollution by the liminal at work. As in the story told by Briggs, eating food and speaking in the otherworld will have the same consequences.

Generic Liminality and Thomas of Erceldoune To venture into liminal space is to experience both danger and a sense of power. In folk belief, pollution is always a factor to be reckoned with, but when mortals successfully managed to leave the otherworld and return to mundane space, it was not uncommon for certain powers to linger within them. The experience of the threshold is transformative—indeed a prerequisite for any transformation—and “[t]o be alone in fairy places, and to have communication with fairy folk, often left the individual with special gifts, such as second sight, prophecy, an ability to heal, or unusual musical talent” (Henderson and Cowan 211). Thomas of Erceldoune is a perfect example of this belief, with the fairy queen even giving Thomas a choice in the matter: ‘To harpe or carpe, whare-so þou gose, Thomas, þou sall hafe þe chose sothely.’ And he saide, ‘harpynge kepe j none; ffor tonge es chefe of mynstralsye.’ (ll. 313–316) Hearing this answer, the fairy then proclaims: “If þou will spelle, or tales telle, / Thomas, þou sall neuer lesynge lye” (ll. 313–318). This is a story of the birth of “True Thomas,” as the character was to be known in later tradition, and a way of accounting for the prophetic, soothsaying gift of “Thomas the Rhymer,” a minstrel fgure that was to fuel the imagination of later generations with his prophecies that sometimes did indeed come true—mostly because the original material was retrospectively

96 Modes of Liminality in Medieval Romance supplemented with new predictions (Cooper, English Romance 194–195). The character fgures as Thomas Rymer40 in one of the most popular ballads from Francis James Child’s collection, and the frst line of version 37A of the text (dating back to April 1800) refers to him as “True Thomas” (Child 323), so it is clear that later balladry still maintained the association between his visit to Elfand and the gift he received. However, while the nature of the relationship between the medieval romance and the eighteenth-century ballad has been the subject of much scholarly debate and guesswork, the most obvious difference between the two is that the ballad omits the prophecies that form the bulk of the medieval text. Few would disagree that from the perspective of textual unity, or the integrity of mood, scene and theme, the change is one for the better. But although it may be inimical to modern literary taste, the medieval text of Thomas of Erceldoune is what it is—a short romance-like opening with very little plot (Boklund-Lagopoulou 140) followed by a long series of prophecies in which the sense of fairy-related otherness that characterizes the frst section of the poem is utterly lost and gives way to the historical specifcity of Scottish war and politics. The two parts of Thomas of Erceldoune are so dissimilar that it is not unusual to fnd critics focus exclusively on one or the other.41 Historical prophecy is one thing, traffcking with fairies another. It is not diffcult to believe that the later ballad dropped the prophecies simply because they added little to the story, being something of a separate work embedded within the larger structure rather than a proper continuation of Thomas’s adventure with the fairy queen. The nature of the relationship between the romance and the ballad is problematic, however. While the Child text can only be dated back to the late eighteenth century, Emily Lyle has suggested that “the author of Thomas of Erceldoune was using a ballad source and expanding it by the addition of romance conventions” (35). Lyle rejects claims by the romance’s editor, Ingeborg Nixon, that the opening section of the text was itself a shortened form of a longer romance, and she argues that her own theory is better suited to explain some of the stylistic peculiarities of Thomas noted by Nixon, which bring the latter to conclude that “[t]he style of the narrative as a whole is that of a ballad rather than a romance” (qtd. in Lyle 35). Indeed, scholars have noticed that the romance is written “not in the tetrameter couplets or tail-rhyme characteristic of other Middle English romances, but in the quatrains of the conventional ballad stanza, rhyming abab (often doubled)” (Cooper, “Thomas” 173). Helen Cooper observes that in many respects the socalled “‘romance’ of Thomas of Erceldoune is not obviously a romance at all,” especially when one considers the entirety of the text, including the prophecies (“Thomas” 176). Cooper points to the concreteness of the setting (“by huntle bankkes”—l. 28) and the insistence that the events described happened recently (“þis Endres day”—l. 25) and notes that “[t]his is the very opposite of the settings distant in time and space that

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romance most often evokes” (“Thomas” 179). There is, moreover, little heroism in the story, since the character of Thomas does not even have an opportunity to do anything (Cooper, “Thomas” 179). What the text does abound in, on the other hand, is a number of ballad features, and these include “abrupt transitions, the use of direct dialogue, and the fairy-tale nature of the story” (Boklund-Lagopoulou 145). Notwithstanding its many affnities to the ballad genre, Thomas of Erceldoune also has discernible romance elements. There may be little here about courtly culture except in the space of roughly twenty lines that focus on the court of the fairy king, but the overall plot is analogous to Sir Orfeo and Sir Launfal in that its starting point is a situation “in which a mortal encounters a fairy and/or is abducted to the fairy world” (Boklund-Lagopoulou 140). To determine the genre of Thomas is a challenge, and even back in the Middle Ages there appears to have a been a degree of confusion as to its nature. In the Thornton manuscript, it is not itself labelled a romance but can be found “in the section of the manuscript largely devoted to romances” (Cooper, “Thomas” 177)—a sign that for Thornton “the appeal of Tomas of Ersseldoune was . . . not its balladlike form but its romance-like atmosphere” (Boklund-Lagopoulou 130). In three other manuscripts (Sloane, Lansdowne and Cotton), it seems to be considered frst and foremost as a set of prophecies, but then in the Cambridge University Library MS, it shares manuscript space with other ballad-like narrative texts (Boklund-Lagopoulou 129). The most defnitive statement that the evidence allows for is that Thomas of Erceldoune is “generically hard to place” and that it “exhibits a complex mix of features (romance, prophecy and ballad)” (Radulescu 46). With its generic instability posing problems in terms of reception, Thomas of Erceldoune falls into the scheme posited by Aguirre, Quance and Sutton, who postulate a general principle of the correspondence of liminalities across the reader/character divide. Both readers and characters, in their view, come face to face with the same experience of the liminal, albeit in different ways, and the hermeneutic challenges of the readers correspond to and refect the vicissitudes of in-text characters. A major theme in the poem that contributes to this is what to make of the fairy—a problem that both the character of Thomas and the readers need to come to terms with. Thomas initially takes her to be the Blessed Virgin Mary (ll. 87–88 in Thornton, Lansdowne, Cotton and Cambridge MSS), later to change his mind and see her as the Devil himself for a brief while (Lansdowne MS only, l. 144). The queen explains, in turn, that “j ame of ane oþer countree” (l. 93). Before Thomas reaches the fairy castle, which is constructed along the lines of the mirror principle as equivalent to courtly human settings, this oscillation between conficting dualistic interpretations dominates the text. The queen shows Thomas four roads leading to heaven, paradise, purgatory and hell respectively (ll. 201–216), with the fairy castle emerging as the ffth option in a number of signifcant

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ways. Through such a juxtaposition the castle is dissociated from either good (heaven) or evil (hell); it is neither a realm of pure pleasure (paradise) nor pain (purgatory); neither material like purgatory and paradise, which could be reached in the fesh according to medieval beliefs (Byrne, Otherworlds 77; Green, Elf 183), nor immaterial like heaven or hell. It is neither, or perhaps a little bit of both—all in all, a truly “other countree” in all respects. Such a liminal presentation of fairies has not gone unnoticed in criticism. William Albrecht, who devoted a book-length study to the motif of the loathly lady in Thomas of Erceldoune, observes that this particular story is at once more primitive and more sophisticated than those stories in which the loathly lady is only good or only bad, with her opposite quality merely a physical one or the result of another’s evil intent. In Thomas of Erceldoune the lady’s two-sidedness is preserved on both physical and moral levels; not only is the lady alternately ugly and beautiful, but her acts partake of evil as well as good. (69) Apart from a sense of moral ambiguity, there is a sense of an aesthetic liminality at work here, because “[t]he fairies are beautiful, but also terrifyingly ugly and grotesque; their world is courtly, but also dangerous and diabolical” (Boklund-Lagopoulou 155). Regardless of whether the lady’s transformation is an intrusion, as some have suggested (Lyle 34, 55; MacQueen 331), or part of the original story, it is seamlessly integrated, in this respect, into the overall liminal scheme of the text. The oscillation between antinomic categories makes it impossible for Thomas to rationalize his experience as either divine or demonic, but the text plays with generic conventions in such a way that the same plight awaits the readers. This goes beyond Thomas of Erceldoune being a curious mixture of ballad and romance and has to do with the ways in which the story utilizes the convention of a dream vision. Albrecht observes that [c]ombined with this fairy material are certain materials familiar in the allegorical dream-vision: the use of the frst person, the walk on a beautiful May morning, the apparition of a lady who imparts instruction, and the view of the Christian other worlds. (26) As early as 1908 Josephine Burnham pronounced her confdence that if one were to read to opening lines of the romance, “one would doubtless suppose them to form the induction to a vision of some sort” (384), and in speaking of the fairy she noted that [t]he lady . . . is by no means the ordinary fay of romance. On the contrary, she does just what the lady of a vision should do; she imparts

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instruction. Or, to put the matter in another way, Thomas knows nothing about the future of himself; he is a passive recipient of knowledge, like the seer of any vision. (385) Indeed, the vision of the fve loci offered to Thomas seems to come in a quasi-spiritual form when the hero lies in the fairy’s lap exhausted and starving (ll. 198–199), having just been denied an opportunity to satiate his hunger with the fruits of a rich orchard. This connection with the religious dream vision genre is not just an idiosyncratic feature of Thomas of Erceldoune but part of a broader tendency of Middle English religious poetry and fairy-themed romance narratives to approximate each other, in terms of both imagery and structure (Putter 237–242).42 Even a cursory comparison of the romance with the late fourteenth-century Middle English dream vision Pearl immediately reveals numerous similarities.43 Both texts follow the three-stage pattern of crossing into the otherworld as outlined by Richard Green: 1) an initial crossing of the boundary between the fairy world and that of mortals; 2) a perilous journey through an uncanny territory; and 3) a second crossing into the fairy heartland. (Elf 287) In both, the travellers face dangers in the frst stage of their journey that the female guide fgures warn them about (the dangerous fruit in Thomas and the river in Pearl). Both texts present the mortal characters as desperate to be united physically with the female guide, which they are warned against in words that stress the impossibility of a long-lasting union: line 101 in Thomas (“Scho sayde, ‘þou mane, þat ware folye[’]”) carries the same message as the Pearl Maiden’s “‘Wy borde ye men? So madde ye be![’]” (l. 290). Both texts, moreover, culminate with a vision of a fortifed structure presided over by a male authority fgure from which the mortal character is sooner or later expelled. The imagery is at some points nearly identical, as when Thomas mentions that the queen is, like the Pearl Maiden, bedecked with the most expensive pearls (Thornton MS: “parelde moste of prysee”; Lansdowne MS: “perled most in price”— l. 97). It is the same strategy that the Pearl poet makes use of in his description of the city of New Jerusalem and its twelve-tiered gemstone walls and foundation, or the Orfeo poet in his depiction of the fairy king’s castle made “al of precious stones” (l. 366). Whether found in religious dream poetry or medieval romance, such descriptions draw on the imagery of the biblical book of the Revelation to mark the otherworldliness of the vision (Byrne, Otherworlds 94–95). And this is what makes the readers share, at least in part, the initial confused guess of Thomas as to the nature of his otherworldly adventure, because, in the words of Ad Putter, all this

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fairy splendour looks “suspiciously like heaven” (239). Naturally, the key difference is not only that the fairy castle is no celestial Jerusalem but that there is no dream in the text. Or rather, there is no direct mention of a dream either in the scene of Thomas lying under a tree in the manner of Heurodis, or in the lap-lying scene that sees him being delivered a vision that is by all means dream-like. The text is suggestive and points in different directions, never allowing itself to put an end to the readers’ interpretive struggles by embracing a uniform generic identity. And the dilemma is not only whether it is a romance or a ballad: what is at stake is the sense of the reality, materiality and moral nature of Thomas’s meeting with the queen—precisely the issues that the folkloric understanding of fairies, which acknowledges their liminality, can never resolve for good. Whether in a moral or ontological context, the oscillation that defnes the fairies’ nature is a fundamental feature of medieval romance and derives from folklore and popular belief. The sort of paradoxical language employed in literary criticism that acknowledges this inherent ambiguity of the fairy fgure matches the discursive strategies of Van Gennepian anthropology and its characterization of the liminal as defying the mutually exclusive dichotomization of terms into clear-cut binary oppositions. This troubling of the binaries—not just any particular binaries but binary oppositional thinking as such—is a motif that recurs across medieval romance texts dealing with fairies. Useful in its ultimate focus on ritual passage, anthropology offers a theoretical paradigm particularly well suited for the genre of romance. But the preoccupation of the Van Gennepian school with rites and the fact that it approaches the oscillation in question from the perspective of actual ritual action also comes with its limits. Chapter 3 accordingly takes up the rudimentary question of what it means to say that fairies cannot be circumscribed within the logic of both/ and or either/or and attempts to guide the reader through the conceptual, historical and rhetorical vicissitudes of the problem once again, this time in a philosophical context. Its goal is to paint a broader picture and clarify the far-reaching consequences and interpretive repercussions of asserting that fairies are inherently liminal—that they are, or represent, the liminal. Whether there is a difference between being and representing in this case is precisely what is at stake, and this is where the anthropological paradigm gives way to the philosophical one.

Notes 1. James Wade’s Fairies in Medieval Romance and Helen Cooper’s English Romance in Time provide the best available overviews of the narratorial signifcance of references to fairies in medieval romance. 2. For various defnitions of popular and popular culture, see Putter and Gilbert 16–19 and Radulescu and Rushton 5. For characteristics of popular romance, see Radulescu and Rushton 7, Field 29, Radulescu 39 and Putter and Gilbert 19–20.

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3. For a reading of Sir Orfeo that attempts to analyse the poem through later fairy-belief, see Allen. In her 1964 article, she justifes her approach by indicating that “[i]f my arguments have so far depended almost solely upon modern evidence, my excuse must be that the early material at our disposal is inevitably limited and scattered” (105). Allen’s approach was heavily criticized by A. C. Spearing, who dismissed as guesswork her idea that the poem acquired its form “by passing through the hands of one or more storytellers who actually believed in fairies” (Spearing 71) and questioned her suggestions that these storytellers may have had Gaelic or Breton roots (71). Focusing on the authorship of the analysed texts or their authors’ personal beliefs or cultural background is indeed a highly speculative methodology, but Allen’s project deserves to be noted for its insistence on the relevance of medieval fairy belief for romance studies, and as Alan Fletcher observes, commenting on Allen’s method, “analogues have their value” (159). Fletcher himself acknowledges the value of both “legitimately dehistoricized” and historicized readings of the poem (160–161), and the search for systemic analogues of liminality that the present book offers can be located somewhere in between the two approaches. 4. The text specifes the time of the encounter as “vndrentide” in l. 65. See Jirsa 141–142 fn. 3 for possible readings of the term. 5. Unless stated otherwise, references are to the Auchinleck version of Sir Orfeo. The poem survives in three versions: Auchinleck, Ashmole and Harley, and references to all three versions of the poem are always to the 1966 edition of A. J. Bliss. 6. For readings of Sir Orfeo that focus on the ympe-tre, see Bullock-Davies (1962), Lasater (1974) and Jirsa (2008). 7. See Schwieterman 82–83 for a comparison of the Auchinleck and Ashmole versions in this respect. Ashmole has the queen awaken just before the arrival of the fairy king (ll.130–131), and Harley implies that he appears before the queen manages to fall asleep (ll. 131–132). In Auchinleck there is no mention of any kind of awakening at all. 8. For a defnition and hypothetical origin of the conception of the subtle body, see Wilby, Visions 249. 9. The tradition of associating the month of May with love may be observed in the paradigmatic medieval love allegory—the Roman de la Rose. The ubiquity of the symbolism of May can also be gauged in the text of the Middle English dream vision Pearl, where the opening of the text, drawing on the discourse of allegorical love poetry, signifcantly shifts the action to August (l. 39) rather than May as a signal of a departure from the initial imagery of unreciprocated love. Naturally, the mention of May in Sir Orfeo is more of a literary convention than evidence of folkloric belief, but the latter fgures fairies as predominantly interested in sexual liaisons with humans throughout the year. 10. See Pearsall (1966) and Spearing (2000). 11. See Green’s chapter on “Incubi Fairies” (Elf 76–109) for a discussion of the entanglement of the notions of incubi and fairies in the late Middle Ages. 12. “þe hote somer-tyde” in Harley (l. 272), and “an hote vndryn-tyde” in Ashmole (l. 288). 13. See Wilby, Visions 382–393 for a discussion of the motif of a fairy fgure of authority in early modern literature and popular belief, and its demonization. 14. There have been suggestions that the identifcation of Winchester with Thrace is merely a result of the poet’s ignorance (Spearing, “Sir Orfeo” 261). For arguments against reading this confation as a result of authorial confusion, see Schwieterman 94–99.

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15. For a similar use of “grafting” to refer to the way in which the classical Orpheus story and insular fairy lore have been put together, see Riddy 7. 16. The passage is Neil Cartlidge’s summary of the conclusions of Alan Fletcher. 17. Such paper towers and pinnacles become “the exotic table decorations of Belshazzar’s feast” (North 80) in the romance’s manuscript companion Cleanness (l. 1408), considered to have been authored by the same poet. 18. Victor Y. Haines believes that the poet playfully skips December 28 and deliberately obscures the fact that Gawain slept through most of the day (355). As I have argued elsewhere, the omission may also refer to the presentation of Arthur and his knights as immature in the opening Camelot scene, pointing out that that they are no innocents but rather the exact opposite—mature enough to face the consequences of their actions (Spyra, Epistemological 59). 19. A discussion of time warp in folklore can be found in Briggs (Encyclopedia 398–400, Fairies 123–125). The motif of heterochronia in medieval fairythemed literature receives treatment in Roseanna Cross’s article on Thomas of Erceldoune and other texts. For a possible connection between the phenomenon of time warp and fairy deals and contracts, see also Chapter 6. 20. See J. Wade 21–23 for a discussion of Partonope of Blois. 21. Haines points out that “the day of sleep is obscured to Gawain’s consciousness as it is to the reader’s” (357). 22. Carrière reads the frst Fitt as a story of Camelot’s spiritual failure, arguing that “Arthur and his court have attempted to establish a secular order which would offer its own redemption” (36). In this context, the religious celebrations at Hautdesert may be read as an ironic critique of the fact that “the members of the Round Table show more interest in the gifts and games of Christmas than its religious signifcance” (Carrière 37). For a comprehensive overview of literary criticism focusing in particular on the court’s failings (or lack thereof), see Blanch and Wasserman, “Judging Camelot.” 23. The mixture of green and red in the Green Knight’s image is a common one in representations of fairies in folklore (Lysaght 32, Ballard 53, Gwyndaf 178–179, P. A. Smith 146). For a summary of scholarship dealing with the Green Knight’s hue, see Sadowski 78–108. See also Brewer, “The Colour Green.” 24. Emphasis in the original. 25. The sense of duality and ambiguity in the expression is acknowledged by Spangenberg (137), who also cites Puhvel to support her view. By contrast, James Wade sees the expression as a single unit denoting “an illusion made by enchantment or subtle arts” (34). 26. Luttrell, who also reads the Green Knight as a devil fgure, identifes him with the tradition of the phantom huntsman leading the Wild Hunt in Germanic folklore (114–115). Randall, too, speaks of the Green Knight as both fairy and devil (480–481, 489–490). For more on the demonization of fairies, see Chapter 4. 27. In his 1991 book-length study of the poem, Gerald Morgan sternly denounces ambiguity as a modern imposition on the medieval text and proffers a moral reading of the romance rooted in scholastic philosophy in which he explores the handsomeness of the Green Knight and sees his colours as a symbol of courtly youth (79) rather than a mark of the folkloric supernatural or anything monstrous. 28. The ambiguous image was popularized by Ludwig Wittgenstein’s Philosophical Investigations (204). 29. For a discussion of the fairy rapist in Sir Degaré in analogy to the Green Knight’s ambiguous nature, see Colopy 32–33. 30. Judy Shoaf explains in her translation that “Marie’s phrase is ‘bien hebergez,’ that is, housed in an inn.” Shoaf notes that “[t]his phrase fts with his

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31.

32. 33.

34. 35. 36.

37. 38. 39. 40.

41. 42.

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[Lanval’s] condition as a stranger in Arthur’s kingdom, who lives not at his own house” (fn. 3). The authorship of Sir Launfal is established in line 1039: “Thomas Chestre made thys tale” (all citations from Sir Launfal are taken from the TEAMS edition by Anne Laskaya and Eve Salisbury). The name of the author is the only information available about him. Guy-Bray identifes a tendency in criticism to “berate him [Chestre] for failing to be Marie de France” (32). For an overview of negative reception, see Anderson 116 and Seaman 107–108. In the introduction to his edition of Sir Launfal, A. J. Bliss lists the following episodes as dependent mainly on Graelent: “the account of the queen’s enmity towards the hero (67–72); the episode of the mayor’s daughter (191–216); the account of the arrival of the gifts at the hero’s lodging (373–420); and the account of the disappearance of Gyfre and Blaunchard (733–744)” (24). Myra Seaman is critical of comparative attempts to evaluate the poetic success of Marie’s Lanval and Sir Launfal precisely because “no compelling evidence suggests that Chestre even knew Marie’s text” (107). For a discussion of “the reifcation of the lady’s gift” in Sir Launfal as opposed to Marie’s Lanval and Sir Landevale, see Seaman 114. In his introduction of Launfal, the narrator asserts that among the knights of the Round Table “So large ther nas noon yfounde, / Be dayes ne by nyght” (ll. 35–36). Nappholz identifes a double meaning here, noting that the seemingly formulaic phrase from the latter line recurs in a clearly sexual context later in the text (5–6). It certainly makes sense to read generosity as Launfal’s virtue by day and the other kind of “largesse” as his asset by night. More important, however, Nappholz’s observations indicate that the fnal lines of Sir Launfal’s tail-rhyme stanzas are not to be dismissed as serving “little purpose other than completing the rhyme pattern” (7). The observation has bearing on the reading of “fer & nyghe” in line 281, substantiating the claim that the line communicates a sense of fairy liminality. See also O’Brien 35–37 for a discussion of a metaliterary layer of meaning in Chestre’s exaggerated use of tail rhymes having to do with truth claims. Cf. Guy-Bray 45, Mehl 32, Hazell 142 and B. K. Martin 206. The same metaphor is employed in “Tam Lin” (Child ballad no. 39). All references to Thomas of Erceldoune are to the Thornton version unless stated otherwise. References to all versions are based on James Murray’s 1875 edition. Rymer may have originally been a surname but quickly came to denote the character’s occupation and to refer to his poetic skills, even though the earliest surviving prophecy ascribed to him “is notable for its absence of literal rhyme” (Cooper, “Thomas” 176). For an in-depth study of the Erceldoune prophecies and the tradition of prophecies that followed, see Flood 110–154. Richard Green has recently argued that such connections are not a purely literary phenomenon but part of a broader historical process in which the notions of fairyland and purgatory (and by extension also that of the earthly paradise) have competed with each other, producing a number of texts— literary and otherwise—that confate popular belief with elite theology by not differentiating clearly between the two kinds of otherworlds, their properties, denizens or even their geographical location (Elf 178–193). For a study of Pearl in the context of fairy belief and medieval romance, see Spyra, “The Discourse of Fairyland in the Dream Vision of the Middle English Pearl.”

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As with most concepts fundamental to the workings of Western culture, liminality was a subject of theoretical refection already among the ancient Greeks, albeit under different names and in ways hardly recognizable at frst for a Van Gennepian. An important insight into the nature of liminality can be found in Jacques Derrida’s discussion of Plato’s Timaeus, in which he draws his readers’ attention to the Platonic notion of khora (χώρα), closely related to what modern critical discourse refers to as the liminal. More than merely a constituent element in the Platonic worldview, khora emerges in Derrida’s interpretation as a fundamental epistemological proposition about the nature of reality and the production of meaning. Derrida’s two essays—“Khora” and “How to Avoid Speaking: Denials”—outline his general position with regard to this elusive Platonic notion. His understanding of khora differs quite markedly from the feminist perspective of Julia Kristeva, another key contemporary thinker to address the concept. To trace the overlaps and differences between the two, and to review the contribution of contemporary critical thought to conceptualizing liminality and its discontents, it is vital to turn to Plato himself, because the Timaeus proffers a powerful account of the ultimate mode of liminality within the construction of the universe. To say that khora is simply another name for the liminal would be a reduction of the complexity of both terms and their theoretical contexts, but the two ideas are indeed intimately connected, and to verbalize the nature of this link one must attend both to the ways in which Plato speaks about this strange non-thing and to modern theorists’ strategies in making sense of Plato’s formulations.

The Platonic Khora Khora occupies a crucial though somewhat obscure place within Plato’s ontological dualism. In fact, it calls the fundamental discernment of Platonic metaphysics into question, for it belongs neither to the world of immutable intelligible Forms nor to the sensible world of generation. The Timaeus—incidentally the only Platonic dialogue known to medieval

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European culture (Somfai 1)1—presents a model of the cosmos and its story of origin. In a lengthy monologue Timaeus explains how the divine craftsman fashioned the sensible world by imposing order on matter in a state of chaos, this act of creation being informed by the principles of mathematics. The text espouses the radical division of, and dissimilarity between, the perfect, immutable Forms that act as templates according to which the demiurge gave shape to the universe and the plurality of sensible objects actually found in the world. This contrast between the ontological (Being) and ontic (Becoming) planes of reality, the former endowed with eminently more reality than the latter, and the resulting epistemological break between two kinds of knowledge, that pertaining to the ideal Forms being the only possible instance of true, that is, immutable knowledge, have become a hallmark of Plato’s metaphysics. Into this apparently dualistic vision of reality comes, however, a third element—triton genos—the khora. To explain what this word refers to is defnitely a challenge, and one must take recourse to the original metaphorics employed by Plato’s text to approximate its meaning. For a start, it is in truth impossible to explain what khora is, for the crux of the matter is that it is not. Plato only knows two kinds of being, and khora is neither of them, so one cannot in all veracity say that it is. This means that language simply lacks the resources to say anything meaningful about it, and one may follow Julian Wolfreys’s perceptive, if somewhat discouraging, observation that “[f]ormulations of the sort ‘khora is/is not’ miss the point and are neither true nor false inasmuch as khora is not determinable according to the conceptual framework that posits such questions in the frst place” (39). After all, Plato believes that reliable knowledge (episteme) only pertains to absolute, unchanging things, and the world of becoming can thus only give us apparent knowledge that is nothing but mere opinion (doxa), changeable as the phenomena it refers to. With the mode of knowledge being fully dependent on its subject matter’s mode of existence, what is there to be said of khora, which ultimately is not? Plato says that it can only be “grasped by a bastard reasoning, without the support of sensation, and is hardly credible” (45), and he recognizes from the outset that it is very diffcult to describe, calling it “a diffcult and obscure kind of thing” (40) or even going so far as to call it “almost incomprehensible” (43).2 The text of the Timaeus will essentially try to approximate its meaning by employing various metaphors—nurse, mother, receptacle—but its readers are prompted to remain wary of their validity. It is therefore evident, for the text gives us numerous cues that it is so which sometimes read as open signals for attention, that Plato struggles to communicate what he has to say about khora. His choice of word offers limited guidance in this regard: The word khora is the common Greek name for a concrete area or place; a khorion, for example, is a district or an estate, and khorismos

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Khora “means . . . space, place, position, but also a land, territory or country, and especially the country opposed to the town” (Bianchi 130). When the text of the Timaeus indicates for the frst time that khora can be approached in spatial terms, it is explained that “there is space, which exists for ever and is indestructible, and which acts as the arena for everything that is subject to creation” (45). It is “the receptacle . . . of all creation” (40)—“receptacle” is indeed how scholarly philosophical discourse usually refers to it—and Timaeus speaks of things entering or leaving it (42) or being shaken within it like in a winnowing basket (46), which further strengthens the impression that it is actually some form of space.3 The exact way in which khora is invoked by Plato, however, also lends itself easily to readings that understand it to be a kind of material substratum for the objects in the world. This idea can easily be traced to Plato’s analogy between khora and gold: Imagine someone who moulds out of gold all the shapes there are, but never stops remoulding each form and changing it into another. If you point at one of the shapes and ask him what it is, by far the safest reply, so far as truth is concerned, is for him to say “gold”; he should never say that it’s “a triangle” or any of the other shapes he’s in the process of making, because that would imply that these shapes are what they are, when in fact they’re changing even while they’re being identifed. (42) Plato’s point here is that in trying to defne the true nature of things, one cannot hope for answers such as “fre,” “air,” “earth” or “water” to be ultimately true, for whatever has at a given moment the form of water may easily vaporize and turn into air or solidify and turn into stone (41). In the preceding analogy, gold is to the shapes as khora is to the elements. In fact, khora is the only thing that can be pointed to and called “this,” says Timaeus, and everything else should, according to him, be referred to only as “something of this sort” so as not to create the impression that it has any kind of stability, a quality which the text of the Platonic dialogue attributes only to khora. In other words, “[w]hen we point to a phenomenal body, what we are actually pointing at is the molded chora, that is, the representation of the Idea into the chora” (Mingarelli 87).4 The mixture of spatial and material characteristics that arises out of the various metaphors and references to khora is quite confusing. Scholars have tried to bring both these characteristics together, arguing, for instance, that it is “neither matter nor substance, but rather a sort of proto-matter, the

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primordial reality that allows matter to appear” (Mingarelli 88), or that it can be understood as a spacetime continuum, “the potency of matter, and space, and of physical motion” (Demos 40). Yet an essential problem that makes it diffcult to say anything meaningful about khora is that “although presupposed by experience, [it] is never given in experience” (Demos 540), and since one cannot even say that it is, one must agree with Plato that the notion is indeed very diffcult and obscure. However, even if it cannot really be said what exactly khora is, it is useful to look at what it does or, rather, what its function is within the Platonic universe. Khora connects the worlds of Being and Becoming by acting as “the space within which the sensible copy of the intelligible is inscribed” (Caputo, Deconstruction 99), “in which sensible things are inscribed according to eternal patterns” (Caputo, Deconstruction 96), “a tabula rasa on which the Demiurge writes” (Caputo, Deconstruction 86). In this way, it is “essential in the process of individuation” (Mingarelli 87) and accounts for the plurality of things, allowing for indeterminate space to be delimited and for boundaries between individual objects—multitudinous copies of single Forms—to be constituted (cf. Demos 544). As such, it is partly aligned with the phenomenal world, for it acts as the creative factor and spatial locus/material substratum for things in the world and partly with the realm of Forms, being itself invisible and intelligible (Demos 540). As the text of the Timaeus puts it, “we won’t go wrong if we think of it as an invisible, formless receptacle of everything, which is in some highly obscure fashion linked with the intelligible realm” (43). Derrida explains, however, that [a]t the moment, so to speak, when the demiurge organizes the cosmos by cutting, introducing, and impressing the images of the paradigms “into” the khora, the latter must have already been there, as the “there” itself, beyond time or in any case beyond becoming, in a beyond time without common measure with the eternity of the ideas and the becoming of sensible things (“How to Avoid Speaking” 104) In Caputo’s words, khora is like the forms inasmuch as it has a kind of eternity: it neither is born nor dies, it is always already there, and hence is beyond temporal coming-to-be and passing away; yet, it does not have the eternity of the intelligible paradigms but a certain a-chronistic atemporality. (Deconstruction 84) Intimately connected to both the worlds of Being and Becoming, it ultimately belongs to neither—the most primitive instance of liminality within the entire cosmos.

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In an attempt to elucidate Plato’s conception of khora, much has been made in philosophical criticism of the metaphors employed by the Timaeus. These can be classifed into two main groups, spatio-sexual and artisanal (Burchill 33), but before examining these, it is worthwhile to investigate one other metaphor that, although never explicitly appearing in the text, set the stage for numerous discussions of this elusive notion— that of the mirror. This metaphor is one that clearly preoccupied Plato, as can be seen elsewhere in his texts,5 but in the description of khora in the Timaeus it is “no more than hinted at” (Keyt 298). This did not stop some critics, however, from investigating it on a par with the overtly mentioned metaphor of gold, cited earlier, nor did it stop other scholars from following the same train of thought.6 The original passage in the Timaeus reads thus: And the truth is this: since even the conditions of an image’s occurrence lie outside the image itself—since it is an ever-moving apparition of something else—it has to occur in something other than itself (and so somehow or other to cling on to existence), or else it would be nothing at all; anything that genuinely exists, however, is supported by the true and rigorous argument that neither of two distinct entities can ever occur in the other, because that would make them simultaneously one and two. So there we have, briefy argued, the position that gets my vote: there were three distinct things in existence even before the universe was created—being, space, and creation. (45) Plato argues here that if things in the world are indeed dependent in their occurrences on perfect, immutable Forms—that is if they are refections of the Forms—then the former must occur, and the latter be refected in something. And once one reads the relationship between Forms and their copies as refection, the mirror metaphor immediately presents itself to mind. As K. W. Mills puts it, “Plato in effect assimilates the way in which Forms are received by space [khora] to the way in which people are refected in mirrors” (159). This is a somewhat controversial interpretation, and Donald Zeyl is right to point out in response that “[a]s a statement about Plato’s procedure here, this is patently false: there is no talk of mirrors in the entire passage” (135). Still, the model of a mirror may actually have suggested itself to readers of the Timaeus for a reason. One good rationale for the emergence of the mirror metaphor in criticism is the fact that khora is presented in the Timaeus as something altogether characterless: it never is anything other than what it is: it only ever acts as the receptacle for everything, and it never comes to resemble in any way whatsoever any of the things that enter it. Its nature is to act as the

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stuff from which everything is moulded—to be modifed and altered by the things that enter it, with the result that it appears different at different times. And whatever enters it and leaves it is a copy of something that exists for ever, a copy formed in an indescribably wonderful fashion. (42) In other words, khora never really takes on any qualities. Its lack of features and pure receptiveness may thus resemble the surface of a mirror, which also receives images from the outside and refects them, with no change to the constitution of the glass pane as such. The mirror metaphor also serves well to explain the fundamental valorization inherent in Platonic ontology, for “a refection is a queer sort of object, and on examination is discovered not to be an object at all” (K. W. Mills 160), which is precisely how Plato sees the world of Becoming, lacking the qualities of true Being. Speaking of Socrates being refected in a mirror by way of analogy, Mills explains that [w]e say that Socrates, by standing in front of a mirror, generates in that mirror a refection which was not there previously; but the true account of what he does is that he causes himself, who has long ago come into being, to appear to be where in fact he is not (namely, in or behind the mirror), and where, till that moment he did not appear to be. (160) Just as intelligible Forms predate their sensible copies and produce an illusory world that we live in, so does the mirror essentially produce an illusion of being.7 As Zeyl puts it, “refections are not things in their own right” (135), and this matches perfectly what Plato has to say about creation. Plato never makes the mirror analogy explicit, however, and this may be because his understanding of mirrors made this diffcult for him and involved a view that “the original object plays an active role in the case of the mirror” (Kung 170). Joan Kung, who elaborates on why Plato never makes the connection overtly, observes that from Plato’s discussion of mirrors elsewhere in the Timaeus it is clear that he believes that “the object seen acts on something,” while “Platonic Forms . . . are consistently portrayed by Plato as unchanging and not such as to act on other things, which is not to deny that they have some role in causal explanation” (170). Furthermore, “at creation, again it is not the Forms which act on the receptacle to produce their images. Rather, the Demiurge looking to an unchanging model” effects the entire process (Kung 172). The mirror analogy is also misleading because for Plato “the mirror neither contains nor constitutes images” (Kung 174). Above all, mirrors distort the images

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they receive (Kung 172), making left seem right. And if khora were a mirror, “it would be a queer, three-dimensional mirror, with the ‘images’ taking up its volume, rather than appearing ‘behind’ it” (Lee 357). Still, as Keimpe Algra points out, if we compare the receptacle to a mirror, we are not ipso facto committed to regarding it as in all respects resembling a mirror, nor to regarding it as in all respects resembling a mirror as Plato himself would conceive of it. (92)8 All in all, the mirror analogy may come with its drawbacks but even if “Timaeus never compares [khora] to a mirror, . . . he is one of the few who has not done so: it is the natural and unavoidable analogue for what takes on the appearance of its paradigm but has no character of its own apart from that” (Altman 114). And if describing the liminal through the mirror metaphor is essentially inescapable, the use of the metaphor, and of metaphorics as such, deserves close critical attention. The characterization of fairies in the previous chapters has often made use of the idea of the mirror principle, by which fairies are to be seen as having no real essence of their own, their nature being conducive to taking on whatever qualities give them a position of in-betweenness, whether in ontological, moral or any other terms. Prior to a discussion of the analogies between khora and the liminality of romance fairies, several other aspects of khora related to the construction of fairies require theoretical elucidation. These include the privileged status of the metaphorics of giving and receiving in speaking of the liminal, manifest in the liminal fairies’ predilection for gift-giving, and the problem of representation as such, one that looms large in attempts to discern whether romance fairies are to be taken at face value or read as representations.

Jacques Derrida’s Reading of the Timaeus It is one thing to ponder the validity of any given metaphor, and another to question the very notions of metaphorics. In his reading of the Timaeus and of the legacy of its interpretations, Jacques Derrida attempts the latter. As mentioned before, the word usually adopted in philosophical discourse when referring to khora is “receptacle,” and the predominance of this particular referent in scholarly writing has given it a kind of seeming transparency that domesticates the radical alterity of khora. It is to stress its ultimate otherness that Derrida insists on using the Greek transliteration, as well as avoiding the defnite article, speaking of khora rather than “the khora,” using what, in effect, becomes a proper name to refer to this unique (non-)thing. Still, Derrida does not shun referring to khora as a receptacle, and of all the metaphors used to speak of it, he is much warier

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of those that participate in interpretations which capitalize on what Plato has to say about the maternal aspect of khora and which see it as some sort of a feminine principle. We read in the Timaeus that “it would not be out of place to compare the receptacle to a mother, the source to a father and what they create between them to a child” (42) and that it is “the nurse of creation” (45). Traditional readings of the dialogue, such as that by Demos, accordingly see the relationship between the Forms and khora as gendered: The receptacle is the principle of life which, on being fertilized by the forms . . . gives birth to a living creature. Thus it is the vital force in all things, passive like the female principle, . . . inexhaustable in its creative power . . . yet inert, becoming creative when activated by the forms. (546) Julia Kristeva also sees khora (which she spells chora) as the maternal principle, although she vindicates this connection by rescuing the notion from reductionist readings that use the maternal reference as a mere mark of inferiority towards the paternal. Kristeva’s interest in the Timaeus and her borrowing of the term inaugurated a signifcant strain in feminist critical theory, and with the likes of Luce Irigaray and Judith Butler exploring the potential for feminist readings of what Plato has to say about it, it is more than likely that such interpretations of the notion will continue to thrive in contemporary critical thought.9 For Derrida, however, khora in Plato’s understanding and the feminine are two very different things, all the references to the mother/nurse fgure in the Timaeus notwithstanding. Derrida’s issue with conceptualizing khora as this or that is that while Plato’s text multiplies “fgures which one traditionally interprets as metaphors: gold, mother, nurse, sieve, receptacle” (Derrida, “How to Avoid Speaking” 105), to think of these as metaphors is to be short-sighted: the so-called “metaphors” are not only inadequate, in that they borrow fgures from the sensible forms inscribed in the khora, without pertinence for designating the khora itself. They are no longer metaphors. Like all rhetoric that makes of it a systematic web, the concept of metaphor issues from this Platonic metaphysics, from the distinction between the sensible and intelligible. . . . When the interpreters of Plato discuss these metaphors, whatever may be the complexity of their debates and analyses, we never see them suspicious of the concept of metaphor itself. (“How to Avoid Speaking” 106) As Burchill explains, “Derrida ultimately disqualifes as ‘metaphysical’— that is, as dependent upon the sensible/intelligible distinction and, thus,

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belonging to the ‘language’ of Platonism—the entire sequence of ‘metaphors’ (with the exception of ‘receptacle’) that refer to space or to the fgure of the mother” (33). This is because “[a]s something absolutely indifferent to anything sensible or intelligible, [khora] cannot be treated metaphorically, which always amounts to providing a sensible likeness for something intelligible” (Caputo, Deconstruction 94). To employ metaphorics is to take for granted, as solid foundation, the binary opposition between the sensible and the intelligible and between the literal and the fgurative, while khora remains prior to any and all categorial oppositions “which in the frst place allow it to be approached and said” (Derrida, “Khora” 90). The proliferation of various metaphors, Derrida observes, comes with a crucial caveat, one that was missed altogether by earlier readings of the Timaeus, for the interpreters of the dialogue ask themselves no questions about this tradition of rhetoric which places at their disposal a reserve of concepts which are very useful but which are all built upon this distinction between the sensible and the intelligible, which is precisely what the thought of khora can no longer get along with. (“Khora” 92) If all the various ways of approximating khora conceptually are “no longer metaphors” (Derrida, “How to Avoid Speaking” 106), that does not mean, however, that “khora is properly a mother, a nurse, a receptacle, a bearer of imprints or gold” (Derrida, “Khora” 92), and “to say that Plato does not use metaphor or sensible fgures to designate the place does not imply that he speaks appropriately of the proper and properly intelligible meaning of khora” (Derrida, “How to Avoid Speaking” 106). Derrida makes this disclaimer in both of his essays dealing with the notion to stress that khora is neither sensible nor intelligible, and while “giving place” to binary oppositions, it escapes them altogether, being “itself no longer subject to the law of the very thing which it situates” (“Khora” 92). And while Plato and readings of the Timaeus attempt to circumscribe khora in various ways by invoking spatio-sexual approximations,10 khora “puts in question these presuppositions and these distinctions . . . and escapes from this order of multiplicities” (Derrida, “Khora” 96); it “trouble[s] the very order of polarity, of polarity in general” (Derrida, “Khora” 92), escaping the constraints of binary conceptualizations by virtue of being that which generates them all in the frst place: Hence Plato says this in his way: it is necessary to avoid speaking of khora as of “something” that is or is not, that could be present or absent, intelligible, sensible, or both at once, active or passive, the Good or the Evil, God or man, the living or the non-living. Every theomorphic or anthropomorphic schema would thus also have to

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be avoided. If the khora receives everything, it does not do this in the manner of a medium or of a container, not even in that of a receptacle, because the receptacle is yet a fgure inscribed in it. (Derrida, “How to Avoid Speaking” 106) To speak of khora would thus involve an attempt to unveil its being situated prior to any situation, before and beyond the metaphysical oppositions that structure human thought yet undergirding their very emergence and informing their necessarily futile attempts to designate its essence with the help of metaphor; “[i]t would be a matter of a structure and not of some essence of the khora, since the question [of] essence no longer has any meaning with regard to it” once this attempt is made (Derrida, “Khora” 94). Interestingly, Derrida sees some of the metaphors as more valid than others, and he is happy to retain the name of receptacle so long as one does not mean it to refer to the essence of khora—either in the metaphorical, or, for that matter, literal sense. He acknowledges that “[t]he import of receptivity or of receptacle, which, one may say, forms the elementary nonvariable of this word’s determination seems to me to transcend the opposition between fgurative and proper meaning” (Derrida, “How to Avoid Speaking” 106). To speak of the receptacle in a way that steers away from designating essences is for Derrida to invoke what he calls a “tropic detour” (“How to Avoid Speaking” 106) rather than a rhetorical fgure. Derrida’s defence of this particular way of addressing khora is grounded in his understanding that although its essence can not be spelled out in any way, it “cannot but be declared, that is, be caught or conceived, via the anthropomorphic schemas of the verb to receive and the verb to give” (“Khora” 95). Throughout both his essays, Derrida plays with the paradox of khora being that which “gives place without giving anything” (“How to Avoid Speaking” 106) and that which “must not receive for her own sake . . . , so she must not receive, merely let herself be lent the properties (of that) which she receives” (“Khora” 98). He also suggests, through a kind of wordplay so characteristic of his writing in general, that “perhaps we have not yet thought through what is meant by to receive, the receiving of the receptacle. . . . Perhaps it is from khora that we are beginning to learn it—to receive it” (Derrida, “Khora” 95). It is the space opened by the giving and receiving of khora, the “structural law” (Derrida, “Khora” 94) of khora inscribing sensible copies of the Forms, that makes Derrida see “the receptacle,” and the discourse of giving and receiving this expression entails, as superior to other fgurative terms. Of course, “receptacle,” like any other notion, is only something inscribed in khora, but it amounts to more than that, since it opens up the feld of play that the meanings of giving and receiving produce, and that seems for Derrida to be a discursive loophole that allows one to circumvent all talk of essences and to approach khora in its own right.11 By contrast, reading

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khora as a feminine principle through the fgures of mother or nurse does not allow for this, “aggravate[s] the risk of anthropomorphism” (Derrida, “Khora” 97) and leads to the confusion of viewing it as something inherently feminine, whereas inasmuch as the femininity of mother or nurse is inscribed in it just like anything else, “it will never be attributed to it/her as a property, something of her own” (Derrida, “Khora” 98). Still, despite explicitly rejecting the feminine metaphorics of khora, Jacques Derrida’s attempts to say something meaningful about it do intersect with Julia Kristeva’s “borrow[ing]” of the term, as she puts it (Kristeva, Revolution 25), for her analysis of language and human subjectivity.

The Kristevan Chora The original Platonic discussion of khora is part of an exposition focused on the grand cosmic scheme of things and the foundation of the universe. Derrida also retains this wide focus in his reading of Plato, pointing to khora as a paradoxical structure underlying all human thought and engendering its binary logic without ever being bound by it. Much as it is rooted in the Timaeus, Julia Kristeva’s use of the term may, on the other hand, strike readers as somewhat more specialized, obscure and narrowed down in scope or even transposed to quite a different domain, that is, psychoanalysis and its account of language acquisition and individual development. Just like with Plato and Derrida, to defne Kristeva’s understanding of the term is something of a challenge: Kristeva borrows the term chora from Plato’s Timaeus to “denote an essentially mobile and extremely provisional articulation constituted by movements and their ephemeral stases” [Kristeva, Revolution 25]. But even with Plato on her side, Kristeva’s notion of the chora is extremely hazy: the chora is often translated as womb or receptacle, but Kristeva doesn’t seem to mean that it is just a space; she says it is an articulation, a rhythm, but one that precedes language. (McAfee 18) The discourse of psychoanalysis that informs her writing makes it diffcult to understand her defnitions of chora for the uninitiated reader, as when she claims that “the chora is a modality of signifance in which the linguistic sign is not yet articulated as the absence of an object and as the distinction between real and symbolic” (Kristeva, Revolution 26). In passages such as this, she draws heavily on the work of Sigmund Freud, and even more so on Jacques Lacan, a major voice in psychoanalysis who brought the discipline to the forefront of contemporary critical theory with his investigations into the nature of language, which he thought was a paradigm for the structure of the unconscious. This does not mean, however, that what Kristeva writes about the chora is something

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essentially different from, or contradictory to, what Plato or Derrida had to say about it. As before, it is useful to look at what its role is in the system rather than to attempt a straightforward defnition. The system within which the role of the chora can be traced is that of Kristeva’s formulation of human subjectivity. One needs to take into consideration that “Plato meant by the term the original space or receptacle of the universe, but Kristeva seems to have something in mind that belongs to each person in particular before he or she develops clear borders of his or her own personal identity” (McAfee 19). As Michael Payne explains, [t]he chora is a posited space within which language and the subject develop. In its Platonic context it is an imaginative, theoretical necessity: it “answers” the question, where is the place where the frst things come to be? But in its maternal, physiological context it is a specifcally bodily and distinctively female space within which language and subject come to be. (177) Thus, Kristeva tends to write about the child’s immersion in the maternal chora, and this may seem quite remote from Derrida’s khora and his avowal that it has nothing to do with the feminine. A degree of common ground with Derrida’s reading of Plato lies, however, in Kristeva’s distinction between the realms of the semiotic and the symbolic, and with the former’s affliation with the chora—in the notion of the “semiotic chora,” as she refers to it in her book Revolution in Poetic Language, where the distinction is articulated in detail. The dichotomy between the semiotic and the symbolic is of a partly developmental character. Up to a certain point in the child’s life, it remains in the semiotic chora, prior to the systematization of meaning and oblivious of all conceptual categories. In this phase of its development, “[i]t uses sounds and gestures to express itself and to discharge energy” (McAfee 20), but while these sounds and gestures “are not exactly meaningless, . . . [they] are not susceptible to rationalistic systemic analysis. A child’s babble cannot be paraphrased” (Robbins 128). Then, at some point, the child realizes the difference between itself and the outside world—Kristeva calls this “the thetic break” (Revolution 55–56)—and the formation of this initial binary opposition triggers and enables all the others, introducing into the child’s mental processes the structures of binary thought and of differentiation as such. The semiotic, according to Kristeva, is this “pre-linguistic language” (Robbins 128) which structures the originary experience of meaning prior to this transition. The symbolic, in turn, is the realm of conceptualizing differences, of system and of language proper, all of these arising out of the break out of the semiotic effected when the child “becomes aware of the difference between self (subject) and other . . . [and] comprehends that language can point to things outside itself, that it

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is potentially referential” (McAfee 20–21). In effect, the realization of this initial difference introduces the child into the symbolic realm of language. This chronological narrative of a child’s development is, however, only a theoretical abstraction, and Kristeva reiterates again and again that the semiotic continues to exert an infuence on the subject’s signifying practices even after the thetic break. This was, in fact, the fundamental assumption of Revolution in Poetic Language, in which she traced the emergence of the semiotic in the works of avant-garde writers. Once the break into the symbolic is made, both modes go on to coexist because of the necessary dialectic between the two modalities of the signifying process, which is constitutive of the subject. Because the subject is always both semiotic and symbolic, no signifying system he produces can be either “exclusively” semiotic or “exclusively” symbolic, and is instead necessarily marked by an indebtedness to both. (Kristeva, Revolution 24) For Kristeva, the two modalities “are, reciprocally and inseparably, preconditions for each other” (Revolution 66), but their relationship cannot be read through simple chronological linearity: “the semiotic that ‘precedes’ symbolization is only a theoretical supposition justifed by the need for description” (Kristeva, Revolution 68). What is meant here is that we can only represent the semiotic through language, that is through symbolization, and any notion of the pure semiotic is only a theoretical proposition, a conceptual construct formed within the bounds of the symbolic. In the words of Tina Chanter, [t]o name the chora is to bring it into the realm of the symbolic, thereby transforming the semiotic into the symbolic in the very gesture that was intended to designate it as distinct from the symbolic. The semiotic is thus represented symbolically, although what it designates is pre-symbolic. As Kristeva herself explains, the semiotic, which may be read as either including or being coterminous with her notion of the chora, “is produced recursively on the basis of [the thetic] break” (Revolution 69), and this is perfectly in line with what Derrida says about the khora: that it cannot be approached other than through metaphors whereas it actually gives place to the logic of the metaphor or through binary oppositions inasmuch as it actually gives rise to the very logic of polarity. In other words, one cannot say anything meaningful about the semiotic chora other than through the use of the symbolic, with its fundamental distinction between literal and fgurative language, even if being “[n]either model nor copy, the chora precedes and underlies fguration” (Kristeva, Revolution 26). Furthermore,

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[a]lthough our theoretical description of the chora is itself part of the discourse of representation that offers it as evidence, the chora . . . precedes evidence, verisimilitude, spatiality, and temporality. Our discourse—all discourse—moves with and against the chora in the sense that it simultaneously depends upon and refuses it. Although the chora can be designated and regulated, it can never be defnitively posited: as a result, one can situate the chora and, if necessary, lend it a topology, but one can never give it axiomatic form. (Kristeva, Revolution 26) Such passages from Revolution in Poetic Language read very much like Derrida’s observations in “Khora” and “How to Avoid Speaking: Denials.” Much as one can only have access to the semiotic chora in and through the symbolic, the entirety of the symbolic realm is always already infused with the semiotic. After all, as we learn from the Timaeus, the receptacle gives rise to everything in the world, which includes, as Derrida pointed out, the very notion of “the receptacle,” and in this way, khora undergirds the entirety of creation. Similarly, like the Platonic gold that is the substratum for all gold objects, the Kristevan chora gives place to the symbolic with the thetic break, but the semiotic continues then to be felt within the symbolic realm; more so, it actually “exists in practice only within the symbolic” (Kristeva, Revolution 68) for the latter is the only point of access to it. But even if the semiotic existing prior to symbolization is “only a theoretical supposition,” it “is not solely an abstract object produced for the needs of theory” (Kristeva, Revolution 68). To use language to speak of that which subtends it may indeed seem like an attempt to delineate a new theoretical concept within the bounds of language itself, but Kristeva sees this otherwise, insisting, like Plato’s Timaeus, on there being (or not quite being) something else, beyond all things. And she presses hard the point of the crucial role of this non-thing that is a precondition of everything else but which can only be hypothesized, that is, approached post factum with the systemic apparatus it gives place to, in whose symbolic logic, however, it does not itself participate. The chora is “a diffcult and obscure kind of thing” (Plato 40) indeed. Despite a number of signifcant differences between their readings of Plato, both Derrida and Kristeva seem to agree on a number of points, even if the latter, “far from engaging in a detailed reading of Plato, borrows his term and makes it serve a particular purpose in her theory” (de Nooy 132). In her study of the overlaps between Derrida’s and Kristeva’s theoretical thought, Juliana de Nooy identifes a few major areas of convergence. She notes that “[i]n elaborating her theory of the chora, Kristeva recognizes the need to extract it from ontologizing representations and acknowledges Derrida’s efforts in this direction” (de Nooy 100). De Nooy also highlights the fact that even though Kristeva “clearly

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distances herself from Derrida’s deconstructive work . . . in Revolution in Poetic Language” (xv) and her major interest is psychoanalysis, there is a fundamental agreement between both thinkers in their focus on binary structures of thought: just as Derrida shows that “khora precedes binary logic,” Kristeva’s “semiotic chora ‘logically and chronologically’ precedes the binary opposition associated with the symbolic” (de Nooy 132). The fact is that both readings of the Timaeus stress the aporetic character of the structural law of khora/chora, even if this is much more pronounced in Derrida, who often likes to invoke the notion of the aporia: An aporia is, etymologically, a blind alley, an impasse, a no-thoroughfare, in a sequence of logical thinking. You follow through a perfectly rational line of argument, one depending on clear and self-evident distinctions and defnitions. Suddenly (or gradually) you hit the wall and can proceed no further. There seems no way out. (Miller 12) It may be in different ways and with a different context in mind, but both Derrida and Kristeva acknowledge that this is precisely what happens when one tries to speak of khora. In a strikingly parallel way, they direct their attention to the impasse that one faces in trying to capture khora/the semiotic with the very metaphorics/symbolic discourse that it gives rise to. Both Derrida and Kristeva stress the importance of binary structures of thought which khora produces without being bound by them. While Derrida explains in his reading of the Timaeus that khora can never be seen as a kind of originary presence since it troubles the very notions of being and becoming, being aligned with neither, Kristeva formulates a similar insight with the help of psychoanalytic discourse. In the words of Juliana de Nooy, [c]learly, the chora is not an instance of oneness between the self and the world, a mythical origin of pure unmediated natural experience before the division represented by the sign. . . . [It] is neither pre-sense, nor a period of self-presence. The infant does not have direct access to drives and body energy before a split into nature and culture, into the body and thought or language. Instead, drives—not present as such—are apprehended through their traces, the traces of their discontinuity. . . . Unlike the mythical source, the chora is neither an absolute origin (it is formed by traces) nor simple (it is already divided into charges and stases) nor present (the traces point to a relation between presence and absence) . . . the chora itself is not present to the speaking subject but a putative stage, only accessible through its traces—the traces of traces. (101)

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Much as khora may appear to be the origin of all things in the world, it is not a primary presence or the arche-principle that Western culture, according to Derrida, has always sought and posited in various ways. It can only be conceptualized “as a mere scattering of traces” (Kristeva, Revolution 68) and cannot be adequately described using the notions of presence and unity, for it gives rise to the very discourse of unity and multiplicity, of presence and absence. The negative experience of logical impasse and the creative quality of engendering binary oppositions are the two fundamental aspects of the structural law of khora as it emerges in human thought (with the important caveat that neither negativity nor creativity is a feature that could actually be predicated of khora). When Kristeva speaks of traces, she indicates that “the only access to the unnameable/unthinkable is through its continuing echo in language and thought” (de Nooy 32), and she also beckons at Derrida’s use of the notion of trace as “always the trace of another trace” (Wortham 229), irreducible to “[e]ither side of the presence-absence opposition so prized by the metaphysical tradition” (Wortham 230), one that cannot be thought in terms of the logic of presence [and] redescribes the entire feld which the metaphysics of presence seeks to dominate throughout history. The trace names that non-systematizable reserve which is at once constitutive and unrepresentable within such a feld. (Wortham 230) The structural law of khora is that of the trace, and it forms the very basis of Derridean thought taken as a whole. Simon Wortham’s Derrida Dictionary entry on the trace cited here explains that it “is not a master word but an always replaceable term in an unmasterable series including différance, supplement, writing . . . , and so on” (229–230). These terms “perform the same function in Derrida’s work of naming the aporia that takes place in different contexts where there is a[n] inescapable haunting of presence by non-presence and the greater structure that the terms belong to” (Roy 78). Often referred to, following Derrida’s own lead, as a chain of “nonsynonymous substitutions” (Derrida, “Différance” 12), the series also includes terms such as “reserve,” “archi-writing,” “spacing,” “pharmakon,” “hymen,” “margin-mark-march” (Derrida, “Différance” 12), “dissemination, undecidability, . . . iterability” (Royle 14) and could be—indeed many times has been—expanded further. Each of these terms plays a destabilizing, subversive role in a particular text that Derrida dissects in order to highlight the uncanny recurrence of a structure operating throughout Western metaphysics—pharmakon in Plato,12 the supplement in Rousseau,13 the hymen in Mallarme14 and so on. Each of them provides a point of entry to the same problematic, that of a “structural law which seems . . . never to have been approached as such by the whole history of

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interpretations of the Timaeus” (Derrida, “Khora” 94) even if it subtends and governs the Platonic text—both that of the dialogue and the overall master text of Platonism. Julian Wolfreys explains that the terms have a singularity and also a proximity to one another [and] all act as potential counterparts or substitutes for one another, wrenches and levers applying torque and displacement in the textual machinery, even while they are not to be considered synonymous. (11) Khora too belongs to this chain (Keller 13), providing insight into the operations of this structure both by the play of traces inaugurated through Plato’s and Timaeus’s troubled explications and by the history of its own approximations and of the interpretations of the Timaeus in traditional philosophy and contemporary theory. As one of a number of alternative—although non-synonymous—names for the liminal, khora can point beyond the fndings of anthropology towards novel perspectives on liminality as such, implicating the notion of the limen in post-structuralist refection on language and textuality and thus, by extension, opening it to an interplay with other terms in the chain of substitutions. Following Derrida’s lead, one may see khora as the ultimate structural principle behind the “both/and” versus “neither/nor” problematic that, as we have seen in the previous two chapters, informs anthropological refection on rites of passage and the nature of the liminal phase. This is because it “is not an oscillation among others, an oscillation between two poles. It oscillates between two types of oscillation: the double exclusion (neither/nor) and the participation (both this and that)” (Derrida, “Khora” 91)—its “logic is rather one of either neither/nor or both/and” (de Nooy 132–133), or perhaps both “‘both this and that’ and, simultaneously, ‘neither this nor that’” (Wolfreys 39), and one may go higher still in this chain of meta-structural abstraction, indeed as far as ad infnitum in a khoratic mise-en-abyme. For Derrida, the Platonic khora is that which “precedes binary logic . . . and exceeds it” (de Nooy 132), “just as the semiotic chora ‘logically and chronologically’ precedes the binary opposition associated with the symbolic” (de Nooy 132). And while Derridean readings of Plato can take us thus far, the implication of the Kristevan chora within the problem of the origin of binary structures of human thought suggests, in turn, a potential extension to the series of non-synonymous substitutions—alongside khora—in the notion of abjection. This particular idea allows Kristeva to articulate a number of signifcant observations about effectively liminal modes of subjectivity crises, in which one faces the blurring of binary categories and experiences an intimation of the instability of the symbolic edifce on which one’s very identity is founded. That is why the following section looks closely at the notion of abjection and examines it in order

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to spell out its liminal and khoratic affliations, pointing to some of the insights that this idea brings to the discussion of liminality as such. This will make it possible to offer a fresh look at the use of bodily horror in fairy romance in Chapter 4 and to consider in a theoretically informed context the role of the abject in the construction of both folkloric and romance fairies.

Abjection and Liminality “[A]bjection is above all ambiguity” (Kristeva, Powers 9), the kind of ambiguity that evokes a feeling of horror—not just the fear of confronting something threatening but “a threat that seems to emanate from an exorbitant outside or inside, ejected beyond the scope of the possible, the tolerable, the thinkable” (Kristeva, Powers 1). Julia Kristeva’s vivid examples of the abject are those of vomit and corpses, and they illustrate well that the horror she has in mind is not one that threatens to destroy the individual from without. Instead, it works in insidious ways and locates itself deep within, threatening the subject’s sense of selfhood. As in her discussion of Plato, Kristeva focuses in her analysis on the construction of human subjectivity, and she does this with a view to capturing with meaningful words the abject that, as she puts it, draws the self “towards the place where meaning collapses” (Powers 2). Being a particularly threatening manifestation of liminality, abjection, as construed by Kristeva, bears a striking resemblance both to the dangers of pollution and to the aporetic logic of khora. For this reason, the insights contained in The Powers of Horror, where the French theorist develops her theory of the abject, can be of much use in attempts at conceptualizing liminality, especially in its khoratic aspects. Abjection brings about a feeling of revulsion, and people fnd vomit and corpses repulsive, Kristeva suggests, because they undermine their sense of identity and the boundaries of the self. There is something deeply unsettling about matter that has entered the body to become one with it and then expelled: “I” want none of that element. . . . “I” do not assimilate it. “I” expel it. But since the food is not an “other” for “me,” . . . I expel myself, I spit myself out, I abject myself within the same motion through which “I” claim to establish myself. (Kristeva, Powers 3) The corpse, she continues, has a similar effect, because “refuse and corpses show me what I permanently thrust aside in order to live. . . . I am at the border of my condition as a living being. My body extricates itself, as being alive, from that border” (Kristeva, Powers 3). In fact, the abject is the border, or at least “[w]e may call it a border” (Kristeva, Powers 9)

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for lack of a better word than is. Signifcantly, the process of abjecting the other is of a universal nature, an experience common to all humankind, because it enables the thetic break, allowing for the differentiation between child and mother and making possible the separation between “I” and “not-I.” Interested in this crucial moment of identity formation, “Kristeva looks at how boundaries around the subject and objects emerge; those boundaries that allow one to experience oneself as detached from the maternal environment” (Inahara 310). It is “at the boundaries of the self” that the abject it to be found, and it is from this ambiguous position that “it threatens the logic of the subject/object binary” (Inahara 310). The threat arises because as a kind of limen, the abject is not subject to the logic of this or any other binary opposition, and that is what makes it so threatening once the fssure it produces comes into place. It is a necessary condition of subjecthood, because “[f]or a human being to become an ego-self it must ‘abject’ this maternal matrix, henceforth considered off limits and taboo” (Kearney 195). But once the self has been established it constitutes a constant threat, a source of “perpetual danger” (Kristeva, Powers 9), since “[t]he human subject, and indeed society itself, depend for their existence on the repression of this maternal ‘body without borders’” (Kearney 195). Richard Kearney identifes the nature of the connection between khora and abjection by asserting that “if I am to become a subject the khora must become abject” (195). The intimate connection between the two notions emerges from their association with the maternal element. The abject mother, which has to be abjected in order for the ego to emerge, is a paradigmatic example of what Julia Kristeva has in mind, because it threatens selfhood precisely at the moment of its formation, in a double movement that is both formative and fraught with the danger of dissolution. The maternal connection notwithstanding, like any other form of liminality the abject is nonetheless diffcult to defne directly: “since ‘it’ lacks location within the system of signifying differences . . . [it] is unnameable; ‘present’ only as image” (Fisher 99). Furthermore, the threat it poses gives rise to prohibitions, taboos and rituals that attempt to keep the abject at bay, as in the case of various funeral ceremonies where the corpse is handled with utmost care for fear of contamination, the now-dead body having become a “threat to identity, system and order . . . [whose] orifces threaten to contaminate the external world” (Hallam, Hockey and Howarth 107).15 Cultural attitudes towards incest display a similar dynamic: Incest dread responds to elements experienced as beyond all cultural boundaries. These elements threaten the structure of symbolic order since they undermine its absolute, taken-for-granted character by indicating something more primordial, something that can not be represented within cultural schemes of binary oppositions. (Fisher 99–100)

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Every system has its abject, and every system will defend itself against it by means of taboos and regulations that aim both to prevent and to regulate pollution in order to maintain the symbolic edifce of structure. As Kristeva herself explains, abjection is coextensive with social and symbolic order, on the individual as well as on the collective level. By virtue of this, abjection, just like prohibition of incest, is a universal phenomenon; one encounters it as soon as the symbolic and/or social dimension of man is constituted, and this throughout the course of civilization. But abjection assumes specifc shapes and different codings according to the various “symbolic systems.” (Powers 68) Whatever occupies the liminal or interstitial position within a given symbolic arrangement becomes abjected, and the structuralist legacy in Kristeva’s post-structuralist thinking is manifest in her insistence that it is not the essential nature or attributes of a given object that make it threatening but its role in the underlying system. Building upon the work of Mary Douglas and her dismissal of concerns with hygiene as the ultimate root of pollution rules, Kristeva asserts that “[i]t is . . . not lack of cleanliness or health that causes abjection but what disturbs identity, system, order. What does not respect borders, positions, rules. The in-between, the ambiguous, the composite” (Kristeva, Powers 4). The abject in-between is a constant threat because it “permeates all the words of the language with non-existence, with a hallucinatory, ghostly glimmer” (Kristeva, Powers 6). In a number of respects, it resembles khora so much that the two seem almost indistinguishable. The key difference lies in emphasis, and in her discussion of the abject, Kristeva stresses the element of bodily disgust and horror, using her psychoanalytic background to underline the importance of embodiment in culture’s approach to the khoratic. To speak of a liminality that threatens all boundaries is challenging enough, but to acknowledge that the boundaries in question include the ones that circumscribe the human being as such is even more disconcerting. The instability and violation of the boundaries of the body must therefore be recognized a major theme through which culture attempts to deal with this most intimate form of threat posed by the abject khora, a connection also identifed by the anthropological school in the form of systemic links between ambiguity, pollution and the symbolism of bodily orifces. Invoking the name of the abject, moreover, amounts to putting more stress on the negative side of the experience of the liminal than the concept of khora/chora carries. The name denotes a kind of horror and shifts the emphasis away from the formative, positive side of the liminal even as it acknowledges it. In order to trace the twofold manner in which culture has conceptualized that which escapes its binary grid, it

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is therefore necessary to return to the vocabulary of khora and regain the balance, because however much it threatens, the liminal is neither good nor evil, even if culture cannot but attempt to construe it as one or the other. Examples from the history of the interpretations of khora serve to illustrate the diffculty of approaching the liminal independently from the dualistic framework. The outline of the mechanisms of demonizing khora that follows also provides the context necessary to appreciate the dynamics of the process of demonizing fairies, a phenomenon fundamental to understanding the construction of their liminality.

Back to Derrida: Khora in a Mirror, Darkly Khora empowers the operations of language but ultimately eludes them. It gives place to binary oppositions but is not bound by them. But to speak of khora is precisely to fall back on distinctions such as that between the literal and the metaphorical and to ground meaning in them. Attempts to defne khora as some sort of pure—or originary—liminality ultimately falter in that they invoke the conceptual grid that has purity opposed to impurity and espouses differentiation in general, while khora as such precedes any kind of difference and valorization. And to speak of it as “an oscillation . . . between two types of oscillation” (Derrida, “Khora” 91) or that which escapes metaphoricity by giving rise to it may be quite adequate but tends towards diffcult or grandiloquent abstractions. In truth, “[w]e can never say what khora is, we can only refer to it in other words” (Wolfreys 40), and in doing so, in “invoking metaphors that ontologize the matrix [we] make a being of what is beyond being” (Bigger 373). This may be unfortunate but is effectively unavoidable, and has produced a compelling history of interpretations, all produced by essentializing khora, making out of it a notion like any other and imposing on it the necessity of being (whether literally or metaphorically) black or white, good or evil, sensible or intelligible. This history is a testimony to the fact that one can only with great diffculty approach khora in its own, nondualistic terms. Its recurring modes of interpretation are governed by the reduction of the hovering of khora between a structure of participation (both . . . and) and double exclusion (neither . . . nor) to a straightforward opposition of positive and negative, to acts of simplifcation that produce a neatly structured moral valorization affliating khora with either of the two sides of the moral divide. This process is of particular prominence in the history of theology, in which the khoratic has been assigned either to the realm of the divine or that of the demonic. The connection between khora and the divine is obviously already there in Plato. Khora enables the embodiment of the timeless and perfect Forms and although it belongs to neither of the two categories of being, it is essential in the process of the creation of the universe by the demiurge. This line of thinking seems to have been creatively reshaped in the

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Christian thought of late antiquity, with the Virgin Mary being referred to as khora akhoraton—the container of the uncontainable. As John Panteleimon Manoussakis explains, [t]he epithet khora was attributed to Mary by the unknown poet of the famous Akathistos Hymnos (a ffth/sixth century hymn in twentyfour stanzas arranged in abecedary form, still in use as an Offce of Lent in the Eastern Church); in the ffteenth stanza, beginning with the letter omicron, we read: . . . “Hail, the container [khora] of the uncontainable God.” (92) The best surviving example of this tradition is the Chora monastery (now a museum) in Istanbul, whose late-medieval mosaics present Mary in this way, with Christ too qualifed by the word khora—as “the khora of the living.” It is, in particular, the Marian reference that seems rooted in the logic of the Timaeus: During the Incarnation, Mary, like Platonic khora, serves as the intermediate, the triton genos between the human and the divine. . . . Like the receptive khora, Mary receives the entire deity within her body without appropriating it into herself. Thus, she becomes a paradox, an antinomy, the khora of the a-khoron, the topos that sustains what is a-topos: the receptacle of the un-receivable, the container of the uncontainable. (Manoussakis 92) Mary thus brings together the worlds of Being and Becoming by providing earthly, bodily form to the timeless Absolute, enabling a connection between the two worlds by acting as the creative, feminine and motherly matrix. The strain of Christian thought that maintained this Neoplatonic tradition seems to have capitalized on the metaphorics of femininity and motherhood that one fnds in the Timaeus to produce a compelling story of a woman—a narrative of creation that speaks of the embodiment of the eternal paternal principle, with Mary, just as khora, serving as the link between the worlds of Being and Becoming. The particular mode of birth that we are dealing with in the story of Mary’s virginal conception of Christ also serves to illustrate the extent of the inspiration and potential borrowing from Plato’s vision of khora. Both virgin and mother—but also, in a certain way, neither properly a virgin nor a mother as one usually tends to understand these words—Mary contributes to the act of creation only by providing a locus for God, never conceiving in the natural, earthly sense of the word and remaining a model of chastity for future generations of believers. In an analogous way, khora is essentially sterile, for while “giving birth” to things in the world

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as we know it, it never really engenders them in the proper sense, acting as a womb-like passive receptacle that only receives and never issues forth more than it receives. Derrida cautions us to be wary of the metaphorics employed in the Platonic dialogue, underlining that [e]ven when Plato seems to compare it to a “mother” or to a “nurse,” this always virginal khora in truth does not couple with the “father,” to whom Plato “compares” the paradigms: the khora does not engender the sensible forms that are inscribed in it and that Plato “compares” to a child. (“How to Avoid Speaking” 108–109) The same sort of paradoxical discourse informs the story of Mary’s conception and birth of Christ. “[I]naccessible . . . and still virgin, with a virginity that is radically rebellious against anthropomorphism” (Derrida, “Khora” 95), khora defes the order of nature, for it is brought to act by supernatural forces and its passive reception of the engendering stimulus is the sine qua non of creation.16 Explaining why Christ is also qualifed by the same word in the Chora monastery mosaics, Manoussakis again points to the logic of liminality as the interpretive key: Christ is par excellence the khora that receives both humanity and creation in their entirety, but with no confusion, in His incarnate person. The incarnate Christ . . . [is] neither exclusively God nor only Human, but both God and Human; neither just the Word nor only Flesh, but the Word who became Flesh. (92) In the case of both Mary and Christ, the focus is on the liminal as bringing into the earthly world something of the divine, with Mary serving as the gate of heaven—ianua coeli—and allowing for the divine to occupy concrete physical space—a space of holiness—within the earthly world of mutability. But holiness, understood in the Hebrew tradition as the quality of being set apart from the regular and profane (Ramsey 451–453), becomes coupled in Christian thought with the Platonic association of absolute Being with the Good and produces a moral valorization that pushes the holy personae and their khoratic liminality towards the ethical notion of moral perfection (Otto 5–6). In effect, there is nothing morally liminal or ambiguous about Mary or Christ in the Christian tradition, their sense of khoratic power being superseded, or altogether supplanted, by the religious didacticism of moral exemplifcation. What is important is that a more negative moralization can just as easily be observed, one that also springs directly from Plato, or more specifcally from his discussion of agathon, the form of the Good, in The Republic.

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Whereas juxtaposed with the earthly world of death and decay khora can easily be viewed in positive terms, it is seen to be wanting when set against absolute Being, which is how Plato views the forms, and in particular the form of the Good, “the highest of the frst-order essences” (Seel 181), which he elevates over all the others. The Good is just as diffcult to approximate with words as khora: What is the idea of the Agathon? The briefest answer to the question will bring out a decisive point: Concerning the content of the Agathon nothing can be said at all. This is the fundamental insight of Platonic ethics. The transcendence of the Agathon makes immanent propositions concerning its content impossible. (Voegelin 112) It is impossible to say anything defnitive about it, or even that it is, and in this respect is resembles khora. Yet, unlike the latter, it lies beyond being in a distinctly non-khoratic sense: whatever may be the discontinuity marked by this beyond, . . . this singular limit does not give place to simply neutral or negative determinations, but to a hyperbolism of that, beyond which the Good gives rise to thinking, to knowing and to Being. . . . The Good is not, of course, in the sense that it is not Being or beings, and on this subject every ontological grammar must take on a negative form. But this negative form is not neutral. It does not oscillate between the . . . neither/nor. It frst of all obeys a logic of the sur, of the hyper, over and beyond . . . (Derrida, “How to Avoid Speaking” 101–102) The form of the Good is clearly the Other to the world of Becoming that human beings experience on a daily basis, but its negativity is of a hyper-essential character; that is, it exceeds being rather than escapes it altogether, as was the case with khora, which one could refer to, by contrast, as hypo-essential (Manoussakis 89). This is, at any rate, how Derrida reads Plato, arguing that there is a basic dissimilarity between the two “tropics of negativity” (“How to Avoid Speaking” 101) represented in Plato by the form of the Good and khora: Indeed, khora, in Derrida’s exposition, lies at the antipodes of agathon, the Good beyond being, with which she forms a strange couple. She is presented as the irruption of the very binary opposition within which she is a priori inscribed. She is the “other” of another (of agathon), the one limb of a pair of oppositions, a thesis always antithetical to its opposite. (Manoussakis 89)

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Given the valorization of the Good as the supreme of all forms and the metaphysical privileging of the forms as ultimately real in Plato’s system, it is not surprising that one fnds khora, the Other of agathon, occupying a secondary position, that of a lesser and suspect thing. The Good is compared to the Sun, that which brings light (Hitchcock 68–70), as well as posited as the principle of unity—the One (Hitchcock 72)—and thus lends itself easily to later interpretations that read it as the “God of the great monotheisms” to whom it “bears a family resemblance” (Caputo, Deconstruction 97); seen from this perspective, khora emerges as the ultimate antithesis of God. As William Altman notes, speaking of Plato’s Allegory of the Cave, we fnd a good metaphor for khora “in the rear wall of the Cave” (115) onto which the ontic images are projected, deep down in the realm of illusion, and not in the light that shines into it from above. The metaphorics of verticality is of signifcance here, for in the khora Plato affrms—or concedes—a counter-origin, a nonengendering non-origin, truth-less, intractable and necessary, down below, that in its own way mocks the prestigious, fatherly, originary, truth-making, power of the eidos (and above all of the Good) up above. (Caputo, Deconstruction 99) If God is the agathon, then khora can only stand for something other than God and this situation calls for a choice. Richard Kearney certainly feels this way about Derridean readings of Plato: “It might even be that God and khora are two different ways of approaching the same indescribable experience of the abyss. But the choice between the two is not insignifcant. Which direction you leap in surely matters” (202). He then follows this with an oft-quoted passage in which he effectively demonizes khora: I imagine that for many non-philosophers, khora is experienced as misery, terror, loss and desolation. The insomniac dark. Might we not imagine khora accordingly—since even the unimaginable calls out for images—in terms of various examples drawn from the great narrative traditions? The Greek stories of Oedipus without eyes, Sisyphus in Hades, Prometheus in chains, Iphighenia in waiting? The biblical stories of tohu bohu before creation, Job in the pit, Jonah in the whale, Joseph at the bottom of the well, Naomi all tears, Jesus abandoned on the cross (crying out to the Father) or descended into hell? Or the fctional and dramatic accounts of Conrad’s heart of darkness, Hamlet’s stale and unproftable world, Monte Cristo’s prison cell, Primo Levi’s death camp? Or more basically still, is khora not that pre-original abyss each of us encounters in fear and trembling when faced with the bottomless void of our existence? (Kearney 204)

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Kearney’s point is that if one has a choice between God and khora—and a choice is precisely what he sees emerging from Derrida contrasting these two “tropics of negativity”—it would be unthinkable to have a preference for what in one’s experience feels like “the most sublime of horrors” (Kearney 205), a “no-place we experience in fear and trembling moments of uncertainty and loss” (Kearney 204). The extreme comparisons he musters to argue his point testify to the potency of the demonization of khora—a process effective whenever the khoratic is brought into a particular binary opposition and set against the higher, privileged term rather than acknowledged to lie before and beyond any such dichotomies. Kearney is highly critical of deconstruction and what he sees as its preference for khora over God, representative in his eyes of the preference of atheism over theism (211). He spies a consistent strategy in deconstructive writing that elevates khora over its Other, not only in Derrida himself but even more strikingly so in his followers, and, in particular, in John D. Caputo. Indeed, Caputo often juxtaposes God and khora, aligning the latter with the structural law of différance, the “code of repeatability” (Caputo, Deconstruction 100) that has become a hallmark of Derridean thought and deconstructive practice at large. He explains, for instance, that “God does not merely exist; différance does not quite exist. God is ineffable the way Plato’s agathon is ineffable, beyond being, whereas différance is like the atheological ineffability of Plato’s khora, beneath being” (Caputo, Prayers and Tears 10). For Kearney, deconstructionists have made a choice: Deconstruction isn’t just describing khora as one might describe a twilight or a storm at sea. It is describing it in the same way it describes différance or pharmakon or supplement or archi-writing. That is, it appears to express a marked preference for khora, and its allies, over its rivals. Not moral preference, granted; but in some minimal and irreducible sense, an evaluative preference nonetheless. As one reads Caputo one cannot help surmising that for him khora is—at bottom and when all metaphysical illusions are stripped away—the ways things are. It is a better, deeper way of viewing things than its theological or ontological rivals—God or Es gibt. For its advocates, khora seems, in the heel of the hunt, closer to the “reality” of things than all non-khora alternatives. (203) Kearney accuses the followers of Derrida of making the wrong choice, speaking here of khora and “its rivals” in markedly belligerent terms and expressing his own moral preference in direct opposition to what deconstructive thought offers. It would appear that once khora is set against something, one of two things may happen and a process of either moral elevation or demonization comes into play. Juxtaposed with Becoming, as

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in the fgure of Mary, khora emerges as a paragon of virtue; juxtaposed with true Being, as when it is set against the Platonic agathon and God, it fgures as pure evil. It is so diffcult to approach it in its own right and duly acknowledge its liminality because to use words, language and the symbolic system that subtends the latter is to dismiss its radical alterity and shove it conceptually into one binary opposition or another, with all the valorization that such an act of categorization necessarily entails. Kearney’s critique of deconstruction predictably follows this pattern, as does a great deal of the discontent that continental and in particular poststructuralist philosophy generated in academic circles and beyond. After all, once anything is set against the notions of logic, order and reason the way deconstruction was, viewed from within the bounds of a system of categories it sought to challenge, it begins to be seen as a pure antithesis of everything these notions stand for.17 In a similar way, khora may not be subject to the law which it situates but has continually been construed as if it were subject to it, with all its consequences. This is what Derrida pointed out when he observed that the possibility of fully acknowledging what is referred to throughout this book as the liminality of khora “seems . . . never to have been approached as such by the whole history of interpretations of the Timaeus” (“Khora” 94). To address khora in its proper liminality would thus have to amount to a refusal to reduce it to either side of the divide, and one way of undertaking this critical task is to study the structural logic of texts that attempt to communicate its nature. The liminal positioning of Socrates in the Timaeus that the fnal section of this chapter investigates can serve as a useful paradigm for identifying khoratic structures in other texts. A conduit for action and initiator of exchanges yet simultaneously a fgure alien to the dynamics of the plane of reality where these unfold, Socrates occupies in the Platonic dialogue a position not unlike that of fairies in medieval romance. Appreciating beforehand the khoratic structuring of the Timaeus will be of help in elucidating the liminal positioning of the fairy court in Robert Henryson’s Orpheus and Eurydice, an issue discussed in detail in the next chapter.

Khoratic Themes, Khoratic Structures How does one speak of that which is belied by the use of words? Derrida favours techniques that have often been dismissed as unnecessarily playful at the cost of intelligibility, but his method is rigorous and has a defnite formula: his approach is an attempt to abandon the binary opposition between theme and structure, or form and content, and let loose the play of meanings that arises. In simple terms, his critical writing often does what it says, and he seeks the same textual play in the works he analyses. His fondness for the word receptacle, discussed earlier, illustrates this well. Plato tells us that khora is a kind of receptacle because at the point of creation, it can be said to receive the intelligible input of the perfect Forms, but the

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history of the interpretations of the Timaeus, of the various terms and notions used to approximate it, is also testament to the fact that the term khora also “receives,” in an anachronistic way, all the properties attributed to it in later criticism. This elusive principle of being self-refexively referential and performative can be best explained through an analysis of the structure of the Platonic dialogue itself, for according to Derrida, the Timaeus not only speaks of khora but also has a distinctly khoratic structure and, in this sense, accomplishes the very thing it aims to describe. The khoratic structuring of the Timaeus works on the level of both story and character. The dialogue includes a tale told to Socrates by Critias, which he knows from his aged grandfather, Critias the Elder. He, in turn, learned the details from his father Dropides, a friend of the Athenian statesman Solon, who was let in on the secret by an Egyptian priest who read the particulars in ancient Egyptian records. The story concerns the origin of Athens, which is said to be an even more ancient civilization than Egypt but one that cannot keep the memory of its origin, lost during the cataclysmic disaster that sank Atlantis, one in a series of foods and confagrations that Egypt has felicitously escaped due to its location. Athens therefore emerges as a civilization that, unlike Egypt, has to rely on oral transmission. In Derrida’s words, “here is a tale-telling about oral tale-tellings, a chain of oral traditions by which those who are subject to it explain to themselves how someone else, coming from a country of writing, explains to them, orally, why they are doomed to orality” (“Khora” 115). And “[t]he story . . . told to Socrates by the younger Critias is thus embedded in layers upon layers of ‘textuality,’ multiple stratifcations, boxes inside boxes” (Caputo, Deconstruction 90). One may also note that this story is both directed to Socrates the Athenian—and to Athenians in general—and concerns them, the distinction between subject and object being here non-operative: “[t]he Athenians, the addressees to whom this tale is being told, are also the source, model, and inspiration of the tale” (Caputo, Deconstruction 90). It is the middle section of the Timaeus that speaks of khora, the story of Solon being only related in prefatory terms at the beginning of the dialogue, before the proper discussion of the construction of the cosmos. But while the revelation about the past of Athens may not address or mention khora, it performs its own khoratic structuring: the Timaeus is structured like a vast receptacle, as a series of mythic or “narrative receptacles of receptacles” [Derrida, “Khora” 117], a string of myths containing myths—the very structure of which (containing receptacles) mirrors khora itself, which contains all. (Caputo, Deconstruction 87) The Timaeus therefore both refers to khora and exhibits khoratic structure. According to Derrida, the former, linguistic act is an unavoidable

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one even if it is in a sense futile as it misconstrues the very thing it aims to capture with words; the sense of paradox arising out of this is neatly captured by the title of one of his two essays on khora—“How to Avoid Speaking: Denials.”18 However, the latter action performed by the text, the “textual unfolding and interweaving” of narrative (Wolfreys 41), is just as important, and perhaps even more useful in capturing khora, since, as Derrida explains in his other essay, if khora is a receptacle, if it/she gives place to all the stories . . . that can be recounted on the subject of what she receives and even of what she resembles but which in fact takes place in her, khora herself, so to speak, does not become the object of any tale, whether true or fabled. (“Khora” 117) As Wolfreys puts it, “khora names for philosophy that which philosophy is unable to name except indirectly and by analogy” (41), and these analogies tend to be just as often structural as they are thematic, meshed together in the textual fabric. In the Timaeus, the best example of such an interweaving of khoratic discourse on both levels may be found in the fgure of Socrates. The character of Socrates in the Timaeus “operates from a sort of nonplace” (Derrida, “Khora” 107) in that he is told everything, “receives all, . . . refects every image” (Caputo, Deconstruction 90) but himself remains alien to all positions and places outlined in the Platonic text. Caputo explains this structuring in a most lucid way: He is neither a poet, that race—or genos—of imitators, nor one of the sophists, those who wander from place to place full of empty words, neither of whom can speak well of the state. . . . In reference to those who can speak well, the genos of philosophers and leaders of the polis, he says to Timaeus, Critias, and Hermocrates, “you,” “the people of your class,” you people who have a place, a settled site in the city (the agora), from which to speak the truth of the politeia. Socrates himself feigns not to belong to this class, to have no place, to be at best like them, an imitation of them, and in so doing feigns to look like the feigners, the poets or the sophists, although he seeks to escape mere imitation. . . . Hence, Socrates is a third thing, a certain “third kind” (triton genos), neither a true philosopher who knows the truth nor a mere dissembler, but a little like both. Socrates effaces himself and says he will let the true philosophers, Timaeus and his friends, do the talking, reserving for himself the role of an open receptacle for what his friends will offer him . . . , to be “informed” by them, to receive their gift. (Caputo, Deconstruction 90) Derrida speaks of Socrates “effacing himself” (“Khora” 110) to the point of acting as a receptacle for the discourse that will be directed at him,

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whether the logos pertaining to the world of Being, such as the story of Forms and the way they generate the world, or the mythos that speaks of the world of Becoming, such as the mythic tale of Solon. He receives all and openly dedicates himself to performing the act of receiving, as when he says that “no one could be more ready than I am to receive” (Plato 110).19 He belongs neither to the genus of “sophists [and] poets . . . (of whom he speaks), nor that of the philosopher-politicians (to whom he speaks . . .), [and] [h]is speech is neither his address nor what it addresses” (Derrida, “Khora” 109) but only a token of his receptivity. Socrates is the characterless conduit that makes all the conversation possible. This leads Derrida to ask, “Doesn’t he already resemble what others, later, those very ones to whom he gives his word, will call khora?” (“Khora” 109). One may wonder how to understand this “resemblance,” but there are a few more examples in Derrida’s essay to guide the way. The opening section of the Timaeus harkens back to a conversation from “yesterday” that the interlocutors had about the best constitution for the perfect state. We are then reminded of the idea that the guardians of the city were in this ideal confguration “never to regard gold, silver, or any other material possessions as their own” (Plato 4). Derrida immediately comments: “To have nothing that is one’s own, not even the gold that is the only thing comparable to it, isn’t this also the situation of the site, the condition of khora?” (“Khora” 105). Children were also to be pooled together in this ideal state, following the idea “that no marriages were to be exclusive and that children were to be shared by all the guardians [so that] . . . none of them would ever recognize a child as his own” (Plato 4). Compared to both mother and nurse, khora too seems to bring things into being but never to own them. Derrida thus argues that the guardians of the city, and above all Socrates, are in a sense khoratic but remains wary of qualifying this “resemblance” as either literal or metaphorical for it is essentially structural. He concludes the discussion of these khoratic characters rather enigmatically by saying that “Socrates is not khora, but he would look a lot like it/her if it/she were someone or something. In any case, he puts himself in its/her place” (Derrida, “Khora” 111). Whenever a text addresses khora, or liminality conceived in such khoratic terms, it subjects it to the law of binary structures of thought that khora initiates but does not really follow, pushing it into the conceptual grid that dismisses non-differentiation and sets it against an Other; this leads to moral valorization either in the positive or negative sense. But what Plato’s Timaeus also tells us is that, given Plato’s epistemological system, this observation pertains to both the discourse of logos and that of mythos. The former concerns the world of intelligible and timeless forms and shares with it the quality of eternal validity; the latter speaks of the sensible world of Becoming and is subject to change and impermanence like the things it describes. Yet, “khora is a third thing, neither intelligible nor sensible, the discourse . . . which can be properly situated neither as

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logos nor mythos, certain or probable” (Caputo, Deconstruction 87). Both discourses therefore may similarly lead to moral valorization, and both are the subject of the Timaeus and simultaneously the driving forces behind the two kinds of stories the dialogue contains—those of the truth of the cosmos and the myths of the earthly world of change and destruction, indeed myths that speak of cataclysmic destructions. In the context of khora, the distinction between the two kinds of discourse is, however, as problematic as any other dualistic opposition that may inform our attempts to say something meaningful about the ultimately liminal. To acknowledge the liminality of khora, one must transcend this binary, which leads to the realization that “the text of philosophy can only describe khora improperly and imprecisely through recourse to fctions” (Wolfreys 41). The upshot of this is that the boundaries between logos and mythos become blurred, and this explains and justifes Derrida’s deconstructive praxis of reading philosophy as literature and literature as philosophy. It is, deconstruction tells us, only when we investigate both what the text claims and how it makes the claim, paying attention both to what is being said and the textual strata that convey this, that we can hope to reach the bottom of things and to grasp at the liminal with a degree of success.

Notes 1. Anna Somfai notes that “scant knowledge of Greek in the Middle Ages blocked access to Plato’s original text,” with the Timaeus being the only dialogue of Plato “to have been continuously available in Latin translation in the West from the time of classical antiquity” (1). 2. It is, of course, an open question, to what extent one can identify the opinions voiced by Timaeus with those of Plato. Derrida, who investigates the tensions between the traditionally understood dualistic Platonism and khora, which seems to subvert this dualism, notes that “‘Platonism’ is . . . certainly one of the effects of the text signed by Plato, for a long time, and for necessary reasons, the dominant effect, but this effect is always turned back against the text” (“Khora” 120) that acts to subvert it. This is what Derrida has in mind when he says that while khora may be found “in Plato’s works,” it is uncertain whether it is “at the interior of the Platonic text” (“How to Avoid Speaking” 104). For more on this tension, see Derrida, “Khora” 119–121. See also Wolfreys 40 and Caputo, Deconstruction 82–83. 3. Possibly Euclidean space, or, as Kung has it, a kind of quasi-Euclidean space (see Kung 174–178). See also Algra for an in-depth exploration of the problem. 4. The spelling is an alternative of khora and is commonly used in criticism referring to Julia Kristeva’s writings on the subject. Since my analysis focuses more on Derrida’s understanding of the term, I am following his spelling conventions throughout the book, with the exception of direct citations using alternative versions and references to Kristeva. 5. Keyt identifes the mirror metaphor to be of major signifcance in Plato’s Republic (298). 6. Cf. Keyt 298. See also Silverman, who speaks of the receptacle as “a homogenous spatial mirror” (94).

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7. Mills and Zeyl disagree on what exactly enters the receptacle; they believe that these are Forms or their copies, respectively. This is, however, of no signifcance for the general validity of the metaphor in question, which both scholars endorse. 8. Emphasis in the original. 9. See J. Butler 36–49 for an overview of both Kristeva’s and Irigaray’s positions as well as Butler’s own reading of chora. See also Brennan, where the discourse of post-structuralist feminist critical theory goes so far as to refer to chora in Plato as “this great big maternal receptacle: something like a ferce vagina in the sky” (19). 10. “Comprising such signifers as space, room, place, mother, and nurse, this sequence has been qualifed by Luc Brisson, in his commentary on the Timaeus, as a ‘spatio-sexual’ sequence, characterized by a tension between the sexual aspect and the spatial-cum-material, or constitutive, aspect in each of the terms it comprises” (Burchill 33). 11. Burchill (33) mentions other “tropological detours used by Plato” and identifed by Derrida as such apart from the receptacle, among them the sieve and the seal, but it is worth noting that Derrida only mentions the seal after moving on from Plato to discuss Pseudo-Dionysius (cf. Derrida, “How to Avoid Speaking” 119). See Burchill 32–34. 12. See “Plato’s Pharmacy” in Derrida’s Dissemination. 13. See Derrida’s Of Grammatology. 14. See “The Double Session” in Dissemination. 15. Seeing “the dead body as polluting is common to many societies,” but it also informs some aspects of the modern treatment of the dead: when “introducing the concept of embalming to bereaved families, funeral directors adopt the language of preservation and hygiene,” but the role of the embalmer is essentially “to re-establish the body’s boundaries” (Hallam, Hockey and Howarth 107–108). 16. One could also note the ambivalent and liminal position of Mary toward the Godhead, especially in the Catholic tradition. Although an object of fervent Catholic devotion, Mary is obviously not part of the Christian trinity alongside God the Father and God the Son. Similarly, as Derrida notes, although khora is the third species, it “does not belong to a group of three. Third species is here only a philosophical way of naming an X that is not included in a group, a family, a triad or a trinity” (“How to Avoid Speaking” 108). This is so because unlike the broad categories of Being and Becoming, khora is not a genus or species but an individual, much as it gives rise to the multiplicity within creation. All in all, Marian theology and the Christian theology of the incarnation naturally differ substantially from the philosophical concerns and the khoratic regime of the Timaeus, but a degree of inspiration seems evident. 17. One may note the language used in the 1992 letter of protest against Jacques Derrida being awarded an honorary doctorate by Cambridge University. The signatories present the work of Derrida as “semi-intelligible attacks upon the values of reason, truth, and scholarship” (qtd. in Caputo, Deconstruction 39). 18. The problematic encapsulated in the title pertains in the essay just as much to khora as it does to God understood in the sense of hyper-essentiality, along the lines of Plato’s agathon. 19. In the translation of Plato found in the English edition of Derrida’s essay, “[s]o here I am, all ready to accept it and full of drive for receiving everything that you will have to offer me” (“Khora” 110).

4

The Khoratic Nature of Fairies

The Platonic notion of khora has never yet been directly applied to the study of fairies, whether in folklore or literary studies. However, an observation made in passing in a major work of criticism on medieval romance hints at the presence of a far-reaching connection. In The Forest of Medieval Romance, Corinne Saunders looks at the post-Platonic history of the idea behind the term and its later appropriations in the Latin writings of late antiquity and the Middle Ages to suggest that the romance forest was culturally endowed with certain characteristics traceable to the receptacle of the Timaeus (19–24). Indeed, it is quite striking that what Plato calls khora becomes in Aristotle’s account hyle, “a word signifying wood, woodiness, or woodlands” (Beattie 92), and in its Latin translations—silva, the Latin word for forest. In the fnal lines of his “Khora,” Jacques Derrida observes that hyle was a word that Plato himself never used to qualify khora, noting this fact “to announce the problem posed by the Aristotelian interpretation of khora as matter” (127). Indeed, Aristotle’s interpretation is somewhat problematic, because in his Physics he specifcally adopts one of the two ways of conceptualizing khora and sees his hyle as a material substratum. Aristotle’s “identifcation of the receptacle with matter rests upon Plato’s use of the gold metaphor” (Keyt 294). In other words, [j]ust as wood constitutes the material medium of all woody objects, there is a substrate of matter that connects all material beings, which is never accessible to human observation and thought except as composite objects of form and matter. (Beattie 92) While this is a somewhat fattening interpretation, and “Plato’s receptacle is a more confused, less determinate, and a richer conception than Aristotle’s matter” (Demos 548), Aristotle draws specifcally on the account of the Timaeus, and so to trace the history of his concept of hyle is also to follow the later appropriations of the idea of the khoratic.1 In referring to khora and to hyle, Saunders stresses the interpretation of the latter as chaos, “the disorder from which order arose” (Forest 19).

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She identifes the writings of Chalcidius, from the late third century, as the original locus of the translation of hyle as silva and provides examples that illustrate a broad “acceptance of Chalcidius’s translation and the confation of the literal and philosophical meanings of these terms” (Saunders, Forest 21). In tracing the later history of this tradition to the medieval School of Chartres, Saunders points to the common association of silva with chaos and danger, “the danger of the forests” (Forest 21), one arising from medieval readings that saw it as “active, longing for form” (Forest 22) and “restless” (Forest 23)—an impersonal force that posed the threat of returning the world to a state of “savagery and confusion” (Forest 24) through its formlessness. Her ultimate point is that although we cannot credit all romance forests with the complex ramifcations of the hyle, we can add with some validity the philosophical themes of primordial savagery and chaos to the historical and Biblical concepts of the forest as potential interpretations and infuences. (Forest 24) The romance forest, described here in such Aristotelian terms, is for Saunders also the space of the limen, “a landscape of potentiality” (Forest 26) and a locus of transformations and transmutations. It is also, in many romance texts, the home realm of the fairies. But the association goes further than simply locating fairies within this liminal, khoratic space in particular romance worlds. Saunders’s descriptions of silva and the space of the forest echo in an uncanny way the formulations of the Van Gennepian school of anthropology and its characterization of the liminal as polluting, always active and potentially threatening to anyone that interacts with it. Granted that fairies represent the liminal—or embody it, the difference soon to be addressed directly in this chapter—it remains to be ascertained to what extent what may be termed the khoratic nature of Plato’s receptacle matches the liminal characterization of fairies in folklore and the body of romance literature in question. A number of striking similarities may have already suggested themselves to the reader, and this chapter serves to spell out the various parallels and interconnections in order to argue that the philosophical discourse that developed around the notion of khora is of fundamental importance in capturing the nature of the liminality of fairies. One of the diffculties of talking about khora is that it “does not become the object of any tale, whether true or fabled” (Derrida, “Khora” 117), and that it is without any proper characteristics. Such indeed is the construction of fairies in folklore and medieval literature. Scholarship on the subject faces a major problem in addressing the nature of fairies directly, because the latter only emerges from tales of fairy encounters in an indirect manner, insofar as these tales are stories of men and women and their adventures and transformations, and mention fairies only to the extent

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to which they effect these. In her study of fairy belief in Newfoundland, Barbara Rieti notes the interesting fact that folklorists such as her students and herself found it diffcult to prompt the locals into talking about fairies in abstraction from the stories of actual people who were believed to have come into contact with them: they “did not understand her desire to hear a story for its own sake; for them it was so crucial to know who the story was about” (Strange Terrain 11). Similarly, it is neither coincidence nor a mistake, but an informed scholarly choice, that the frst book-length study to deal with romance fairies, James Wade’s Fairies in Medieval Romance, should concern itself mostly with texts that hardly mention fairies or turn out to have no fairy characters at all. Medieval fairy romance is not about fairies. It would be more adequate to say that fairies make things happen in the romance worlds and thus make it possible for these texts to produce meaning. In this sense they are like the Platonic khora, “that receptacle into which all forms enter in order to take their shape and come to being— . . . the way through which they become representable” (Brennan 19). It is in this respect that the two key facets of the liminality of fairies, fairy dependence and the mirror principle, which govern the presentation of fairies in both folklore and literature, are distinctly khoratic. That the fairies’ liminality can be qualifed as khoratic also emerges from the nature of belief in the perpetual recession of fairies. Not only are they universally consigned to the beliefs of the past, but they are also commonly conceived of as always already there and “always already on their way out” (Purkiss, “Old Wives’ Tales” 105). The choice of words is signifcant here, because when John Caputo says of khora that “it is always already there” (Deconstruction 84), he plays into the nature of the discourse of deconstruction that replays the paradoxical operations of language. In fact, one can hardly fnd a study on Jacques Derrida that would not employ this phrase—an emblematic expression of deconstructionists far and wide.2 “Always already” has indeed become something of a hallmark of the post-structuralist project of bringing to light the self-defeating nature of the structures of language and human thought, which makes it particularly interesting to fnd it used by Diane Purkiss in reference to the fairies’ gradual disappearance. To acknowledge the khoratic character of fairies is, in other words, to recognize that their place is always already occupied but also, paradoxically, always already vacated. This contradiction fnds its realization in the belief that fairies are the previous inhabitants of the land, as in the Irish context where the Sidhe have sometimes been identifed with an earlier aboriginal population of the island (P. A. Smith 97–99; Briggs, Encyclopedia 394). Helen Cooper also relates an amusing story of Elizabeth I being presented a theatrical show at Kenilworth in 1575 in which a woman playing the fairy lady of the lake was to relinquish the local body of water to the queen after telling her a story of how she had kept it for her since the ancient days of King Arthur (English Romance 207). Elizabeth replied by saying “we had

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thought indeed the lake had been ours” (Cooper, English Romance 207), challenging but also bringing to the spotlight the belief that dominion over the land had to be reclaimed from the fairies. To say that fairies are always already there is thus to acknowledge a paradox not unlike the “a-chronistic atemporality” of khora (Caputo, Deconstruction 84): it is both to attribute to them a sense of precedence and to recognize that they can only be identifed through the traces of their absence and via the logic of the mirror principle—just like khora that, in Kristeva’s formulation, belongs to the realm of the semiotic but can only ever be postulated via the order of the symbolic and on the latter’s terms. The analogies between fairies and khora arise from the fact that the latter term communicates a sense of fundamental liminality, challenging not only the fxity and groundedness of particular binary oppositions but the order of polarity as such, including the primary dichotomy of being and non-being. If fairies indeed always inhabit the liminal position in any particular system, it is no wonder that analogies should abound, and they do so precisely because fairies challenge any and all dichotomies, including the ontological one. No attribute can ever be predicated of them other than in a particular, provisional context. They remain as characterless as the Platonic receptacle, acting as a mirror to whatever is projected on them. Philosophical refection on Plato’s khora can therefore be helpful in leading the way towards a proper understanding of liminality as such, and any insights gained can be put to use in trying to make sense of the construction of fairy belief, especially so in literature, because the Timaeus explicitly raises the problem of speaking about khora through fction— that is, the discourse of mythos—and what that entails. The question is essentially one about the limits of representation, and in this context, the following section explores in detail the troubling of the binary opposition of the literal and the metaphorical in Robert Henryson’s Orpheus and Eurydice.

What Do Fairies Represent? The same arbitrary turn of the wheel of Fortune that upsets the life of Orfeo in the English lay fnds treatment in the Scottish poet Robert Henryson’s late ffteenth-century version of the Orpheus story. In Orpheus and Eurydice, the presence of the fairy world is less pronounced, although fairy intrusion is again critical for the action of the poem. Here, however, the incident follows on an apparently fatal poisoning of the queen by a snake, and the circumstances surrounding it communicate the death of Orpheus’s love in much more straightforward terms than in Sir Orfeo. In effect, Henryson’s Orpheus ventures into the fairy underworld ruled by Pluto and Proserpine facing the task of bringing his wife back from the dead, and unlike in the English text, he fails. The poem begins with a lengthy exposition on the Muses, among them Orpheus’s mother, Calliope, and a

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brief story of how it was Eurydice who proposed to Orpheus, after which we learn the details about the incident that separated the two lovers: I say this be Erudices the quene Quhilk walkit furth into a May mornyng Bot with a madyn in a medow grene To tak the dewe and se the fouris spring, Quhair in a schaw neirby this lady ying A busteous hird callit Arresteus Kepand his beistis lay undir a bus And quhen he saw this lady solitar Bairfut with shankis quhyter than the snaw, Preckit with lust he thocht withoutin mair Hir till oppres and till hir can he draw. Dreidand for scaith, sche fed quhen scho him saw And as scho ran all bairfute in a bus Scho strampit on a serpent vennemus. (ll. 92–105) Alarmed by the approach of the lustful herdkeeper, the queen treads upon a snake and is bitten by it, with the result that the venom shatters her heart, breaking it into pieces and sending a “deidly swoun” (l. 109) upon her. Seeing this, Proserpine “call[s]” (l. 112) the queen to her infernal court, and all that Eurydice’s handmaiden can take note of is that her charge “vaneist was and unvisible” (l. 113). A space of merely three lines (ll. 110–113) is devoted to the vanishing, which conveys a sense of the suddenness of the event, much like in Sir Orfeo, where after a long description of Orfeo’s knights preparing to defend Heurodis, the reader is only told that “amiddes hem ful riȝt / Þe quen was oway y-tviȝt” (ll. 191–192). The only thing that Eurydice’s handmaiden can do in Henryson’s poem is to report to Orpheus, in tears, that “Allace, Erudices your quene / Is with the phary tane befoir my ene” (ll. 119–120). The sense of the fairies’ agency is diminished here in comparison with Sir Orfeo. It is Aristeus, the lecherous churl, that is ultimately to blame for the queen’s misfortune, and all that Proserpine does is to open the door to the underworld to Eurydice and welcome the queen, the whole situation apparently happening beyond her direct control. It has been suggested that “Eurydice’s portrait as a nymph in the classical sources” and the unusual detail of Eurydice’s proposal position the queen as aligned with the fairy world (Mameli).3 Whatever the connection may be, Proserpine only becomes involved once the queen enters the deathlike state and has nothing to do with bringing it about, quite unlike the Fairy King in the English lay. This is not to say, however, that the role of the fairy monarchs in Henryson is only that of witnesses. What follows the disappearance of the queen is Orpheus’s venture into the heavens, and after he fails to fnd his wife

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among the heavenly spheres, his journey into hell. He fnds Eurydice there wasted, sickly and pale, and unwilling (“I der nocht tell perfay”—l. 357) to divulge the nature of the ghastly transformation she is undergoing. In an apparent attempt to comfort Orpheus, Pluto then steps in to inform him that he need not fear, because the queen is merely in despair, and although she may look like an elf (“thocht scho be lyk ane elf”—l. 359), the return to Thrace would easily restore her health. Setting out to accomplish just that, Orpheus plays his harp for Pluto and Proserpine and when granted a wish, he asks for the return of his wife. But inasmuch as the royal fairy couple may not be the ones who brought Eurydice to their otherworld in the frst place, they will not let her go without a condition. The “don’t look back” taboo known from Ovid’s version of the story is what stops Henryson’s tale short of a happy ending. Explicitly told by Proserpine not to look back on their journey home on pain of forfeiting his wife, Orpheus forgets himself and loses Eurydice forever, with Pluto fetching her back to hell in an instant (this time within the space of a mere line and a half). The end of the story is a tragic one, as Orpheus returns home a woeful widower. The end of the story is not the end of the poem, however. Orpheus and Eurydice continues for another two hundred lines, with the text abandoning the rhyme royal format used throughout the narrative and moving into a lengthy expository section written in decasyllabic rhyming couplets. This section, known as the Moralitas, has universally puzzled modern critics, because much as it attempts to provide an allegorical interpretation of almost every little detail of the story, in some regards it actually seems to be in blatant confict with the material it sets out to explain. The Moralitas is based on the allegorical commentary on Boethius’s Consolation by the Dominican Nicholas Trivet (1265–1334?; J. Martin 99). Orpheus stands in it for “manis saule and undirstanding, fre / And seperat fra sensualitie” (ll. 429–430), and Eurydice for “oure effectioun / Be fantesy oft movit up and doun” (ll. 431–432), which sometimes fnds pleasure in reason but sometimes “to the fesche it settis the appetyte” (l. 434). All this may quite reasonably be set against the import of the narrative, but the subsequent gloss on Aristeus complicates matters: Arestius, this herd that cowth persew Euridices, is nocht bot gud vertew That bissy is to keip our myndis clene Bot quhen we fe outthrow the medow grene Fra vertew till this warldis vane plesans, Myngit with cair and full of variance, The serpent stangis that is the deidly sin[.] (ll. 435–441) The “Aristeus problem” is a driving force behind most critical readings of the poem, and “[i]t is indeed quite surprising that Henryson’s example of

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perfect virtue should be a shepherd who hides among the bushes in order to attack lonely women, just like the fairies described in the tale of the Wife of Bath” (Mameli).4 Enrico Giaccherini argues that the Moralitas “accompanies the story, but is not an integral part of it” and that if it should have been lost there would be little to mourn (10). Other readers voice their overall dissatisfaction with the section to suggest eventually that it “was not, or at least not in its major parts, written by Henryson” (Strauss 10) but only appended to his text in a rather infelicitous fashion—which would explain the fact that the two do not always seem to match.5 The narrative and the Moralitas are clearly dissimilar in generic terms, which makes some critics see the entirety of text as aesthetically fawed, because although “[c]ourtly romance . . . has infuenced the style, the diction, and the presentation of the central fgure” in the opening section (C. Mills 54) and contributed a number of themes to the narrative, such as the motif of the quest or the fairy intrusion (Friedman, Orpheus 196–201), the poem as a whole “hardly belongs to the romance genre” (Giaccherini 5). Dietrich Strauss’s incentive to question Henryson’s authorship springs at least in part from his impression that the Moralitas spoils the reader’s aesthetic experience: What it has to tell in its remarkable length cannot really be considered as just a sober piece of didacticism, because even didactic poetry must contain a certain minimum of liveliness if it is to serve its end successfully. This Moralitas is, however, little but a tedious exploitation of Trivet to which a rather uninspired passage on astrology is added. (9) The Moralitas has indeed often been considered as little but “a versifcation of part of Trivet’s commentary on De Consolatione Philosophiae” (Wright 46). But as John Marlin has shown, it is not that Trivet is essentially incompatible with the core of Henryson’s story or that the attempt to put the two together is the source of the problem. Quite the opposite, “Henryson’s tale refects Nicholas’s commentary better than his own moralitas, which follows a logic of its own” (Marlin 143). As Marlin observes, in Trivet Aristeus is only a name, “a fat or abstract type” (139) and as such does not really clash logically with being glossed as good virtue, whereas “Henryson depicts the herdsman as an individual with personality, mannerisms and real desires, even to the idiosyncrasy of a foot fetish” (139), and it is Henryson’s own poetic choices that give rise to the incongruity which could otherwise have been avoided. For Marlin, the Aristeus problem is not an issue of textual history but an essentially hermeneutic one—and one that makes the text loop back on itself by recasting the confict it presents thematically on the level of structure. As he puts it, the Moralitas “invites the audience to adopt a new mode of reading, to leave the world of realized, sympathetic characters

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and enter the world of analytic commentary” (Marlin 142). Seen from this perspective, the supplementary Moralitas grafts onto the fctional mythos of Orpheus and Eurydice the analytic discourse of logos that aims to represent the story and endow it with meaning in ways that the majority of readers have found problematic. The tension that some critics wanted to dismiss or rationalize by alternative authorship claims is, however, the kernel of the poem that provides it with a sense of aesthetic unity, because the effect it produces is that “the poem is a representation of its stated theme—that is, the inherent tension between the soul’s faculties, whose integration can last no longer than Orpheus’s and Eurydice’s reunion” (Marlin 149). The two faculties in question are, as the Moralitas explains, the affective and the intellectual, and the combination of the two, hailed as disjunctive and infelicitous by a great many critics, leaves the reader with a sense of a failed coming-together not unlike the ultimate separation of the two lovers that comes despite an initial sense of promise offered by the union of the two.6 The combination of the unfolding narrative and its analytic, didactic representation is also problematic because inasmuch as the second section of the poem expands on a number of elements found in the tale of Orpheus’s adventures, it fails to gloss one that is absolutely crucial for the story: of all the things interpreted away in the Moralitas, only fairies are conspicuous by their absence. Without them, there would be no need for Orpheus to venture anywhere and nothing to comment on, yet for some reason, the Moralitas makes absolutely no mention of them. Sarah Dunnigan argues that “the apparent failure to ‘allegorize’ the fgures of Proserpina and Pluto may suggest their resistance to reason’s powers” (69). In other words, they are the hinge that makes possible both the narrative and its analytic gloss, putting the story together from behind the scenes—both for the characters and the poem’s readers—but they resist representation and interpretation. There is nothing to be said about them except in terms of what they do and how they make things happen, their true identity being ultimately blank and resistant to any stable attribution of meaning that allegory may offer. In this respect, they are the embodiment of liminality as construed by the anthropological school. Wielding great power to mould reality but lacking fxed status themselves, Henryson’s fairies do not so much represent the forces of chaos and entropy as embody them or channel them into both the fctional world of the text and the reader’s hermeneutic experience. They are not a subject of interpretation but a vehicle for interpretation. There is little of the usual kind of thematic liminality derived from folklore in Henryson’s tale. No specifcally liminal times or places are mentioned, and there does not seem to be anything particularly ambiguous about Henryson’s characters either. But the position of fairies in the text is eminently liminal in the khoratic sense of the term. For the reader, the fairies are—just as they were within the fctional reality of Chestre’s

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Sir Launfal—both far and near, a position that Sarah Dunnigan designates when she notes that the “fairy underworld is paradoxically both centrally placed and yet displaced from the poem’s centre” (65). Orpheus and Eurydice is therefore yet another fairy-themed text that produces a liminal experience for the readers, and, like the others, one whose liminality operates in the equivocal mode. What happens within the fctional world of the text also happens to the text as construed in the process of reading. Henryson’s work combines romance and allegory, mythos and logos, discourse and meta-discourse and problematizes representation as such by troubling the nature of the distinction and connection between the two. The home world of fairies lies precisely in between these; they straddle the two worlds, enabling both the literal unfolding of the narrative and the extended metaphor of its allegorical gloss. Like khora, they make meaning possible, producing the distinction between the literal and the metaphorical, but they ultimately elude both modes of reading and are subject to neither. There is no place for them in the Moralitas because they are what makes meaning possible and connects the two levels, bringing them into existence in the frst place, and because, again just like khora, they can only be named in fction (mythos) but resist the logos of explication grounded in the binary logic that they initiate but do not participate in. Henryson’s poem implies that his fairies are indeed nothing but fairies and that they do not stand for anything else. This may seem to clash with Neil Cartlidge’s observation, cited earlier, that they act “as a fgure for some sort of experience of entropy” (200). Just as with regard to any other aspect of their liminality, however, fairies elude the binary logic of mutually exclusive pronouncements. They are the hinge between the literal and the metaphorical, that is, essentially neither one nor the other, but their nature may just as well be approximated by the logic of both . . . and. It is therefore possible to say, following Cartlidge, that they are “an embodiment of chaotic signifcation” (Cartlidge 200) provided this means that they both signify chaotically and that they signify the chaotic: they are both the power of formlessness at work in the text and a fgure for that very power as represented within its fctional world. Fairies both are liminal and stand for the liminal—the khoratic liminal, which in the form of their “Otherworld gradually came to acquire so uneven but yet so polished a symbolic surface as to seem almost infnitely capable of refraction—and in this way it is disturbingly insusceptible to any stable analysis” (Cartlidge 226). Their position in Henryson’s text exemplifes Aguirre, Quance and Sutton’s observation that thematically liminal texts manifest their in-betweenness on the equivocal level, which is where the distinction between character and reader collapses, with both readers and characters coming face to face with different manifestations of the same force that eludes clear binary categorization. This is not to say that all literature which does what it says must, like Orpheus and Eurydice, be

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about fairies. It certainly helps to explain, however, why among fairythemed medieval literature the tendency of texts to operate by looping back on themselves and putting characters and readers in the same predicament in this manner is so prevalent. “Fairies” is in these works a name adopted for an experience of the formlessness of liminality—not just what lies in between any two particular notions but for in-betweenness as such, a name for a phenomenon that has no identity other than what it comes to refect. The self-defeating nature of language as identifed in post-structuralist theory manifests itself in the inadequacy of binary categories both in the construction of fctional worlds and in the mechanics of the hermeneutic process. This is due to the nature of liminality and the way in which it undermines the polarity of human thought, affecting any and all categories of culture and being therefore fgured as always lurking, restless, polluting and quick with power. It is “something about which philosophy cannot philosophize, something that resists philosophy, that withdraws from philosophy’s view and grasp” (Caputo, Deconstruction 98). There is some truth in the observation that, lacking an identity of their own, fairies are parasites (Briggs, Fairies 122), always already there and liable to attack from within rather than from the far-off without. Likewise, khora “inhabits all our beliefs and structures” (Caputo, “Richard Kearney’s Enthusiasm” 314) and “troubles interpretation while performing a certain opening of the text right at its heart” (Wolfreys 40)—at the heart of the text as such, of textuality, and not just any particular text. Adopting the folkloric liminality of fairies and making it part of the represented world, literature cannot therefore but make its text loop back on itself precisely as it attempts to fgure, or represent, the liminally unfgurable, or, in Victor Turner’s vocabulary, as it attempts to speak of a transition in terms of the cultural properties of a state. Whenever it does so, whatever the particulars of a given story, its characters or the nature of their encounter with fairies may be, it opens itself to a sense of meta-literariness wherein the liminality of fairies in the fctional world and the khoratic structure of textuality experienced by the reader collapse into each other. With another troubled metaphor that may not be a metaphor at all, one may conclude that this is what makes these texts—including both their characters and readers—prey to the parasitic intrusions of fairies.

The Abject Bodies of Fairyland Fairy lore includes a number of beliefs concerning the violation of bodily boundaries. From the idea of elf-shot, attested already in Old English sources, to more contemporary reports of the fairy blast, much of the danger posed by fairies revolves around the disabling aftereffects of encounters with the “good people” brought about by projectiles or matter exuded from within the body. Writing about elves as imagined by the

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Anglo-Saxons, Karen Jolly explains that they were “creatures who shot their victims with some kind of arrow or spear, thus inficting a wound or inducing a disease with no other apparent cause” and that this type of attack “was eventually linked with Christian ideas of demons penetrating or possessing animals and people” (134).7 The view has been somewhat challenged by Alaric Hall, who argues that the Old English words suggestive of shooting and projectiles may have referred to the sudden onsets of sharp localized pains, debilitating perhaps but not necessarily literally understood to be the result of elf arrows (cf. Hall, Elves 96–108). Hall believes that ailments that “potentially restrict[ed] the economic contribution of the sufferer to the community” were “metaphorically conceived” as wounds, that is, “recast in martial, heroic terms” in ways that made the resulting condition more socially acceptable (Elves 115). Whether understood literally or fguratively, however, elf-shot was intimately connected with the imagery of bodily penetration even if what it really denoted was sometimes little more than internal pains.8 The connection between fairies and bodily intrusion has persisted in folklore until modern times, which makes it particularly interesting to look at medieval romance in this context to check if the fairies of Middle English literature were also associated with this kind of images. Within fairy lore at large, the preoccupation with foreign bodies that underlies the idea of fairy projectiles sometimes takes on a distinctly abject imagery, as in beliefs concerning the fairy blast, and acknowledging the role of abjection in shaping the literary vision of fairies and their realm can further clarify the nature of the liminality of romance fairies. “Fairy blast” is sometimes used to refer to a whirlwind believed to be driven on by fairy agency (Briggs, Fairies 115; Henderson and Cowan 79), but “the blast” is also a generic name for a fairy stroke (i.e., a physical form of attack), and according to W. B. Yeats, “when the fairy strikes anyone a tumor rises, or they become paralyzed” (159–160). Folklorists report stories in which no fairy is observed and the pain is only attributed to alleged fairy presence (Rieti, “The Blast” 284–285), but there were also people claiming to have been smacked by fairies (Rieti, “The Blast” 286), struck by straws or pricked by needles carried by them (Rieti, “The Blast” 288–289) or even cut with a whip across the legs by a clearly visible fairy fgure (Rieti, Strange Terrain 141). As in Yeats’s explanation, in some cases the result is merely pain and paralysis, but sometimes, the wound festers and various objects are later removed from the site of the infection or come out in due time. Widespread in twentieth-century Newfoundland folklore, which is itself an amalgamation of various local beliefs from across the British Isles, the phenomenon of the fairy blast was documented by Barbara Rieti, whose study mentions a whole array of objects reported to have been removed from the site of the stroke. These include sticks, stones, bits of rock and clay, feathers, hairs, fshbones, rabbits’ bones, hare’s teeth, pieces of rags and felt, old cloths, pieces of combs, rusty nails,

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needles and strings (Rieti, “The Blast”). Some of the objects mentioned may be rationalized as the projectiles themselves, and it is not diffcult to explain why people would speak of needles or nails in this context. Cloths or pieces of felt, however, present more of an interpretive challenge. The idea of the abject may be of help here, because most of the items—homely and ordinary yet appearing in the role of alien matter and foreign bodies—provoke a sense of disgust largely through the fact that they should be found within the victim’s fesh. Hairs (and metonymically combs), as well as teeth, are parts of the body that come out, but obviously not from the inside of wounds, and their presence within a person’s legs or feet induces a sense of psychological disconcertment as to the apparent lack of fxedness of the boundaries of the body, akin to the horror of the abject. The fact that the bones were sometimes those of animals, or fsh, in particular, strikes another ambiguous chord, and the disgusting nature of old rags or felt adds to the sense of unease associated with fnding these everyday objects lodged within one’s fesh as unwelcome intrusions. Moreover, Barbara Rieti’s informants often stressed that “everything” emerged from the fairy-blasted wounds, and in a number of cases, the enumeration of particular items was cut short by an expression signifying that the list could be expanded endlessly: “pieces of bough, bone, every kind of thing” (Strange Terrain 195), “bits of wood, and feathers, and everything” (Strange Terrain 200), “sticks, stones, feathers, hairs, everything” (Strange Terrain 202) and so forth. This suggests that the foreign bodies were viewed as in some sense undifferentiated and creates the impression that literally anything could emerge from the wounds and take on an identity of some sort. This “half-identity,” as Mary Douglas puts it (Purity 161), is a prerequisite for the feeling of unease associated with pollution and disorder: “[i]t is unpleasant to poke about in the refuse to try to recover anything, for this revives identity” (Purity 161), and it is in this sense that the emergence of “every kind of thing” from an otherwise ordinary wound signals the abject. As with elf-shot, the real issue is not whether people truly believed stories about the blast to indicate the supernatural provenance of such items but that this kind of imagery has come to be widely associated with folkloric fairy belief. Barbara Rieti presents the blast as an integral part of the logic of fairy lore, because “there remains in the blast a clear, if grotesque, analogy to impregnation and birth” (“The Blast” 290), which is where the connection with abjection ultimately lies. The motif of the fairies’ proclivity to abduct wet nurses and children is indicative of a major thematic link between cultural representations of the liminal and the experience of childbirth and child care. In folk practices concerning changelings, the unwelcome children were often treated as abjections, put on the foor and swept across the threshold as dirt or left outdoors on dung heaps or in newly dug graves (Eberly 232, Skjelbred 220). Another method was to present the changeling with a disgusting pudding with animal hide, hair

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and eyes (Munro 259–262), the sort of objects that would not be out of place oozing out of fairy-blasted wounds. Exposing suspect children to items and places associated with disorder, pollution and a lack of differentiation implied that they were regarded as abjections and symbolically returned to the abject environment where they supposedly belonged in order to trigger the reappearance of the human baby. Abject conditions called for abject remedies, and Diane Purkiss accordingly ascribes the belief in the fairies’ interest in pregnant mothers and infants to the fact that “[a] pregnant woman is herself an anomaly, a problem of identity: neither one nor two, as the French psychoanalyst Julia Kristeva points out, and curiously suspended between life and death” (At the Bottom 16). Fairies may therefore be considered a symbolic manifestation of the horror inherent in the blurring of the categories of self and other. Perhaps the most often analysed instance of the abject in medieval fairy romance is the grim tableau of the fairies’ captives in Sir Orfeo (ll. 387– 400).9 Variously referred to as “a heterogenous collection of the sick and the maimed” (Davies 161) or a “miscellany” (Kendall 308), the gruesome assembly features mostly victims of war and confict: Sum stode wiþ-outen hade, & sum non armes nade, & sum þurth the bodi hadde wounde, & sum lay wode, y-bounde, & sum armed on hors sete, & sum astrangled as þai ete; & sum were in water adreynt, & sum wiþ fre al for-schreynt. (ll. 391–398) The list ends, however, with a mention of “[w]iues [that] lay on childbedde, / Sum ded & sum awedde” (ll. 399–400). It has been suggested that what connects all of these is the untimely nature of their death as “none of the taken shows signs of age-related disease” (Kendall 308) or that “[o]ne element—fairy magic—unites the suffering fgures” (Williams 543). While such observations may be correct, they are voiced in somewhat broad and vague terms, and the interpretations they offer create the impression that the scene includes a random collection of human captives, perhaps connected in some way through the fact that they all fell victims to the fairies’ inscrutable desires but all in all assembled in the otherworld in a heterogeneous manner. James Wade offers a clue as to the nature of the grim tableau by suggesting that “[a]s prisoners on the brink of death, who are ‘þouȝt dede, & nare nouȝt,’ they have become living corpses, abjections surviving in some terrifying state of suspended existence” (79). His Fairies in Medieval Romance does not develop the idea further, making use of the critical

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vocabulary of Giorgio Agamben rather than the theories of Julia Kristeva, but he does point out that abjection may be a valid hermeneutic key in both Sir Orfeo and Eger and Grime (87–90), a romance with medieval roots but one whose earliest-surviving version can be found in the seventeenth-century Percy Folio manuscript. Wade makes an important methodological move in taking at face value the text of Sir Orfeo when it says that that the fairies’ victims were thought dead but were not so (l. 390), and this clears the way for the critical appreciation of the fairies’ liminality by way of dismissing readings such as that by Constance Davies, who found the ambiguous import of the line diffcult to swallow: Even when full allowance has been made for the marvellous things which could happen in Fairyland, it is diffcult to believe that a person without a head was not “dead” in the frst instance. And are we to understand that these headless, armless, burnt and choked people, to say nothing of the mothers in childbed, also “arose” as Heurodis evidently did, and took part in the dancing and hunting in the forest? (164) As was the case with readings that sought to identify the fairies of Sir Orfeo with the forces of either good or evil, this approach fails to acknowledge the fact that fairies and their world cannot be adequately described by means of mutually exclusive binary categories. While Davies is ultimately led to the conclusion that there are inconsistencies in the narrative (164), it would be more in order to view the ambiguity of life and death not as a narrative faw but an interpretive problem and fundamental theme of the poem. Taking recourse to abjection allows Wade to do just that, but he never spells out the nature of the connection between fairies and the abject and seems to understand the latter only as the simultaneity of life and death. This again leads to the conclusion that the collection of bodies in the Fairy King’s palace is a random one and that what connects the various fgures is solely the fact that they are both alive and dead. The catalogue of the fairies’ victims may be more homogeneous than most critics have acknowledged, however. Diane Purkiss explains that “[t]his is a collective spectacle of horror, but it is also a portrait of those whose deaths have come about through a violent assault on the body’s integrity, whether from within or without, by another” (At the Bottom 77). The list includes people whose bodies have been decapitated, dismembered and penetrated with weapons, but women in childbirth also ft the scheme because “[b]oth warrior and woman’s bodies are opened, and the open body is open to death” (Purkiss, At the Bottom 20). The danger of madness associated with the blurring of the boundaries between self and other also looms large in the description. The list mentions the mad twice, frst in the general catalogue of the various fgures (l. 394) and then again to qualify some of the women in childbed (“awedde”—l. 400). To say that

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they have all become victims to fairy magic is to acknowledge that their bodily integrity has been compromised, which the text represents through the image of abject fgures suspended between life and death, liminal as the fairy realm itself. Their fate is identical to that of those who, in other stories, open their mouths to eat fairy food and are therefore bound to remain in the otherworld having become one with it. It would be ungrounded to assume that these ghastly fgures join the fairy cavalcade—not because they are dead but due to their immobility, the stasis of the image conveying a sense of total subjection to the fairies’ power. The successful retrieval of Heurodis and the description that situates her in a predicament analogous to the tableau group but not directly part of it, asleep rather than half-dead (ll. 405–408), seems to suggest different modes of representing liminality at work in the text. Among the various images that give shape to the Orfeo otherworld, the abjections of the fairy gallery epitomize to the highest degree the blurring of boundaries associated with fairies and introduce visceral horror to an otherwise aestheticized vision of the otherworld. The frozen fgures of the tableau have also been interpreted as simulacra. Richard Green believes that the scene draws on medieval ideas concerning the fairies’ tendency to leave behind substitute bodies in place of those whom they have abducted and that the people of the gallery “act as a kind of test, a fnal challenge to those seeking to recover their loved ones from fairyland” (Elf 167). Such false, or “stock,” bodies are often characterized by a certain woodiness,10 sometimes combined with a sense of hollowness, dryness or saplessness, as in Green’s prime example of simulacra “like putrid wood within and covered on the outside with a thin hide” mentioned in the thirteenth-century Bonum Universale de Apibus by Thomas of Cantimpré (Elf 165).11 A similar tradition seems to underlie Robert Henryson’s depiction of the fate of Eurydice. When Orpheus fnds her in the otherworld, she is “Lene and deidlyk, peteous and paill of hew, / Rycht warshe and wane and walluid as the weid, / Hir lilly lyre was lyk unto the leid” (ll. 349–351). Similarly to Sir Orfeo, the scene involves a moment of recognition on Orpheus’s part, successful despite the fact that in terms of appearance Eurydice is already “lyk ane elf” (l. 359). An analogous transformation also takes place in Thomas of Erceldoune, in which after sexual congress with Thomas, the fairy queen’s body becomes withered and, as was the case with Eurydice, lead-like: “all hir body lyke the lede” (l. 136). In all three poems, such a condition seems to be triggered by some sort of bodily penetration. Whereas in Sir Orfeo the mutilated bodies suffered wounds or were arrested in motion at the moment of giving birth, the fairy queen in Thomas transforms upon engaging in sexual activity, and Henryson’s Eurydice withers after a snakebite described in terms highly suggestive of bodily intrusion: This cruwall venome was so penetrife As natur is of all mortall pusoun,

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In peisis small this quenis harte can rife And scho anone fell on a deidly swoun. (ll. 106–109, emphasis mine) The heart of Eurydice is shattered into pieces, fragmented as the penetrating venom reaches the innermost parts of her body, which transforms her into someone who is both human and elf-like, both human and nonhuman at the same time. She is still Eurydice, as Orpheus’s act of recognition indicates, but when Pluto says she could easily become herself again under certain conditions, his words simultaneously imply just the opposite. The withered bodies in Henryson and Thomas may not be as mangled and mutilated as those of the grim tableau, but they still carry with them a sense of the abject—the sort of liminality that hovers between positive identity and repulsive dismissal, between self and other. The connection between fairies and abject modes of liminality may also explain the apparent incongruity between Gawain’s expectations of the Green Chapel and the nature of the place in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. The word chapel is highly suggestive of a Christian place of worship but what Gawain is eventually led to is only a large earthen mound. Curiously enough, even though the knight acknowledges that the place is not at all what he thought it would be and expresses much surprise at the sight (ll. 2187–2196), the issue is never raised in his conversation with the Green Knight (Carson 250). A solution offered by Angela Carson is that the green intruder’s use of the term chapel is an example of equivocation. In its alternative meaning, the word is to be read as “a place of slaughter,” being an English borrowing of the French chapel, a twelfth-century synonym for abattoir (slaughterhouse) that had become archaic enough by the fourteenth century not to suggest itself immediately as a French borrowing (Carson 247–248) but to carry some resonance nonetheless. The theory is convincing because Gawain’s implicit realization that the place is indeed a chapel but not in the sense he expected may explain the lack of any explicit resolution to the knight’s confusion: the readers would have realized, alongside Gawain, that when he asked around for the location of the Green Chapel, he was ironically inquiring about the location of a place of slaughter—his slaughter. The analogy to Sir Orfeo lies in the fact that during his ordeal in the chapel, as the Green Knight’s axe hangs above his head, Gawain remains suspended between life and death. In fact, throughout the entire year prior to the fnal encounter in the chapel, he is effectively a dead man, because it is diffcult to envisage any other fnale to his quest than a killing blow, a fate he ultimately accepts when he bids the Green Knight to hasten and end his game (ll. 2284–2301). What the blow amounts to, however, is only a small wound, and “[a]lthough not as ubiquitous as the emblems of pentangle and girdle, the image of the wound nonetheless occupies a prominent place in the poem” (Reichardt 154). Images of bodily penetration and suspension between

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life and death function in the romance as premonitions of what could be Gawain’s ultimate fate, and such is also the nature of the Green Knight’s abject body in the Camelot scene. Sent by Morgan le Fay to instil horror in Guinevere, the Green Knight achieves his goal by pointing his severed head towards the queen in an act of defance—both of Arthur’s court and death itself (ll. 444–445). The intruder brings Guinevere to confront the abject, the ambiguous, the liminal. He not only challenges the smugness of the supposedly perfect court but also undermines the very line between life and death; it is in the margin between life and death, nature and culture, terror and benevolence, beyond the assumed oppositions, that his identity (which is, after all, but a form of illusion) takes shape. The abject may be considered to be a particular mode of the liminal, one made ample use of in fairy romance, where it challenges the aesthetic decorum of the narratives and introduces an element of bodily horror. The psychoanalytic approach to conceptualizing ambiguity as practised by Julia Kristeva offers a useful paradigm for studying certain aspects of the liminality of fairies, because [p]sychoanalysis proposes a number of relations between psychical structures and the perception and representation of the body. Here . . . , subjectivity is articulated in terms of spaces and boundaries, of a fxing of the limits of corporeality. (Nead 7) The challenge to the fxity of boundaries represented by fairies makes them a threat to the subjectivity of human characters and brings the latter to the brink of madness, as in the case of Heurodis, whose self-mutilation in Sir Orfeo may also be reconsidered in the context of the abject. It is Heurodis, Henryson’s Eurydice and the fairy queen in Thomas that serve as examples of the abject body in the corpus of romance texts in question. Writing about much later traditions, Peter Alderson Smith notes that in Irish folklore it was usually women whose bodies were substituted by “stocks” (139), but there is a logic to his observation that makes it just as applicable to the medieval period. What underlies such tendencies is Western culture’s overall concern with the penetrability of the female body and the perceived need to frame it and keep it within bounds (Nead 5–11). This mechanism can be traced throughout the history of pictorial arts, where “[t]he distinctions between inside and outside, between fnite form and form without limit, need to be continuously drawn” (Nead 11), but literature, too, betrays the ubiquity of this particular preoccupation with maintaining boundaries. Of all the apparently fxed limits and dichotomies that fairies challenge, it is the inside/outside divide, and the related self/other distinction, that the proper delimiting of the female body grounds in particular. If the body is open, it is open to death and disintegration, and the polluting and violating factor that effects these by

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nullifying the fxity of limits is imaginatively envisioned in these texts, as it is in folklore, in the shape of fairies. Fairies embody and represent the danger of disintegration, both on the micro-level of the self and the macro-level edifce of conceptual thought. It is no wonder they should be imagined as prone to attack the integrity of the human body, the perceived foundation of binary distinctions on both these levels. The emergence of the abject in fairy romance points to the signifcance of the theme of the limits of corporeality in all fairy-haunted narratives.

Beyond Demonization While the powers of horror introduced by the abject are essentially aligned with the oscillations of the liminal, there is another dark side to the fairies of medieval romance, which stands in stark opposition to ambiguity and derives from attempts to negate it altogether. The idea that Christian dualism eventually does away with the liminal complexity of the cultural constructions of fairies and, recognizing only two possible alternatives, reclassifes fairies and related supernatural beings as demonic is a common one in historical studies of fairy belief. Historians tend to identify rough timelines to account for the process, and one of the major caesuras posited in this context is the onset of the Protestant Reformation. Peter Marshall explains that it was “[t]he Reformation’s emphasis on the absolute sovereignty of God [that] left no place for any such autonomous or semi-autonomous spiritual beings to exercise agency in the world” (140). In the millenarian climate of religious confict that embodied the ultimate struggle between God and the Devil and left no room for moral neutrality, “if what were traditionally thought of as ghosts and fairies had any objective reality at all, they could only be demons, subservient to Satan, and bent on the spiritual destruction of mankind” (Marshall 140). This is to say that the reformers “destroyed the grey area once inhabited by fairies, ghosts and witches, and relegated them all to the dominion of Satan, whose power appeared to be growing ever stronger” (Henderson and Cowan 116). This narrative of a sweeping change contingent on the religious upheaval of the sixteenth century has successfully been challenged by Richard Green in his Elf Queens and Holy Friars. Green leaves his readers with no doubt whatsoever that demonization was well underway already in the late Middle Ages and concludes that “in the discourse of the late medieval church fairies were demons (or demonic illusions)” (Elf 16). His study suggests that the confation of fairies and demons became a dominant theological standpoint in the thirteenth century, when the tendency to spy the demonic in unorthodox beliefs supplanted the earlier paradigm of approaching fairy beliefs with scepticism (Green, Elf 14–15). Although they identify different dates as the starting point for the phenomenon, accounts such as those of Marshall and Green are not in any way contradictory. Put together, they suggest a series of waves of

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demonization, each subsequent one making the intellectual climate less and less amenable to accommodating within the elite worldview ideas of an alternative, morally ambiguous order of creation. Naturally, how this major paradigm shift affected popular culture or seeped into literature is another matter, but whichever chronology one adopts, the approach does seem to suggest the possibility of drawing a fne line between a culture still largely untouched by the process, where fairies should still be fairies and one where their liminality has come under pressure and where their ambiguity has been obscured or ultimately resolved. An alternative to the chronological model of demonization is one that identifes and contrasts competing traditions and discourses native to particular social strata. Green organizes his study around Peter Burke’s distinction between “the ‘great tradition’ of the educated few and the ‘little tradition’ of the rest” (Burke 23–24), although he is quick to point out time and again that some among the upper classes were actively immersed in the latter (Elf 42–43). This is an important point, because other scholars have rejected adopting “‘ambiguity’ as the central defnitional feature of elves and cognate beings,” believing that “this position is only tenable if one is willing to privilege ‘folk’ over ‘learned’ categories” (Ostling and Forest 564). According to Michael Ostling, it is the obverse approach, one that focuses on elite discourse, that can do justice to the nature of the “small gods,” as he refers to these beings. Ostling approaches the subject perhaps counter-intuitively, by treating demonization and contestation as necessary (but not suffcient) conditions of the defnition of “small gods”: they are found within the encompassing, totalizing framework of a world religion that . . . seeks to condemn, contest, or marginalize continued belief in “small gods” among some adherents of the world religion in question. . . . Small gods are (imperfectly) defnable as objects of an endless effort at exorcism by which some Christians seek to expunge them beyond the margins and to locate them frmly in hell, in the pagan past, or in the foolish minds of babbling “old wives.” (10) This is a useful strategy if one wants to attend to the complexity and diversity of the range of beliefs in such beings, because by pinpointing various modes of demonization in their historical contexts it highlights the fact that “although such beings may be found always and everywhere, their function, evaluation, and cultural salience varies enormously in time and space” (Ostling 19). It does create, however, the impression that the original folkloric, or popular, form of such beliefs is altogether negligible, characterless and therefore universalized to the point of irrelevance and that critical discourse can only secure a foothold when one approaches fairies in their contested, demonized forms.

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Theoretical refection on liminality makes it possible to put such claims in a broader perspective. If Victor Turner’s assertion that transition is not a state is taken seriously, it becomes diffcult to posit the supposedly pure liminality of fairies in popular belief and the dualism introduced by Christian theology and philosophy as two sides of an opposition, because liminality is not a thing that could be contrasted with a particular confguration of stable qualities. It is, instead, an oscillation between various positions—any opposing positions and within any given system, as fairy lore teaches us. Ostling is right to argue that to defne fairies, that is, to identify qualities that can be predicated of them, one must abandon the perspective of characterless ambiguity and study the various ways in which culture transforms supernatural beings into diabolical demons, gods with distinct domains of authority that welcome propitiation, creatures of the natural world or mere illusions (23). Each of these “modes of survival” resolves a particular oscillation by labelling the small gods evil rather than good, god-like rather than human, natural rather than unnatural, superstition rather than reality (Ostling 23). However, such a defnition goes only halfway towards capturing the nature of the cultural representations of fairies if it ignores the liminality still at work in the appropriations and reinterpretations of popular beliefs, because the resolution of one particular oscillation does not necessarily resolve all the others and may actually give rise to new ones. Thomas of Erceldoune provides an excellent example of the process. In the Lansdowne version, Thomas decides to exorcise the fairy queen in case she might happen to be the devil: T[h]an said Thomas, ‘Alas! alas! This is A dewellfull sight; now is she fasyd in þe face, that shone be fore as þe sonne bryght!’ On euery syde he lokyde abowete, he sau he myght no whare fe; Sche woxe so grym and so stowte, The Dewyll he wende she had be. In the Name of the trynite, he coniuryde here anon Ryght, That she shulde not come hym nere, But wende away of his syght. (ll. 137–148) The assumption is that if this has no effect on her, she must be something other than a creature of evil. The passage appears to be a less explicit form of the kind of tests that fairies successfully pass in other romance texts, proving themselves to be different from demons. An instance of a failed test of this kind is the Eucharist scene in the fourteenth-century Richard

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Coer de Lion, where the exquisitely beautiful Cassodorien, who marries King Henry and gives birth to Richard, fies through the roof upon the presentation of the sacrament (J. Wade 36–37). Although no resolution to the question of Cassodorien’s identity is ever provided in the romance, the incident strongly suggests that she was not of fairy stock, because “[i]n nearly all instances . . . fairies have no problem encountering Christian paraphernalia or swearing in the name of God” (J. Wade 31). References to “fairies who swear by the Virgin Mary, who are eager to attend mass, or who anticipate salvation on doomsday” may be seen as vernacular culture’s attempts to adjust its worldview to the demands of offcial doctrine (Green, Elf 2). They create the impression that while true demons may be out and about, whether in the real world or the romance worlds of literature, there is an additional class of beings that is not to be confused with them. The exorcism has likewise no effect on the fairy queen in Thomas, only prompting her to rebuke Thomas gently for invoking the apotropaic formula—“Thomas, this is no nede” (Lansdowne MS, l. 149)—and to assert immediately that “fende of hell am I none” (Lansdowne MS, l. 150). Although eventually denied, the potentiality of the queen turning out to be a fend testifes to the discourse of demonization at work in the text. However, this is not the fully fedged demonization of the sort later to be voiced by James VI in his Daemonologie (1597), in which fairies were posited as but one of many different manifestations of the devil. According to James, there was not even such a thing as fairies distinct from evil, demonic spirits, but this view was never adopted en masse: “those who classed fairies as demons pure and simple were rare enough almost to count as radical” (Hutton, “Making” 1150), and the demonization attested in medieval romance hardly reaches the extremity of James’s views. In romance, there is room both for morally ambiguous fairies and truly demonic beings, the two seen as distinct from each other and potentially coexisting in a single universe in ways that James VI would later refuse to allow for. In fact, the very presence of tests of demonic allegiance proves that there is something to be tested and that a given being can turn out to represent the non-demonic supernatural. The text of Thomas of Erceldoune makes it clear that the fairy world pays a tribute to hell (ll. 289–290), so there is indeed something morally suspicious about this realm, but the fairy queen herself challenges the authority of the devil in successfully preventing his abduction of Thomas. She is therefore both presented as being in league with the devil and as opposed to his dominion. In fact, the Lansdowne passage about the “dewellfull” appearance of the fairy (l. 138)—not just doleful, as in the other versions, but also playfully “devil-full”—only reinforces the liminality of the fairy world because it “balances the earlier one in which Thomas had mistaken her for the Virgin” (Green, Elf 27). In analogy to the image of the fairy castle being neither part of hell nor heaven, belonging neither to the purgatorial space of torture nor the blissful realm of paradise,

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the Lansdowne MS draws a connection between the fairy lady and both the virgin and the devil only to denounce both associations as fallacious and establish her as a proper triton genos. By this token, demonization becomes a vehicle for liminality, giving new forms of expression to the overall ambiguity of the fairy world instead of successfully challenging, let alone supplanting it. Ostling is right to suggest that nothing in particular can be said of fairies until they become reconceptualized, whether into devils or angels. Yet to ground the defnition of these beings in liminality is not to privilege the folk perspective but rather to acknowledge the fundamental organizing principle of fairy belief that continues to exert its infuence even as the process of demonization proceeds. Just as the semiotic chora can only be approached and defned through the system of symbolic thought where it still exerts a great deal of infuence, so does liminality also fnd its expression through the dualist worldview of Christian doctrine, and while the latter two may—indeed need be—contrasted to construct historical narratives of the evolution of fairy beliefs, liminality remains a dominant mode of fairy presence in medieval romance. The same process is at work in the Ashmole and Harley versions of Sir Orfeo, which post-date the Auchinleck text and eliminate some ambiguities from the presentation of fairies in the latter. Patrick Schwieterman has noted that “the majority of omissions shared between the two later texts may betray an anxiety about the depiction of fairyland in Auchinleck” (67). The ongoing process of demonization may have been a factor behind some of the changes, possibly playing a role in the omission of a passage in which Orfeo takes the fairy court to be “Þe proude court of Paradis” (Auchinleck MS, l. 376). Since Ashmole retains the grim tableau (ll. 380–388), albeit in a shorter and slightly altered form, the balance between the two afterlife realms is gone, and the image of fairies shifts slightly towards the more demonic end of the spectrum. In Harley, however, the omissions are so substantial that the purgatorial aura of the scene is completely excised (ll. 371–374). A minor imbalance towards either moral alignment is as much as the readers may glean from the texts. In Thomas of Erceldoune, the fairy castle is mentioned right after hell, which alongside the tribute arrangement the fairies have with the devil suggests a degree of affnity between the two. Helen Cooper contrasts this with the location of the fairy capital of Momure in the romance of Huon of Bordeaux. In Huon, the fairy city is accessible to angels, who take the Fairy King’s soul to paradise, and this, in turn, implies a close connection with heaven (Cooper, English Romance 182). Angelic or demonic, fairies retain much of their liminality even as the process of repressing liminal fairy discourse proceeds. A noticeable omission from Harley and Ashmole is the deletion of a couplet contrasting the fairy world with that of their abductees: “Eche was þus in þis warld y-nome, / Wiþ fairi þider y-come” (Auchinleck MS, ll. 404–405). Schwieterman considers this to be the consequence of the

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redactors’ uneasiness about the idea of fairies having a world of their own and a result of their efforts to suppress the notion of an alternative, morally neutral and therefore theologically suspect otherworld (70). He argues that “the removal of this couplet may have seemed like a practical response to a potentially thorny issue” because neither of the two later texts “directly addresses the problem of the fairies’ ontological status in the romance” (Schwieterman 70). Yet the omission, most likely aimed at neutralizing the ambiguity of the fairy world, falls short of achieving the desired end. If the redactors’ goal was “the disenchantment of the fairy world,” to use Green’s phrase (Elf 65), they did not go far enough, because the end result is an even stronger sense of perhaps one world but with two overlapping dimensions. Fairies may not have a world of their own in Harley and Ashmole, and the space of the subterranean land does not problematize the systemic beliefs in heaven, hell, purgatory and paradise so much as in Auchinleck, but the sense of two parallel planes of reality remains. In Ashmole, the queen is frst accosted by the Fairy King not in her sleep but while she is wide awake, so the ambiguity concerning the fairies’ material nature seems to be challenged. On the other hand, the fairies of Ashmole do not occupy the same material space as the human world, because it is diffcult to rationalize the arrival of the king in Orfeo’s orchard “Wyth an hundreth knyȝtys also, / And an hundreth ladys & mo” (Ashmole MS, ll. 142–143) as anything but a plane shift, a sudden appearance of fairies out of thin air. Such is also the nature of the queen’s sudden disappearance from the midst of Orfeo’s army, no different from Auchinleck. Theological dilemmas may be somewhat resolved here since fairies do not have a separate world of their own, but they still act as if they did, which only intensifes the sense of ambiguity related to their ontological status. The removal of selected liminal characteristics from the portrayal of fairies in medieval romance may lead to the emergence of others. Successfully scrapping moral or ontological neutrality requires thorough textual revisions, and even reducing the element of the supernatural, as in Sir Launfal, may only result in replacing one kind of liminality with another, as Chapter 2 showed. It would appear that the only feasible strategy of doing away with the fairies’ ambiguity is a total repression of fairy discourse whereby all references to the fairy supernatural are excised. Green points to Lybeaus Desconus, a ffteenth-century English adaptation of the French Le Bel Inconnu, as a good example (Elf 64–65). The English text belies its source by doing away with all of the original’s fairy allusions, but when the original is heavily indebted to fairy motifs, the result may still be far from fairy-free. Such is the case with another of Green’s examples, the couplet version of Generides, where the text draws heavily on the motif of the human character being led by a mysterious hart to a palace strangely emptied of all people (Green, Elf 65). The realization of the convention is still enough for the reader to wonder at the possibility

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of the involvement of fairies, which is how the text of Partonope of Blois proceeds, fashioning the character of Melior, the ruler of such an abandoned city, “according to the conventions of a fairy mistress” only to deny her otherworldly nature in the end (J. Wade 22). Even when no fairies are involved, the mechanics of generic conventions and the residue of fairy-like descriptions are enough to render settings and characters liminal and to make the readers’ hermeneutic experience one of wading across a superstructure of ambiguity. There is, in practice, little direct confict between liminality and demonization (or other forms of the former’s contestation) in medieval romance even if the two ideas seem mutually exclusive, because the former is more of a structure of oscillation than a quality to be predicated of anything. Moreover, literary contestation of fairy ambiguity does not take the shape of Jacobean radicalism and, as the Ashmole and Harley texts of Sir Orfeo illustrate, it often amounts to redactions of selected passages only, which effectively initiates novel interpretations by boosting the overall liminality of the fairy world in ways the redactors may not have foreseen. As James Wade notes, the removal of the fairy otherworld from a text usually goes hand in hand with the loss of its people’s fairy status (12), but this does not necessarily have to lead to the removal of the ambiguity that the original inclusion of fairy references brought into the text. To dismiss liminality as the privileging of the folk perspective in romance studies would be to miss the mark, for it is alive and well even in texts heavily marked by the process of demonization. Demonization is a shift towards the demonic end of the spectrum, not a viable alternative to the liminal presentation of fairies, and while liminality may be characterless, it is not structurally negligible. It is, in fact, a defning force in fairy romance and necessarily so. As the history of the appropriations of khora shows, in order to be subject to representation, the unceasing oscillation of liminality has to be conceptualized, set against other notions and thus contested. Contested liminality is therefore not a late, post-demonization, stage of representing the term that obscures its original depiction but a fundamental form of its literary life, necessary for capturing it in literary discourse. In focusing on fairies, texts such as Sir Orfeo, Sir Launfal, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Thomas of Erceldoune and Orpheus and Eurydice face the challenge of depicting the liminal, and as Aguirre, Quance and Sutton have noticed, what happens when literature wants to talk about ambiguity and capture the essence of liminal oscillation is that it becomes ambiguous itself: khoratic themes intermingle with khoratic structures. Fairy romance thus not only borrows certain liminal elements from the folkloric vision of fairies but further proliferates the structures of ambiguity, challenging the neat theoretical distinction between mimetic representation and self-referentiality. The fairy is as much a structure of the romance as it is its theme, and in both respects it is, and represents, the liminal. The popularity of fairy-themed romance in the fourteenth and

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ffteenth centuries may be seen as a corollary of this process, because by the late Middle Ages, “indeterminable modes [of thought] gain ground” and become “the dominant (though never the exclusive) mode” of hermeneutics (Sturges 11–12). Robert Sturges notes that the romance genre, where “multiplicity and indeterminacy of meaning pla[y] a major role,” is where this shift in understanding the process of interpretation manifests itself (22). As Sturges explains, “[r]omances often theorize their own mysterious indeterminacy . . . by presenting characters involved in interpretive activities not so very different from those demanded of the reader by the text’s semantic gaps” (23). Fairies are a major thematic and structural force largely responsible for how these texts loop back on themselves and turn the reader’s hermeneutic experience into a venture across liminal— and fairy-ridden—land.

Notes 1. For a study of how Aristotle reads the Timaeus, see Keyt. 2. For Jacques Derrida’s commentary on the expression as originally used by Martin Heidegger (immer schon), see Derrida, Heidegger 41–42. In Derrida’s writings, the phrase is used to indicate that presence is always already inhabited by absence. Following Derrida’s use, the expression acquired a life of its own, was widely adopted by deconstructionists and post-structuralists of all denominations, and has been used in a variety of contexts ever since. 3. Mameli notes that the fairy lady in Lanval is just as open in her advances towards men. The same could be said of Lady Bertilak in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and, despite her initial resistance, of the Fairy Queen in Thomas of Erceldoune. 4. There are ostensibly no fairies that attack people in the tale of the Wife of Bath. What Mameli is referring to here is the opening satire on friars, whose exploits of a sexual and predatory nature are said to resemble the actions of fairies in the distant past, when fairies still roamed the land. 5. As a counterpoint, it should be noted that the Moralitas follows the narrative in all three sixteenth-century texts of the poem (Wright 46). 6. Like John Marlin, Joanna Martin also points to the signifcance of the Moralitas within the poem, arguing that “the two-part structure it gives to the work serves to refect the dualities in man’s nature, the body and soul, intellect and sensuality, which are to be explained by the gloss. The challenge of reading of the moralitas mimics the diffculties of harmonizing such disparate elements within the self. The stanzaic form used up until now is replaced by rhyming couplets which themselves echo the dichotomies Henryson explores. Thus Orpheus and Eurydice embodies the divisions it discusses at this very basic structural level” (99). 7. Emphasis mine. 8. The idea of disease caused by elf arrows surfaced again in early modern witchcraft beliefs. See Alaric Hall’s “Getting Shot” for an examination of the associations between fairies, illness and projectiles in Scottish witchcraft records. 9. The tableau passage (also referred to as a “gallery,” “catalogue,” “assembly” or “collection”) has been the subject of much heated scholarly debate. See in particular Anne Marie D’Arcy’s analysis in the context of imperial displays of

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power and Richard Green’s ingenious suggestion that a key idea at work in the text is that of stock bodies, or fairy simulacra (Elf 166–168). James Wade (79–80) and Ruth Evans (204–205) have offered readings heavily indebted to the theoretical thought of Giorgio Agamben. For a range of other approaches, see also Allen 103–105, Battles 194, Jirsa 147–148, Kendall 308–309, Lerer 107, Mitchell 156–159 and Williams 543–545. 10. Whether the notion of wooden stocks relates in any way to the woodiness attributed to the concept of hyle remains an open question. 11. See Wilby, Cunning Folk 101–102 and Visions 292–294, and Henderson and Cowan 79–80 for early modern references to the stock body. In later traditions, stocks featured prominently enough in Irish folklore (cf. P. A. Smith 139) for W. B. Yeats to conclude one of his plays, The Land of Heart’s Desire, with a scene of the abductee’s wooden simulacrum held tight by her disconsolate husband.

5

The Gift and the Promise Ambiguity in Khoratic Contracts

Romance scholarship has established a number of themes that delineate the actions of fairies in literary narratives, whose employment structures the fairies’ interactions with humans and the unveiling of the narratives at large. Medieval romance draws on familiar folkloric themes in presenting its fairies as eager to strike deals with mortals, offer them gifts and impose taboos on their behaviour. The fairies’ penchant for rule-bound play and contracts, their use of equivocation, as well as the arbitrariness of their actions, are all hallmarks of fairy romance narratives. Chapter 5 looks at the connection of themes such as these with the underlying structure of liminality that subtends the use of the fairy fgure in romance and informs the folkloric image of the fairy race. In order to see what the various motifs have in common and how they connect with liminality, it is necessary to turn again to Jacques Derrida, whose work on the notion of the gift and its relatedness to promises and contracts intersects with his study of khora and its pre-subjective feld of generativity. Derrida identifes the vocabulary of giving and receiving as privileged among the altogether inadequate discourse used to qualify the nature of khora, and in the logic of the gift he identifes an aporia similar to that which accompanies attempts to capture the essence of khora with the help of language. His discussion of the gift provides thus another point of entry into the problem of the liminal and its relation to the structures of human thought. Derrida’s insights into the paradoxical nature of the gift centre on the controversial idea of the gift being not just an impossibility but “the very fgure of the impossible” (Derrida, Given Time 7), and this is where an overview of his approach to the aporia of the gift must necessarily begin.

Gifts and Counter-Gifts For a gift to occur, what is given must not return to the donor, whether in the same or equivalent form, material or symbolic. Such is Jacques Derrida’s understanding of the notion, which he sees as inimical to the idea of economy, disrupting the circulation of goods and defying reciprocity: “[i]t must not circulate, it must not be exchanged, it must not in any case

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be exhausted, as a gift, by the process of exchange, by the movement of circulation of the circle in the form of return to the point of departure” (Given Time 7). What is at stake is not just the actuality of the act of reciprocation, but even the “mark of a duty, a debt owed” resulting from the donee’s sense of the obligation of restitution that follows the recognition of the gift as gift (Derrida, Given Time 13). That in itself is enough to annul the gift and replace it with the dynamics of the economic circle. In thus defning the gift as uneconomic, Derrida distances himself from the seminal Essai sur le don (1925) by the French sociologist Marcel Mauss. In the essay, Mauss discusses the gift specifcally in the context of the obligation to return it, speaking of how “the thing that is given itself forges a bilateral, irrevocable bond” (The Gift 76) and arguing that the idea of the exchange of presents arises out of the realization that “to accept something from somebody is to accept some part of his spiritual essence, of his soul [and] [t]o retain that thing would be dangerous and mortal” (The Gift 16). Derrida’s commentary on Mauss’s perspective captures well his own, radically divergent approach to the matter: One could go so far as to say that a work as monumental as Marcel Mauss’s The Gift speaks of everything but the gift: It deals with economy, exchange, contract . . . , it speaks of raising the stakes, sacrifce, gift and countergift—in short, everything that in the thing itself impels the gift and the annulment of the gift. (Given Time 24) This position springs from Derrida’s refection on the nature of symbolic systems. A symbolic equivalent is enough to put the economic circle in motion, and any recognition of gift-giving produces one, because that is exactly what the donor receives as soon as he recognizes the gift as gift: “the symbolic opens and constitutes the order of exchange and of debt, the law or the order of circulation in which the gift gets annulled” (Derrida, Given Time 13). The simple recognition of the gift, even prior to any feeling of gratitude on the part of the donee, is what returns to the donor in place of the gift, because the very thought of giving makes the donor begin “to pay himself with a symbolic recognition, to praise himself, to approve of himself, to gratify himself, to congratulate himself, to give back to himself symbolically the value of what he thinks he has given or what he is preparing to give” (Derrida, Given Time 14). This makes it necessary for the gift to be unrecognized as gift in order even to be possible. As soon as the gift is conceptualized as gift—endowed with the signifcation of gift—it is annulled. Here lies the aporia: “if there is no gift, there is no gift, but if there is gift held or beheld as gift by the other, once again there is no gift” (Derrida, Given Time 15). Despite their dissimilar orientations, both Mauss and Derrida imply the existence of a link between the logic of the gift—however differently

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understood—and liminality. With Derrida, this emerges from his formulation of the puzzling nature of the problem: “what are we thinking when we require simultaneously of the gift that it appear and that it not appear in its essence . . . ? That it obligate and not obligate? That it be and not be that for which it is given?” (Given Time 27). Mauss, in turn, points to the double meaning of “gift” in Germanic languages (The Gift 81). Noting that the gift forges a relationship that may easily turn destructive rather than fruitful (Mauss, The Gift 76), he invokes the context of libations where a drink-present may well turn out to be poison (Mauss, “Gift, Gift” 30). The inherent uncertainty about the nature of the gift is what in his opinion stands behind “the double meaning of the word Gift in all these languages—on the one hand, a gift, on the other, poison” (Mauss, The Gift 81). The term obviously carries only the positive meaning in modern English, but the negative one is well preserved in German, and this ambiguity is, for Mauss, a fundamental problem that he explains by taking recourse to the drink-present scenario as well as Germanic folklore and folk tales where the blessings of the gift are just as prominent as the curses that may ensue from it (The Gift 77–81). Both Mauss and Derrida note, then, something inherently ambiguous about the term, and the former even draws an analogy between this curious duality of signifcation and the double meaning of the Greek word pharmakon (“Gift, Gift” 30), denoting both remedy and poison, which in Derrida’s writings functions as one of the nonsynonymous substitutions that can be identifed with khora and the liminal. In fact, Derrida’s discussion of the aporia of the gift is grounded in the context of the emergence of human subjectivity—an issue intimately connected with the chora for Kristeva—which indicates that the connection is not coincidental. It is indeed the link between binary thinking and subjectivity that holds the key to understanding what is so paradoxical about the idea of the gift. For Derrida, the gift could only be possible where there is no subject and no object, that is, in a situation prior to any conceptualization of reality effected by means of binary categories of thought: “it cannot take place between two subjects exchanging objects, things, or symbols. . . . One would even be tempted to say that a subject as such never gives or receives a gift” (Derrida, Given Time 24). In other words, the obvious situational prerequisite of the gift—“that some ‘one’ gives some ‘thing’ to some ‘one other’”—is simultaneously the condition of its impossibility (Derrida, Given Time 12). One could express Derrida’s argument in Kristevan vocabulary by saying that the gift belongs to the realm of the semiotic. In fact, just as the semiotic, it gives rise to the symbolic and its distinction between self and other. This is because the idea of the gift involves a subject identical to itself and conscious of its identity, indeed seeking through the gesture of the gift to constitute its own unity and,

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precisely, to get its own identity recognized so that that identity comes back to it, so that it can reappropriate its identity: as its property. (Derrida, Given Time 11) In this way, according to Derrida, the subject becomes a product of the gift precisely as the gift itself becomes annulled and recedes into a position in which to speak of it is to face an aporia: both “the subject and the object are arrested effects of the gift, arrests of the gift” (Given Time 24), products of the annulled gift engaged in an economic circle whose movement the essentially uneconomic gift initiated. To be a subject and to intend to give is to experience “a sort of auto-recognition, self-approval, and narcissistic gratitude,” it is to “ente[r] into the realm of the calculable,” where the recognition of the gift as gift not only renders it impossible but also makes one think of the gift in terms such as “economy, exchange, contract” that belie its true, non-binary nature (Derrida, Given Time 23–24). Acknowledging that “[t]he question of the gift should . . . seek its place before any relation to the subject,” Derrida turns to the philosophical problems of time and Being (Given Time 24). Thus, setting aside the context of individual subjects exchanging presents, he observes that the aporetic logic of the gift is analogous to that of time, because time gives rise to instances of time, to temporality, remaining itself radically atemporal. Time “shares this aporetic paralysis with the gift,” and “neither the gift nor time exist as such” (Derrida, Given Time 28). This is also the case with Being, “which is not an entity but a mark of entities,” just as time “is nothing temporal but a mark of temporal things” (Caputo, Prayers 164). In addressing the problem of Being, Derrida draws on the work of Martin Heidegger and his refections on the logic of the German expression es gibt, which means “there is” but which literally translates as “it gives” (Derrida, Given Time 22). In Heidegger, the phrase becomes a technical philosophical term that puts in the spotlight the logic of giving inherent in it.1 Interpretations of Derrida’s critical thought on the subject of the gift depart from Heidegger but still revolve around the nature of “giving” implied in the expression. What kind of giving is it, and what is this thing that gives? For one thing, it is certainly radically different from what it gives, as the examples of Being, time and gift illustrate. But even more signifcantly, the aporias encountered in attempts to conceptualize it arise from the fact that, as John Caputo notes, the “it” of es gibt is characterized “by a structural withdrawal from the phenomenal feld, withdrawing in and through the giving, and this withdrawal is the very condition of the appearance of beings in their Being” (Prayers 164). In this sense the “it” of “it gives” operates according to the logic of the gift, annulled the very instant it is thought, but for Richard Kearney, it is clear that both Derrida and Caputo also identify it with khora and all that the notion entails. They do so, Kearney explains, “[i]n sharp contrast . . . to the neo-Platonic/Christian/metaphysical tradition of One-Good-God

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beyond being—and also in contrast to the Heideggerian gesture of Being (Es gibt Sein)” (200). It is the liminal khora that gives; it is, in fact, the only thing that can be said of khora as it perpetually recedes through the giving—that it gives. “If it presents itself, it no longer presents itself,” says Derrida of the gift (Given Time 15), and what he means is that the gift gives rise to subjects whose emergence annuls it. Similarly, the structural law of khora is that it gives rise to individuation and binary distinctions, which then obscure access to its originary, non-binary nature. The experience of non-duality is radically incongruous with the binary structures of human thought. The structural impossibility of speaking about khora, is, however, also a mark of the necessity of speaking about it. Khora gives, and the vocabulary of giving and receiving is therefore of crucial signifcance for Derrida in linguistic approximations of its nature. The idea of giving requires, nevertheless, an important qualifcation in this context: For although one can say that khora “gives place” to something, one must qualify this by saying that it does so “without the least generosity, either divine or human. . . .” Giving place, it seems, is simply a letting take place that has nothing to do with producing, creating or existing as such. (Kearney 200) John Caputo describes the giving of khora as characterized by a certain aleatoriness and claims that it is to be identifed with “the interval or spacing of différance” (Prayers 168). Différance, in Derrida’s poststructuralist theory, refers to the interplay of difference and deferral that produces and maintains the binary oppositions that underlie human thought. Like khora, “différance is not to be construed either in terms of an original presence or a transcending absence . . . [and] belongs properly to neither side of the opposition that it marks” (Wortham 37). Both concepts refer to a “pre-subjective feld in which effects are produced . . . not from (par) a spirit of generosity, but with generosity,” where they come into being in a fortuitous manner, “without the beneft or the encumbrances of anybody’s good intentions” (Caputo, Prayers 168–169). This is the essence of Jacques Derrida’s critique of the Western metaphysics of presence—of the Neoplatonic/Christian/metaphysical teleology that affrms a non-aleatory order and purpose behind all being. Instead of the agathon, the good, engendering all things, Derrida affrms as the ultimate reality the “strange mother” (Caputo, Prayers 169) that khora is, a liminality that gives space but does not engender, one that has no creative agenda and does not diffuse itself “like the God of Christian Platonism with boundless generosity, but in the middle voice, profusely, without the police of propriety to keep it in check” (Caputo, Prayers 168).

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Always Already a Contract Jacques Derrida’s writings on the gift give weight to the hypothesis that fairies represent and embody the liminal specifcally in its khoratic formulation. Whether under the name of khora or the gift, liminality calls for a specifc kind of discourse to capture its radical alterity. Certain ways of speaking about khora are more adequate than others not because they are successful in capturing its essence referentially, whether in a literal or a metaphorical sense, but because they are implicated in its structural law, where the distinction between subject and object does not apply. Such is the case with the vocabulary of giving and receiving, and the very notion of the gift, inhabited by an aporia at its core. Derrida’s tropic detours make language loop back on itself as when he argues that the receptacle of khora receives the receiving attributed to it, or that it gives place without giving anything. Derridean critical discourse has therefore given rise to a number of ways of speaking of this pre-subjective liminal feld—ways of conceptualizing liminality—and these descriptions succeed in capturing the logic of folkloric fairy belief and its literary representations exceedingly well. For one thing, the theme of gift-giving is indeed fundamental to fairy romance and refects upon the fairies’ khoratic nature. Moreover, it should be noted that the structure of the gift is that it “is not a thing, is nothing” (Schrift 10), and fairies similarly have no being of their own, their liminality manifesting itself through fairy dependence and the mirror principle subtending the construction of the fairy realm. If they present themselves, they no longer present themselves, the perpetual recession of fairies locating them not in any identifable past but in the a-chronistic atemporality of the forever non-present. And even more strikingly, the space that khora gives is where [e]vents happen with a kind of aleatory gratuitousness and anarchic abandon which lets something different come, with a grace or graciousness which unbinds events, which lets them loose, lets them eventuate. (Caputo, Prayers 168) The aleatoriness which characterizes the individuation of things as they emerge from khora is a defning feature of liminality and of the gift, which “is an event, not an intentional act but something that happens . . . , a fortuitousness, . . . something aleatory, beyond the horizon of expectations” (Caputo, Prayers 169). The arbitrariness of fairies, the inscrutability of their desires and their unexpected appearances in romance worlds that propel the action and make the unveiling of the narratives possible are therefore a function of their underlying liminality. It is no wonder that some critics see them as the forces of fortune—the embodiment of aleatoriness itself making its presence felt in an aleatory way—as in James Knapp’s Boethian reading of Sir Orfeo (Knapp 266).

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The liminality of the present-poison as outlined by Mauss is of a simple nature—the gift may turn out to be either a blessing or a curse. The situation is also quite straightforward in the case of the curious relationship between words that communicate the ideas of giving and receiving in Indo-European languages. Émile Benveniste observed that although they now denote opposite concepts, both the words for take and for give derive from a single root (*dō-) that “means neither ‘take’ nor ‘give’ but either the one or the other, depending on the construction” (34). The connection between expressions for giving or taking and liminality goes far beyond their ambiguity within Indo-European or Germanic languages, however. For Derrida, who draws on Benveniste’s observations, the problem is of a much more fundamental nature and pertains to the relationship between giving/taking and language as such—language understood as a symbolic system of binary oppositions (Given Time 79–81). In Derrida’s view, this is not just a problem of an ambiguity operating within language but of a structure of ambiguity that language as a whole is necessarily implicated in: In short, one must not only ask oneself, in something close to rapturous wonder, how it is possible that to give and/or to take are said this way or that way in a language, but one must also remember frst of all that all language is as well a phenomenon of gift-countergift, of giving-taking—and of exchange. (Given Time 80–81) All of language—all of conceptual thought structured on binary oppositions—is founded on the giving of khora, and that is why the vocabulary of giving and receiving will naturally emerge in attempts to encapsulate the nature of liminality within language, as in Plato’s Timaeus. This aspect of engagement with liminality underlies the preoccupation with giving and receiving in medieval fairy romance and gives rise to the narratives’ repetitious use of the motif of fairy gifts and counter-gifts (or taboos). The discussion of particular romance texts in the chapter to follow will focus on the theme of rule-bound interactions between humans and fairies: on the contracts, promises and obligations that both sides enter into when they meet. Indeed, if the liminality of fairies is that of khora, then one may expect considerable focus on binding promises and deals, both ones struck between consenting parties in the timeframe of the narratives—in analogy to the structures of liminality operating within language—and ones that seem to be in force by default and bind both sides in a way that admits no questioning and makes the unveiling of the stories possible, like the a-chronistic giving of khora. That there are two levels of contract to be considered here emerges from an interview with John Caputo, in which Jacques

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Derrida explains that there is more to linguistic promises than a select group of speech acts: Each time I open my mouth, I am promising something. When I speak to you, I am telling you that I promise to tell you something, to tell you the truth. Even if I lie, the condition of my lie is that I promise to tell you the truth. So the promise is not just one speech act among others; every speech act is fundamentally a promise. (Caputo, Deconstruction 22–23) There is a contract inherent in receiving what khora gives, in employing the binary grid of the concepts it yields, one that binds every subject. This is so because [o]ne receives the gift of language like the law, and everything that one says in that language, even to protest against that law and demand the institution of a new law by free convention, must, in the protest itself, have accepted that law or that gift. (Bennington 191–192) Even if one decides to remain silent, to promise nothing, “this silence yet remains a modality of speech” (Derrida, “How to Avoid Speaking” 84–85). One is therefore necessarily bound by a law instituted in the very act of the emergence of one’s subjecthood, a law traceable to the liminal feld of khora, or the gift. This is a “yes before language and knowledge . . . that both belongs and does not belong to language” (Martinon 176). Geoffrey Bennington explains that this contract inherent in the nature of things precedes any social contract as its condition of possibility (how do you say yes to the social contract, or sign it, if the contractors are not already bound by a code permitting a minimum of mutual comprehension?), and therefore, as we expect by now, as its condition of impossibility (for how will the social contract ever attain the originarity it is seeking if it must presuppose a priori an earlier contract?). (233) This originary contract is inescapable, being the very condition of subjecthood, and therefore, Derrida concludes, one must comply with its demands, engage oneself in its dynamics. And if one ever wants to say anything meaningful about it, “one must promise and swear”: no theory that seeks to qualify it from a vantage point lying without its bounds can ever succeed (Derrida, Given Time 30). To say something about the liminal is therefore to “speak of a promise . . . but also within a promise” because “[d]iscourse on the promise is already a promise”

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(Derrida, “How to Avoid Speaking” 84). Any successful discourse on liminality, whether literary or critico-theoretical (a problematic distinction in itself for Derrida), must necessarily loop back on itself as it tackles the subject. Thus just as each and every use of language is always already implicated in a contractual promise binding the speaker to the giving of khora, fairy romance abounds in instances of deals and contracts struck between mortals and gift-giving, liminal fairies. The major motifs governing human/fairy interactions in romance can therefore be appreciated more fully when considered in the context of the khoratic logic of liminality.

Reliably Unreliable, Predictably Unpredictable Fairies always keep their word, and they expect their human partners to do the same. This is true both for folklore and medieval fairy romance. The idea is so fundamental to fairy lore that it surfaces time and again in Katharine Briggs’s Encyclopedia of Fairies; Briggs cites stories in which failure to keep one’s end of the bargain leads to misery (255) and concludes that “fair dealing and the keeping of promises always win respect and are often rewarded” (421). This is not to say that there are no caveats in dealing with the fairy folk, because inasmuch as “[e]ven bad fairies did not lie,” they did equivocate, and this could be a problem for anyone hoping to strike a useful deal with them (Briggs. Encyclopedia 155). Although she does not elaborate on this directly in the Encyclopedia, Briggs hints at an analogy between the fairies’ mode of being and that of the devil. She notes that “[t]he tricksiest fairies, like the Devil, were not above equivocation, but they expected strict truth in the dealings of mortals” (Briggs, Encyclopedia 417), and when she addresses mermaids, considering them as part of the broad category of fairy creatures, she again observes that “[t]hey always held exactly to their bargains, as even the Devil must do by the condition of his being” (Briggs, Encyclopedia 289). Folkloric fairies were indeed envisioned as conditioned to stay true to the letter of the agreement rather than the spirit of it as understood by the human party, and while they could sometimes use the freedom this gave them to twist the understanding of the original deal, the same weapon could be used against them in situations such as riddle contests that decided the fate of the mortal. Barbara Rieti reports a story of this kind from Newfoundland: Tales of captivity and escape reveal the fundamentally dangerous nature of the human/fairy relationship. They often include a test or contest, as in a Riverhead story of a “servant girl” who was “surrounded by small little men” while hunting a cow one evening. One demands that she answer the question, “What is a woman’s secret?” She answers, “something she don’t know,” and is released[.] (Strange Terrain 30)

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The same motif can be found in popular balladry. “The Elfn Knight” from Francis James Child’s seminal collection of The English and Scottish Popular Ballads (1882–1898) illustrates this well, although here literal meaning proves to be the problem, not the solution. A bawdy piece with a whole series of sexual innuendos, the ballad tells the story of a young girl who wishes she were married to an elf knight, who commands her to perform a series of impossible tasks before they can speak of marriage. In response, the girl retorts with a number of demands of her own that will follow her successful completion of the elf’s tasks. Both series of demands seem to be impossible in the literal sense and involve ploughing an acre of land with a horn or ftting a huge cart of stone into a little mousehole (Child 15), but they begin to make sense as soon as one reads them as sexual allusions (Toelken 14–15). There is no sense of threat here, as in Rieti’s account, but the whole premise of the ballad is that of a verbal contract with an elf whose terms are susceptible to equivocation that ultimately decides who gains the upper hand in the confrontation. Version 2I of the same ballad replaces the elf with the devil and has the supernatural agent threaten the girl with abduction unless she manages to complete the tasks, but it still builds on their ambiguity, which makes the threat one of rape as well (Child 18–19). Both fairies and the devil, as well as various related beings, have traditionally been associated with equivocation and in particular with employing it for their own purposes, which are often presented as contrary to the wishes of mortals. A well-known literary example of this is William Shakespeare’s Macbeth, in which the prophecies of the Weird Sisters delude Macbeth into a false sense of security, announcing that he should never die at the hand of someone born of a woman and that Birnam Wood would have to move to Dunsinane Hill before he could ever be vanquished. The play offers a confation of the fgure of the elf and the devil in its portrayal of the Weird Sisters instead of opting for one or the other, as different versions of popular ballads tend to do. The three women are ostensibly presented as witches—that is, in the early modern understanding of the term, servants of the devil—but they are also sisters of fate, and their fatedness is rooted in fairy belief. The chronicle of Raphael Holinshed, which served as Shakespeare’s inspiration for the play, explains right after it relates Macbeth’s and Banquo’s meeting with the mysterious fgures that “afterwards the common opinion was, that these women were either the weird sisters, that is (as ye would say) the goddesses of destiny, or else some nymphs or fairies” (Holinshed 143). In Holinshed, there is a separate witch who prophesies Macbeth’s invincibility (147–148), but Shakespeare merges her with the fairy women in his play, producing an image of the devil’s beldams who dance “like elves and fairies in a ring” (4.1.42) and equivocate in a way characteristic both of fairies and the devil. Macbeth admittedly has no devil, only his proxies. A more evident instance of the confation of a fairy authority fgure with the devil can

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be found in early modern witchcraft records. While King James claims in his Daemonologie that fairies are but one of many different manifestations of the devil, one may reverse the observation and note that the folkloric devil emerges in some respects as a subspecies of fairy—one of a great number of fairy creatures all characterized by liminality. Emma Wilby identifes similarities between the two in terms of both behaviour and appearance (Visions 383–389). One example of these is the common image of the devil as a man in green in Scottish witchcraft discourse, second in terms of numbers only to the more paradigmatic man in black (Joyce Miller 150, Wilby 383). The devil also wears green in Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. In “The Friar’s Tale” a summoner who meets a stranger clad in green that happens to be the devil is too ashamed to admit his true profession and claims he is a bailiff. To this the fend responds, “Depardieux, . . . deere broother, / Thou art a bailly, and I am another” (ll. 1395–1396). Janette Richardson explains the text’s multifaceted use of the theme of equivocation: This loaded statement contains three levels of meaning, only one of which, of course, is evident to the victim: in addition to the overt assertion, the line implies that the devil is no more a bailiff than is the summoner; even more subtle is the truth of his remark, for the duties he has come to perform are those of a bailiff—to administer justice and collect his lord’s due, in this case the soul of the “false theef.” (78) A hunter of souls, the devil in the tale wears green and equivocates, and just as much can be said for the Gawain poet’s alvisch hunter, the Green Knight—a connection that has not gone unnoticed in criticism (Brewer, “Colour” 184; Sadowski 93). In the romance, the duality of meanings employed by the Green Knight is not limited to the ambiguity of chapel and slaughterhouse discussed earlier. The very terms of the Beheading Game are an interpretive trap into which the whole of Camelot falls unwittingly. The request of the green intruder sounds like a plea for assisted suicide, and a reader unfamiliar with how the story unfolds will not fnd it diffcult to appreciate Arthur’s response that it is plainly foolish: “Hathel, by heven thyn askyng is nys, / And as thou foly has frayst, fynde the behoves” (ll. 323–324). When the king instructs Gawain, telling him that “if thou redes hym ryght, redly I trowe / That thou schal byden the bur that he schal bede after” (ll. 373–374), he is implying that if Gawain delivers a proper blow, the return “bur” will not be a problem because a dead man cannot pose a threat. Only after the beheaded Green Knight picks up his head and restates the conditions of the game does Arthur realize he could not be more in the wrong and that as he was instructing his nephew to “read” the intruder well, he was acting on false assumptions based on what was effectively a misreading of the knight’s true meaning.

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The predicament in which the readers fnd Gawain and the court of Camelot that he represents is analogous to that of characters in popular balladry or folktales who try to escape a dangerous situation by answering neck riddles. It is also similar to a category of narratives revolving around a meeting with the fend in which the humans attempt to deceive the devil through verbal manoeuvring but end up outmanoeuvred themselves. Unlike suitor riddles of the kind found in “The Elfn Knight,” neck riddles are ones in which “a protagonist must either propound or expound a riddle or a series of riddles in order to avoid being killed” (Garry and Brennan 244). In neck riddles, a wrong answer, one based on an erroneous interpretation of the linguistic puzzle, entails the demise of the guesser, and such is the case with Camelot’s response. Such riddles often involve equivocation, and the devil commonly features as the one who poses the questions, as in the frst ballad in F. J. Child’s collection, “Riddles Wisely Expounded” (version 1C). In Stith Thompson’s MotifIndex, one fnds both a number of motifs involving riddles, such as H543 (“Escape from the devil by answering his riddles”), and quite spectacular instances of cheating the fend by employing linguistic ambiguity, as in K219.5 (“Man cheats devil by giving him sole instead of soul”). Either of the two sides involved may make use of such equivocations and the fundamental principle is that the other party is always obliged to accept the alternative interpretation of a given term or expression, although the mortal involved does so only under duress. While in folkloric material the contract is often implicit and its terms left unstated, in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight it is the court’s failure to comprehend the explicitly stated terms of the Christmas game that puts Gawain’s neck in jeopardy in quite a literal sense. Robert Blanch and Julian Wasserman have suggested that when the Green Knight asks Arthur’s men to accept his huge axe and use it howsoever they wish (“I schal gif hym of my gyft thys giserne ryche, / This ax, that is hevé innogh, to hondele as hym lykes”—ll. 288–289) he is actually informing them that it is a token to be accepted by the other party, not necessarily a weapon to be employed in the game (From Pearl to Gawain 103–105). Granting the possibility that Gawain could have delivered the blow with any other object, such as the holly bob the Green Knight held in his other hand, the situation amounts to a catastrophic misinterpretation on the part of Camelot that takes Gawain on a traumatic journey he may well have avoided had Camelot seen through the ambiguous message of the intruder. The devil could both trick people and be himself outsmarted with the use of the same linguistic strategies. A framework for understanding the role of equivocation in devil-related material has been offered by Kimberly Ball, who notes that [i]n many narratives involving pacts with the Devil, whether the pact is written or oral, an issue of central importance is the difference

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The Gift and the Promise between the letter and the spirit of language. Often, the Devil understands the language of the pact and any subsequent agreements according to what might be called its spirit—that is according to a more common-sense, less literal, construal of meaning. The human pactor, on the other hand, seeks to subvert the spirit of the agreement by understanding the terms of the pact according to the letter. Ultimately, the Devil accedes to this more literal interpretation, and the human pactor is saved. (388)

The situation may also be reversed, however, and then it is the devil who is “allowed to dictate the interpretation of the pact, while the human pactor is bound to the pact’s letter, that is whatever the Devil’s interpretation of the letter may be” (Ball 393). The motif is very common, and apart from folklore, one fnds it also in legendary material, as in the story of Gerbert of Aurillac (ca. 946–1003), who became Pope Sylvester II and was reputed to have signed a pact with the devil in exchange for magic powers: The Devil told Sylvester he would not die until he had voluntarily entered Jerusalem, so the pope thought he was safe; but when he entered the Church of the Holy Cross in Jerusalem in Rome he knew he had been tricked and was saved only by last-minute repentance. (C. Rider 53) A similar story lies at the heart of Christian beliefs concerning the salvifc role of Jesus Christ. The apocryphal legend of the cheirograph of Adam and Eve tells the story of the second tempting of the frst human beings after their expulsion from Paradise. The narrative, which survives in Greek, Slavonic and Oriental traditions, speaks of a contract (χειρόγραφον) that Adam and Eve sign with Satan, in some versions under direct pressure, in return for light or food (M. Stone 150–151). The human couple vows that “until the unbegotten is born and the undying dies, we and our children will be subject to you” (M. Stone 150). The devil is obviously satisfed with the deal, and Adam and Eve have all the reason to succumb to sorrow until they are told by an angel that the fend has actually been deceived and humanity will be set free. In most versions of the story, Christ smashes the stone with the cheirograph at his baptism, fnding it in the river Jordan under his feet, having erased humanity’s debt through his incarnation (M. Stone 150–151). The legend of the cheirograph illustrates the principle that the deceiver can easily become the deceived. The motif is so common that in folklore and popular culture, the devil has traditionally been seen both as a threat and an object of ridicule, “someone who could be outwitted, outrun, tricked and mocked” (Millar 31). This is precisely because the use of equivocation in pact or contract narratives involved the devil frmly sticking to the original agreement not just when he was the

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one to offer a novel interpretation of its terms but also when the human pactor managed to fulfl its demands by methods unforeseen by the fend.2 That the devil functions in such narratives as an inherently rule-bound being is implicit in the fact that he is not made to sign the pact himself even as the mortals involved must often seal it with their blood (Ball 398). Katharine Briggs fnds folkloric fairies to exhibit the same legalistic concern with adherence to the letter of their agreements as the devil and a similar inclination to engage in these in the frst place. It is by no means obvious, however, why both fairies and the folkloric devil should be so bound “by the condition of [their] being” (Briggs, Encyclopedia 289). Kimberly Ball offers a useful explanation that acknowledges the ambiguous nature of the devil and sees it as essential in structuring devil-lore narratives around the theme of equivocation: I suggest that the letter/spirit dichotomy (with emphasis on the letter) as a feature of Devil lore points to a fundamental problem of language that becomes more pronounced through writing: ambiguity. . . . The Devil’s ambiguity resonates with the ambiguity that is a troubling feature of language in general and of written language in particular, a feature frequently brought to the fore in Devil’s pact narratives through a focus on the difference between letter and spirit, and an emphasis on the importance of the letter. (396–397) The devil is a fgure of ambiguity because he unsettles the stability of terms and consequently the unveiling of the narratives in a way analogous to the role of fairies in romance narratives as defned by Cartlidge (199–200). The chaotic signifcation that fairies bring into the romance worlds, rendering the texts insusceptible to any totalizing interpretation, is also thematized in devil’s pact narratives, in which even when present the author is not able to control the spirit in which his or her language is understood, [the stories] depicting how the letter of language takes on an existence and a force of its own, independent of and sometimes at odds with its author. (Ball 397–398) This sounds like a verbal encapsulation of the effects of différance, the idea that no term can have a fxed meaning because the play of differences that produces meaning involves “syntheses and referrals which forbid at any moment, or in any sense, that a simple element be present in and of itself, referring only to itself” (Derrida, Positions 26) and thus preclude any recourse to the original author or his intention. Like fairies, the folkloric devil proves to be an agent of différance, liminal himself and introducing ambiguity as a theme into devil-lore narratives. Extrapolating

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from Ball’s observations, one may conclude that it is in this sense that the character may be understood as a subspecies of fairy, for unlike the Satan of elite theology, he represents not pure evil but the pure play of language, the obvious demonization of the fgure from an institutional Christian standpoint notwithstanding. Such a view of the relationship between the fairies of popular belief and the folkloric Devil still leaves open the question of why both categories of beings—liminal though they may be—should universally be presented as bound to the letter of their agreements and accede to their literal interpretation even when this goes against their interests as implied in particular narratives. To attempt to defne the fairies’ agenda, is, however, to face the challenge of making sense of the arbitrary. The principle of fairy dependence suggests that inasmuch as they like to borrow things from their human neighbours, they do not, all in all, need these trophies but merely tend to mimic human activity, and the latter can only be explained on an abstract, theoretical level and not with recourse to any situational intentions. It is virtually impossible to talk about motivations or intentions with regard to fairy behaviour. Writing about houses built on fairy paths, Barbara Rieti notes that in folk belief “fairies are envisioned as a mindless inexorable force completely indifferent to anything ‘in their way,’” and she points out that while they may possess great powers beyond human control, they are actually incapable of avoiding the human-made obstructions, even if “a little detour” is all it would take (Strange Terrain 57). Similarly, despite the power over space and time that they wield, all it takes to stall them in the act of pursuing mortals is to block their way with pebbles or grains, which they will compulsively pick one by one (G. Butler 16). Recalling once again the apt observation of Katharine Briggs that “[o]rder more than morality is part of the fairy code” (Fairies 132), one may see the fairies of popular lore as manifestations of structure, anti-structure and their ceaseless oscillation—an order of action without a guiding intention, a blind force that translates into cultural representations of beings that can tap into infnite powers and work any kind of magic conceivable yet are paradoxically forestalled by absolute rules informing their mode of being, as with the grains in the earlier example, which they had to pick the way they did because, as the local tradition had it, they were “obliged to” by the condition of their nature (G. Butler 16). Accordingly, it is possible to fend them off not by appealing to the norms of the moral code but by craftily employing the very ambiguity that defnes them and turning it against them: the rules that they are conditioned to follow are those of game playing, not moral consideration. It would appear that folkloric fairies have no agenda other than following the course of action they have embarked on and keeping the agreements they have made with humans. As to why they engage in a certain course of action in the frst place, little can be said other than noting a number of structural principles such as fairy mimicry or their predilection

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for games and contracts, all of these traceable to their liminality. In other words, to humanize the fairies in trying to make sense of their behaviour and to speak of individual intentions is to miss the mark, and the fairies of medieval romance are no different in this respect. Writing about their actions in the texts he analyses, James Wade observes that these frequently carry with them a certain arbitrariness, a certain lack of logical motivation—tendencies that make conjectural ventures into the interiority of such fairies, for both the romance hero or heroine and the audience, all the more impossible. (16) Much of romance scholarship repeats the observations of folklorists regarding the fairies’ arbitrariness of action and amoral behaviour. Wade’s study mentions time and again that romance fairies have a “tendency to show up unexpectedly and behave in ways that are neither logical nor predictable” (16), and the same observation is fundamental for Helen Cooper in The English Romance in Time (178). The unpredictability of fairies evident in their tendency to equivocate, invade the human world for no reason or impose apparently unmotivated taboos is nonetheless moderated by the fact that they will predictably stand by the letter of the deals they strike with humans no matter the circumstances. Some romance scholars tend to speak of game playing in this context (Saunders, Forest 141, 154; Rape 230), while others point to “fairy insistence on contracts and promise-keeping” (Schwieterman 21), but whatever vocabulary they use, the implication is that fairies “are bound by certain codes” (Cooper, English Romance 204), that they appear to be “just as much interested in rules as they are in games” (Spangenberg 239) and that in following these rules they “seem supremely indifferent to human fate” (Spangenberg 269). Since anything that fairies happen to do appears to be unmotivated, their taboos perhaps more so than any other element of the plot, fairy interventions in romance worlds draw attention to themselves as structural tricks of the trade, serving to push the narrative forward, twist it in surprising directions, or, as Aislyng Byrne puts it, to “reanimate” it (“Fairy Lovers” 109). Byrne insists, however, that fairy taboos and other instances of their interactions with the mortal world are to be seen as much more than “a rather clumsy deus ex machina introduced to solve a plot problem of the author’s own making” (Otherworlds 46). Both Byrne and Wade fnd an ethical dimension in fairy romance, and they locate, albeit in different ways, a certain concern with morality and ethics within how the texts make use of fairy fgures, their arbitrariness and their rulebound behaviour. Writing about Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, J. R. R. Tolkien noted a juxtaposition of two codes of conduct in the poem: “a real and permanent, and an unreal and passing world of values: morals on the one hand, and on the other a code of honour, or a game with

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rules” (89). The interplay of the two, and the various permutations of the fairy-human contract (or gift and counter-gift) motif give rise to texts that focus, with varying degrees of emphasis, on fairies keeping their word or mortals going back on theirs. The fnal chapter of the book explores the connections between fairy promises, gifts and taboos in greater detail, investigating their signifcance both on a structural and thematic level.

Notes 1. For an encapsulation of Heidegger’s thought on es gibt as presented in his lecture titled “Time and Being,” see Philipse 237–239. 2. See Ball 388–396 for more examples.

6

Games, Gifts and Taboos The Art of Rule-Bound Interactions

One of the many paradoxes informing the construction of fairies in both folklore and romance literature is that despite their “ability to break the rules of nature and time and physical space” (Cooper, English Romance 173) they are bound by the letter of their agreements in a way that admits no questioning. Indeed, “even the most capricious and dangerous of fairies follow a code of conduct of a kind” (Cooper, English Romance 204), one that keeps their arbitrariness of action in check. Inasmuch as it is the fairies’ “propensity for arbitrary or illogical behavior” that makes them come across as “decidedly un-human” in medieval romance (J. Wade 16), this tendency to adhere to rules in an unwavering manner, embedded within the dynamics of their aleatory interventions, becomes a key distinguishing feature of theirs. Thus, a fundamental difference between fairies and humans is that the latter are prone to go back on their word due to whatever kind of individual motivation happens to guide them while the former will never swerve from their course of action, however blind, arbitrary and illogical it may seem. The contrast is formative for the genre, manifest in the abundance of deals struck between mortals and fairies and implied in fairy romance narratives even when no explicit contract between the two parties is to be found in the text. Lisa Spangenberg identifes it as a major theme of Sir Orfeo, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and Thomas of Erceldoune: Orfeo’s renunciation of women as a refection of his fdelity to Heurodis, his entrusting of his kingdom to his steward, his insistence that the fairy king honor his spoken troth, the fairy queen’s injunction that Thomas speak to no one but her, and Bertilak’s careful and frequent rehearsals of his covenants with Gawain—all refect not only the importance of rules in the various games, but the special regard that otherworld residents have for rules and verbal utterances in the form of a troth. (239–240) Any encounter with fairies signifcantly leads to some form of a pledge, and sometimes the human party may even fnd itself held accountable for

180 Games, Gifts and Taboos one made unwittingly. The liminal nature of the fairies’ otherworld, “that is to say, endless movement and vigilance like that of a host constantly on the march” (Cartlidge 213), manifests itself through fairy dependence in that it constantly seeks to engage its mortal partners. Charged with the powers of formlessness and linguistic ambiguity, this liminal force parasitically feeds on the originary promise—the yes of the arche-promise— inherent in the use of language, with fairies strictly adhering to the letter of their pledge and expecting the same of humans whenever a mortal opens his mouth to speak. Works of medieval romance that involve fairies accordingly put substantial emphasis both on explicitly formulated rule-bound games and contracts and on the consequences of failure to keep one’s troth, whether due to deliberate action or not realizing that a pledge has been made. The expectation of adhering to the rules of the game that fairies bring into romance worlds is of major importance for the shape of human–fairy interactions, since, as Helen Cooper notes, “[s]uch faithfulness from supernatural beings can . . . mean trouble when they have promised retribution for the hero if he breaks promises of his own” (English Romance 204), especially so when the exact nature of the promises made escapes the human character.

Blundering Into Contracts: Fairies and the Threat of Linguistic Mishaps Verbal contracts lie at the heart of the text of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Arthur’s court has trouble making sense of the exact rules of the Christmas game and fails to appreciate the gravity of the stakes, but Camelot is by all means open to the idea of a game. In fact, the initial description of the court underscores its immersion in various games involving kissing and the exchange of gifts (ll. 66–70). Much emphasis in the verbal manoeuvring between the Green Knight and the court is put on rehearsing the precise terms of the agreement (ll. 378–385), and the green intruder is dead serious in calling the strange game he proposes a “covenaunt” (l. 393). This not only indicates how much importance he ascribes to it but also intimates, through the religious undertones, that the threat of punishment for breaking the rules is not to be taken lightly. Unbeknownst to Camelot, however, Arthur’s party has much more to lose than their enigmatic guest. As Gawain leaves on his quest to comply with the demands of the game, he is ignorant of what exactly the test is about, which puts his adversary in a privileged position, that of a game-master in an uneven “godgame” in which he alone has a full understanding of the situation (Pugh 526). The missing piece of knowledge is that Gawain’s reaction to various temptations in Bertilak’s castle will alone determine the ultimate fate of the knight and either guide or stay the Green Knight’s axe-wielding hand. Still, the rules are the same for both parties, and all it takes for Gawain to win is to stay true to the letter of the Exchange of

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Winnings game offered to him by Bertilak at Hautdesert. The rules are simple: whatever either man gains during the day he shall hand over to the other. Since Bertilak keeps bringing home impressive hunting trophies and all that Gawain receives over the course of the three days at Hautdesert are kisses, it is Arthur’s nephew who seems to be gaining the upper hand with each exchange. But the nature of the things exchanged, and whatever balance or imbalance they produce, is immaterial to the outcome of the game. All that matters is strict adherence to the rules, and in this respect, Gawain is not only found lacking but also revealed to be a hypocrite in a rather spectacular manner. The knight does not adhere to the rules of the game and conceals the green girdle from his host, but when questioned about the origin of the kisses, he falls back on the letter of the deal and refuses to provide an answer, insisting that this was never part of the agreement and that he does not appreciate being quizzed: “‘That was not forward,’ quoth he, ‘frayst me no more[’]” (l. 1395). Tison Pugh aptly summarizes the dynamics of the poem by observing that “[t]he Gawainpoet . . . emphasizes Gawain’s duplicity by contrasting it to the Green Knight’s integrity in terms of their agreement” (533). The key element of the plot is Gawain’s violation of the rules of the exchange. The game is not about hunting trophies or kisses, which are merely tokens to be exchanged, but about the exchange itself and the keeping of one’s troth. The signifcant difference in the attitude of the two players is that “Gawain sees his rule violation as a moral issue” whereas “[f]or Bertilak, it is merely a game” (Spangenberg 241). Indeed, when Bertilak reveals that he is none other than the Green Knight and that he knew everything about the concealment of the girdle, Gawain succumbs to a ft of rage, realizing he fell short of being the paragon of knightly virtue he was reputed to be: “cowardyse me taght / To acorde me with covetyse, my kynde to forsake / That is larges and lewté that longes to knyghtes” (ll. 2379–2381). The power of Gawain’s emotional outburst indicates that he grieves deeply for the ideal he thought he could attain and makes the whole issue one of moral anguish for Arthur’s nephew. By contrast, Bertilak dismisses the whole affair with a benevolent laugh (l. 2389). Even though the Green Knight reveals that he was sent to Camelot on an evil errand, bent on making Guinevere die of terror at the sight of his severed head (ll. 2460), his personal attitude toward Camelot and its representatives bears no trace of evil in it. This is because whatever action he takes, his position is anything but personal and concordant with his nature of a rule-bound game player: he cares neither for news about the effect of his gory show on the queen nor for Gawain’s motivation in taking the girdle, although he is perfectly aware of the latter. After he gives Gawain the nick on his neck and tells him that he releases him of all obligations—“of the remnaunt of ryghtes alle other” (l. 2342)—he even comes across as somewhat sympathetic toward the man of Camelot: “Bot for ye lufed your lyf—the lasse I yow blame” (l. 2368). This has no

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bearing, however, on the Green Knight’s earlier course of action in the climactic Green Chapel scene, and the concise bob of one of the stanzas captures well the intractable logic of the moment: “At the thrid thou fayled thore, / And therfor that tappe ta the” (ll. 2356–2357). There is neither malice nor sympathy in Bertilak as he wields the axe, and all that matters is whether a violation of the covenant has taken place. Moral considerations aside, the fact is that Gawain breaks the rules, and there will be consequences regardless of anyone’s good or bad intentions. When Lisa Spangenberg notes that Gawain has effectively “left the mortal moral law behind him when he enters the otherworld” (242), she is close to acknowledging that the rules of Bertilak’s games operate like pollution laws—irrespective of anyone’s intentions, the only pertinent detail being whether a forbidden action has taken place.

The Danger of Impulsive Oaths The lay of Sir Launfal stresses just as much as Sir Gawain and the Green Knight the need to keep one’s word. Dame Tryamour grants Launfal unlimited sexual and monetary favours on one condition, which he violates when he admits his relationship with the fairy to Queen Gwenore. Launfal’s despair in the situation, which the text stresses in giving him a dramatic, stanza-long speech of dejectedness concluding with the knight falling “aswowe to grounde” (l. 755), is of no concern for Tryamour, who is predictably nowhere to be found: “sche was lore / As sche hadde warnede hym before” (ll. 730–731). The logical connection made here between the fairy’s disappearance and the warning she had earlier issued suggests that the matter is one of automatic action-triggered reaction rather than choice on Tryamour’s part. This appears to be yet another example of the fckle human motif and an instance of the fairies’ absolute compliance with the rules that guide their interactions with the world of men. Only not quite, it would seem, because Launfal’s fairy lover does return in the end in order to save him from the trial instigated by the evil queen. To understand that this does not violate the general principle of rule-bound fairy behaviour but, in fact, only reinforces it, the reader needs to attend to the role of Gwenore, whose signifcance for the story is far greater than in Marie’s version of the lay. It is Gwenore in Chestre’s poem who scorns Launfal and “purposefully leaves him out of the gift-giving ceremony at her wedding” (Pearman 134) rather than Arthur, as was the case in Marie’s tale. By denying him her gifts, she becomes Tryamour’s antithesis, and the fnal confrontation of the two, ending with the fairy blinding the queen, is a signifcant addition on Chestre’s part. Gwenore is also the focal point of an impromptu pledge that becomes a contract, one as important for the story as that of Launfal, and the actions of Tryamour begin to make sense when one appreciates the fact that her role is to see to the fulflment of both. Signifcantly, both

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have to do with the dangers of unchecked language use. As Dinah Hazell notices, in Launfal’s case “what is usually interpreted as a simple vow of secrecy . . . is actually an admonition against boasting” (127): “But of o thyng, Syr Knyght, I warne the, / That thou make no bost of me” (ll. 361–362), says Tryamour. Boasting is precisely what the knight does in his angry exchange with Gwenore, and his lack of control over his tongue brings consequences that, if not exactly unforeseen, were certainly unintended by the speaker. Analogous to this is the impulsive oath made by Gwenore during the court’s proceedings against Launfal: “Than seyde the Quene, wythout lesynge, / ‘Yyf he bryngeth a fayrer thynge, / Put out my eeyn gray!’” (ll. 808–810). This is diffcult to read other than as an emotional outburst on the spur of the moment, but as Hazell indicates the oath’s placement in the text gives it legal effcacy: The stanza in which she makes her oath is preceded by the judges’ medial verdict on Launfal, and followed by the setting of the date on which he must make his wager. The queen interjects her oath between Launfal’s pledge to produce his love or lose his head, and the fnding of his guarantors; her oath is therefore bound to Launfal’s wajowr (l. 811), which is agreed to by the court, and her “rash promise” is transformed into a legal agreement. (124–125) Tory Pearman agrees that despite the queen’s rashness in uttering it, the oath “becomes a legally binding contract” (137). Noting that it is made “within the legal parameters of the court,” Pearman concludes that “the court itself should administer the punishment” (141). This is an unlikely scenario, however, because of all the possible punishments that Gwenore could invoke blinding makes her oath come across as most casual and seemingly non-binding, being hardly practised at the time when the poem was written (Hazell 141). As suggested by Hazell, the queen’s “choice of an outmoded sentence . . . might be made with no expectation of execution and seem safe” (142). Additionally, the court itself is unwilling to mete out justice with true severity and despite pressure from the king (ll. 835–837) seems to opt for exile rather than capital punishment for Launfal, effectively ignoring a pledge made a year earlier—the third one to be found in the text—which stated in no uncertain terms that unless Launfal managed to bring his lover to the proceedings and prove her beauty, he “schud be hongede as a thef” (l. 803). The decisions of the court hinge on moral considerations and show little concern for legalism; the Earl of Cornwall, who occupies a prominent position in the judicial body, feels that it would be a “[g]reet schame” to condemn a “gantylman, / That hath be hende and fre” (ll. 841–843) and pays no attention to the wording of this pledge. Tryamour’s justice, by contrast, is as blind as it could be. In strict accordance with her own words, Gwenore ends up blinded by a puff

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of air blown in her direction somewhat nonchalantly by the fairy, who promptly administers justice the very moment Arthur admits she is fairer than the queen and then leaves without a word. Chestre’s text stresses the automatic nature of Tryamour’s action, which is more of an involuntary, will-less response to the king’s words than a product of genuine ill will or malice. The way the stanza is constructed creates the impression that Arthur’s words, inasmuch as they fulfl the condition of Gwenore’s oath, immediately compel the fairy to act: Kyng Artour seyde wythouten othe, “Ech man may ysé that ys sothe, Bryghtere that ye be.” Wyth that Dame Tryamour to the quene geth, And blew on her swych a breth That never eft myght sche se. (ll. 1003–1008)1 This is blind justice with no caveats and no delays. Line 1006 identifes Arthur’s unequivocal statement as the trigger, and the response comes in a swift and decisive manner, bringing justice to a court that would otherwise have based its judgement on contingent impressions, subjective feelings or external pressures and not the letter of the law. Chestre’s Launfal launches a powerful critique not only of judicial institutions as they actually operate, contrasting the attitude of Arthur’s court with the unwavering justice of the fairy world, but also of the very potential of human courts to administer justice and satisfy a sense of fairness in their rulings. Fairy justice may be frm and subject to no vacillation, but this has consequences, and while the readers may appreciate these in the case of the queen and her punishment, it is likely that they would have rooted for Launfal and rejected the misfounded pressure on the judges from Arthur who “follows judicial procedure . . . but only to validate the execution of Launfal, not to determine his guilt or innocence” (Hazell 137). To stand on the side of fairy-driven legalism would be to hope for the protagonist’s execution in line with the letter of his pledge and thus to support the queen’s wicked cause and the corruption of the court, which Tryamour exposes. Always to insist on keeping one’s word is justice, but it is a harsh and ultimately inhuman form of justice. With this in mind, one has to appreciate the clever construction of the tale that makes it possible for Tryamour to manoeuvre her way through the three pledges and their consequences and act as an instrument of blind justice yet to emerge in the end as a positive character. Had she not made her appearance at the court, Gwenore’s oath would have no legal effect and Launfal would have either met his end or narrowly escaped execution. But the imperative of fairies is precisely to make sure that no contract remains unfulflled. Tryamour’s arrival

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ensures both that Launfal does not have to lose his head and that Gwenore loses her sight—a resolution that most readers would accept as fair not because of legal considerations but because the wicked end up punished and the oppressed are vindicated. Above all, however, the option of journeying to Karlyon is open to the fairy lady because she never suggested anything to the contrary. The exact wording of the taboo has the form of a conditional: “And yf thou doost, I warny the before, / All my love thou hast forlore!” (ll. 364–365). Boasting of the relationship must therefore lead to its dissolution, but the fairy’s initial disappearance does not preclude her return—although certainly not out of love, which Launfal has lost for good. The blinding of Guinevere is not an act of revenge for the oppressing of Tryamour’s lover, and the fairy’s arrival at Camelot is not an attempt to save his life out of love. It is simply that oaths and contracts attract and compel fairies, and readers hoping for the kind of happy ending found in Marie’s tale where the lady and the knight ride away into the sunset on one horse will be disappointed. The ambiguity of the fnal lines concerning the disappearance of Launfal and his alleged reappearances suggests that his fate is one of being trapped in fairyland rather than enjoying the fairy’s true love. The imperative of fairies is to appear whenever an oath susceptible to being read as a contract is uttered or any time they can render an utterance part of a deal to be struck with humans; once this is done, their role is then to punish whoever breaks these. The Child ballads furnish a few interesting examples of this facet of fairy belief. In “The Elfn Knight” (Child ballad 2) a young maid reacts to the sound of an elf horn by exclaiming, “I wish that horn were in my kist, / Yea, and the knight in my armes two” (version 2A, Child 15). The elf’s reaction is as automatic and immediate as Tryamour’s attack on Guinevere: “She had no sooner these words said, / When that the knight came to her bed” (Child 15). He then begins to enumerate the conditions under which he may get married to the girl, transforming what was initially her unwitting expression of longing into a legalistic agreement. In “Lady Isabel and the Elf-Knight,” which, according to Child, “[o]f all the ballads . . . has obtained perhaps the widest circulation” (22), one fnds the same motif, followed by a curiously self-conscious expression of the elf’s thraldom to fairy dependence: Fair lady Isabel sits in her bower sewing, Aye as the gowans grow gay There she heard an elf-knight blawing his horn. The frst morning in May ‘If I had yon horn that I hear blawing, And yon elf-knight to sleep in my bosom.’ This maiden had scarcely these words spoken,

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Games, Gifts and Taboos Till in at her window the elf-knight has luppen. ‘It’s a very strange matter, fair maiden,’ said he, ‘I canna blaw my horn but ye call on me[’]. (version 4A, Child 55)

The elf seems almost annoyed at the fact that humans will not leave him alone—a clever reversal of the principle of fairy dependence that would likely be read as humorous by someone familiar with the convention— although what disrupts his playing the horn and compels him to present himself to Isabel with utmost immediacy is but an exclamation of a wish on her part. Bound by the potential promise inherent in Isabel’s use of the conditional, the elf betrays his true nature of a linguistic predator and attempts to prey on her, doing so not just in the abstract sense but also quite literally, by attempting to kill her, only to be outsmarted by the girl, who forestalls the execution by striking a deal with him that has them both rest a while, which is when she murders him in his sleep. Both the lay of Sir Launfal and the Child ballads include verbal utterances that invite fairy intervention. There are also other texts that draw on this tradition, albeit in subtler ways. In Sir Gawain and the Green Knight Arthur follows a curious custom according to which he must not begin to feast until . . . hym devised were Of sum aventurus thyng an uncouthe tale, Of sum mayn mervayle that he myght trawe, Of alderes, of armes, of other aventurus; Other sum segg hym bisoght of sum siker knyght To joyne wyth hym in justyng, in jopardé to lay, Lede lif for lyf, leve uchon other, As fortune wolde fulsun hom, the fayrer to have. (ll. 92–99) Here no one speaks these words aloud, the fragment being merely the narrator’s exposition, but they do seem to follow the general pattern of Lady Isobel’s longings for an elf-lover, prompting a contest of “life for life” (l. 98) such as the Beheading Game provides. It is, somewhat surprisingly, the narrator’s voice that verbalizes the wish, the latter being nonetheless swiftly made true by the arrival of the green giant just two stanzas later. That a curious play with the motif of summoning fairies is at work in these lines may be inferred from the fact that the passage in question equates chivalric exploits and tales of chivalry—that is, actions and their verbal descriptions—and that what it talks about also has bearing on what it does within the romance world. It makes no difference for Arthur whether an event actually occurs or is only brought up as the subject of a tale. Accordingly, the Green Knight is summoned not by an actual

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utterance from within the romance world but by the narrator’s words that operate here on what Aguirre, Quance and Sutton refer to as the equivocal level, which constitutes yet another example of how the perspectives of character and reader can merge in fairy romance. Distant echoes of the same motif may be traced to Geoffrey Chaucer’s parody of the genre, “The Tale of Sir Thopas.” Thopas’s foolish escapade into the fairy realm begins when all of a sudden he announces his desire to seek love with a fairy queen: “An elf-queene wol I love, ywis” (l. 790). The knight manages to fnd the otherworld, but being a paragon of chivalric impotence, he retreats swiftly from the fairy domain upon encountering a fearsome giant who scares him away with his rock-throwing. The motif of the instantaneous reaction of the fairy world to a mortal’s wishful utterance adds poignancy to the depths of Thopas’s chivalric ineptitude; there is absolutely no reaction here, and despite his exclamation of lovelonging, he has to travel to the land of fairies himself and do some proper searching “[a]n elf-queene for t’espye” (l. 799), since no fairy queen will heed his call. The failure of Thopas to induce even the faintest reaction in the fairy queen (or, given his use of the generic indefnite article, any fairy queen), whether through verbal utterance or deeds of arms, is thus part of his general inability to accomplish anything in the poem and an important element of Chaucer’s satire. The exceptional indifference of the fairy realm to the human protagonist in the tale of Sir Thopas creates an incommensurable gulf between the Chaucerian anti-hero and the fairy plane of reality. Try as he might, Thopas is unable to engage representatives of the otherworld in a meaningful way, never actually making it to the other side in the sense of interacting with the alien space of fairyland. He does admittedly fnd “the contree of Fairye” (l. 802) and presumably enters its territory, but no one there dares (or cares) to approach him— “For in that contree was ther noon / That to him durste ride or goon” (ll. 804–805)—and when he is fnally spotted by the giant, Sir Olifaunt, he immediately retreats in haste. The rather unusual mode of representing a visit to the fairy plane of reality in “The Tale of Sir Thopas” is obviously a corollary of Chaucer’s satirical mode, but it is worth noting another element of major consequence missing from it. Time warp, also referred to as heterochronia, is a common feature of stories about venturing into fairyland both in folklore2 and romance literature,3 but it is not to be found in Chaucer’s parody because Thopas is too impotent a knight to become engaged in any kind of action that would truly take him beyond familiar space to that of the threshold. In effect, Thopas only brushes against what in any other story would function as the limen and never really comes in contact with it, ignored by the agents of the otherworld. By contrast, in texts where the motif is to be found, such as Thomas of Erceldoune, time warp implies plane shift, and by having time fow at a different rate in the human and the fairy world, medieval romance underscores the radical alterity of the

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fairy domain and signals the human characters’ removal beyond normal space. In Thomas, the matter is raised as the protagonist begs the fairy queen to remain with her after she informs him of her decision to return him to the mortal world: ‘Lufy lady, nowe late me bee, ffor certis, lady, j hafe bene here Noghte bot þe space of dayes three!’ ‘ffor sothe, Thomas, als j þe telle, þou hase bene here thre ȝere & more;[’] (ll. 282–286) The revelation that three days have amounted to more than three years comes as the fairy informs Thomas that he must leave to avoid becoming captured by the devil. It would appear that the presence of Thomas in the otherworld has by this point aligned him with it, or possibly even assimilated him, to such an extent that the devil may choose him as fairyland’s tribute offering, a piece of the fairy otherworld he treasures enough to claim as his due. Time warp may also have another function in fairy romance, quite apart from indicating immersion into fairy-ridden space. It can produce the ambiguity that informs human–fairy interactions and give rise to unexpected interpretive twists that upset the human characters’ understanding of pledges made by the fairies, even when the latter seem perfectly unequivocal. Such is the case in the anonymous French lay of Guingamor, in which the fairy lady asks the knight to stay with her for a while, promising to release him after exactly three days: Come with me under this agreement: I promise you faithfully That I will give you the boar captured And deliver the setter to you To take back to your country Three days from now; I give you my pledge. (ll. 469–474) Being a fairy, she obviously keeps her word, for no more than three days pass before Guingamor’s release from her palace. However, as the knight learns from her when he proceeds to depart, his leaving will be all in vain, because what he experienced as three days in the fairy otherworld amounted to three centuries in his home realm. Thus employed, the motif of time warp simultaneously positions fairies as paragons of legalism that always keep their troth and as ultimate tricksters that freely employ linguistic ambiguity to ensnare their victims; in achieving both, it captures well their moral and ontological liminality. Heterochronia may therefore both imply the human

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characters’ removal beyond normal space and signal their implication in deals and contracts with the fairy folk, the two kinds of entrapment communicating the same danger of facing the liminal. Assenting to an agreement offered by fairies is always a dangerous game, and nowhere does this emerge more clearly than in narratives concerning fairy gifts and the taboos that these carry with them. In addressing this issue, it is necessary once again to investigate the nature of fairy justice and its moral limitations.

Fairy Taboos and Faithless Mortals Fairy taboos are a staple element of fairy lore. They can take various forms, from prohibitions against revealing fairy gifts (Briggs, Anatomy 14; Ballard 53) through taboos against straying into certain places associated with fairy activity (Goodare 167) or eating fairy food (Green, Elf 179) to injunctions against taking a particular course of action in dealing with the fairy folk (Green, Elf 79; G. Butler 11). What connects them all is the apparent arbitrariness with which they are imposed on mortals who come to interact with fairies. This is particularly true of stories revolving around contacts between humans and individual members of the fairy court, more so than in the case of socially shared beliefs concerning the general dangers of dealing with liminal beings or places. The latter—taboos against visiting in-between spaces or proscriptions which serve to limit human exposure to places and objects associated with fairy magic—may be explained away by taking recourse to pollution laws and the anthropological outlook on how culture deals with that which threatens its binary arrangement of categories. As the previous chapters have shown, there is a deeper structural logic to impositions against straying into fairy-haunted locales or eating fairy food, and these are common to cultures across time and space, inhering in the nature of things quite apart from anyone’s actions or intentions. Not all taboos, however, serve to protect communities against the polluting powers of the liminal. There are also other taboos within the body of fairy lore, explicitly verbalized in the course of the striking of deals between mortals and fairies and purely arbitrary in their character. In the folklore of Northern Wales, for example, fairy brides who take mortals as lovers impose on them a taboo against touching them with iron, whereas in the south of Wales the human partner must never give his fairy wife three blows (Wood 60–61). There is no evident logic behind either injunction, and to make matters even more puzzling, in some versions of the story, the fairy is not to be touched with steel, and in others, with clay (Wood 69). Transposed to literature, such “caprice and arbitrariness of fairies in romance creates an ideal space for literary experimentation, a sort of literary laboratory,” because fairies may require of their mortal partners almost anything and make demands with no concern for even a semblance of connection between particular prohibitions and the situation at hand (Byrne, Otherworlds 46).

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James Wade sees fairy taboos as a major factor contributing to the risk involved in accepting gifts of fairy origin. In his Fairies in Medieval Romance, he notes that the danger associated with fairy gifts “is nearly always related to the connection between gifts and taboos, as fairy mistresses rarely give the former without imposing the latter” (J. Wade 110). It is owing to this connection, he argues, that “the gifts of fairy mistresses may change into offerings that come to look as though they are not really gifts at all, into offerings that appear to be more like curses than rewards” (J. Wade 110). Wade sees this as a feature that distinguishes fairy gifts in romance from human ones and speaks of a “system combining gifts and taboos” in which the taboo, or its fulflment, comes to occupy the place of the counter-gift (115). His view is that fairy gifts can uniquely circumvent the problems that lead Derrida to argue that the gift as such is an impossibility and that they operate as real gifts. This is because as supernatural gifts granted to non-supernatural beings, they can never be reciprocated with supernatural counter-gifts (J. Wade 115). While the latter holds true, it would be more instructive to say, however, that these gifts cannot be adequately reciprocated in the exact same manner, whereas reciprocation as such is itself inscribed into the taboos, which operate in this system— as Wade himself acknowledges—as counter-gifts. What makes fairy gifts singular is not that they are a curious exception to Derrida’s general rule but that they are to do with both giving and taking and that they can both remedy a character’s situation and become poison to his well-being. Such a fairy pharmakon of a gift granted by a fairy lady is also liminal in another sense. Since the gifts in question usually have a sexual character, “[t]hey create unique systems where the subject and the object of the gift transaction are one and the same” (J. Wade 114). The lay of Lanval illustrates this well, for in Marie’s tale, [t]he unnamed fairy-woman gives herself and riches. By granting the largesse of herself—by being both the subject and the object of the giving—the fairy-woman places herself in the position of both king (gift-granter) and wife (gift granted). (McLoone 8) Such is the case in Sir Launfal, but the same blurring of the boundaries between subject and object is also hinted at in Fitt III of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, as Sir Bertilak’s wife tells Gawain, “Ye ar welcum to my cors” (l. 1237)—an offering the knight shrewdly rejects, avoiding the complications this would entail given his exchange arrangement with Bertilak. The situation in the Gawain poet’s romance is more complex than that in Sir Launfal, because Gawain is bound to Bertilak rather than his wife in their agreement and the lady herself does not impose a taboo. By contrast, in Henryson’s Orpheus and Eurydice the taboo is given directly by the fairy queen, but the gift that precedes its imposition has the form of the body of another queen, Eurydice. And in Sir Orfeo there is no taboo at all, since

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here it is the human character that can make demands on the fairy king after the latter agrees to grant him his wish having received the gift of Orfeo’s harp performance. This variety of arrangements shows that there are different kinds of deals that romance fairies enter into with humans, and these do not universally involve proper taboos but usually include some sort of a caveat that can easily complicate the plight of one of the two pactors should he fail to complete whatever it is that the acceptance of the gift entails. The counter-gift may or may not take the form of a proper taboo, but its position of following a gift and complicating it is what distinguishes particular contracts established in the timeframe of the narratives, with a least one party wittingly entering the agreement, from taboos that operate with the force of an originary contract inherent in the nature of reality. As Chapter 2 established, taboos associated with violating the orifces of the body, including those related to pollution by ingested food, fall into the latter category, for they arise out of the fear of that which threatens the stability of boundaries. Such taboos do not have a systemic relationship with any prior gifts and lie beyond the control of either humans or fairies: they are inherent in the romance world without being imposed by anyone. Such is the case with the fairy queen’s warning against eating food in the otherworld garden in Thomas of Erceldoune. That is why it is a mistake to describe the scene, the way Aislyng Byrne does, as one in which “the fairy imposes a further taboo on Thomas” (“Fairy Lovers” 108), for she merely recognizes a taboo in operation and warns Thomas about its insidious nature. Moreover, there is no taboo element of any kind in the fairy queen’s bidding for Thomas to leave behind the sun and the moon and follow her to the otherworld (ll. 157–160). Byrne argues that “the imposition of the journey to the otherworld operates like a taboo” and that the subsequent “otherworld journey is more of a punishment than a reward” (“Fairy Lovers” 107). But the mandate the fairy has to make Thomas accompany her on this journey stems from his own pledge whereby he vows to follow the fairy to whatever unearthly realm she wishes to take him: “Here my trouthe j will the plyghte / Whethir þou will in heuene or helle” (ll. 107–108). This is no taboo here, only the fulflment of a contract, since all the fairy does is to have Thomas act on his promise. He eventually does but not without the text exposing some sort of reservations on his part, for instead of embracing the opportunity to honour his pledge he exclaims, “Allas! . . . & wa es mee!” (l. 165). Josephine Burnham seems to be right in suggesting that “he has forgotten [what] he said a little while before” (380), the scene highlighting human fckleness and the unreliability of vows in a way analogous to the court proceedings in Sir Launfal. There is actually a proper taboo in the romance section of Thomas of Erceldoune, but it only comes much later. The gift that it is bound with is that of prophecy, and it follows directly the lines that announce the powers given to Thomas: ‘To harpe or carpe, whare-so þou gose, Thomas, þou sall hafe þe chose sothely.’

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Games, Gifts and Taboos And he saide, ‘harpynge kepe j none; ffor tonge es chefe of mynstralsye.’ ‘If þou will spelle, or talles telle, Thomas, þou sall neuer lesynge lye, Whare euer þou fare, by frythe or felle, I praye the, speke none euyll of me![’] (ll. 313–320)

Emily Lyle directs her attention to the Cotton manuscript’s equivalent of the Thornton fairy’s bidding to speak no evil of her cited here. There the injunction appears in line 684 in a form more reminiscent of the taboo Dame Tryamour imposes on Sir Launfal: “tel neuyr þi frendes at home of me” (Lyle 59). Suggesting that the “Thomas fairy-mistress theme is indebted to the Lanval story,” Lyle notes that the difference between the narratives of Sir Launfal and Thomas of Erceldoune is that in the latter work, “the command to keep silence has no development and is, as a story element, merely vestigial” (59). Whether or not the Lanval narrative had any infuence on the construction of Thomas, the taboo given to Thomas is indeed analogous to that of Tryamour, although clearly underdeveloped and of no signifcance for the plot. Common to both Sir Launfal and Thomas of Erceldoune is “the fairy’s arbitrary procedure once she has the mortal in her power” (Albrecht 21). Byrne observes that while a fairy taboo “seems completely gratuitous and appears to have no clear moral or ethical import” it can, however, “have what might be considered an ethical dimension” (“Fairy Lovers” 104–105). She explains that the exposition of “the machinery of the plot” effected by the narratives’ free use of taboos queries unproblematic and unfettered wish-fulflment, but does so in narratological, rather than ideological terms. It highlights the fact that completely fulflled desire imposes a limit on narrative. . . . Complete fulflment without effort, self-denial or sacrifce, paradoxically, gives rise to a certain loss. Breaching the taboo provides the means, not only to reanimate the plot, but to test the human protagonist. (Byrne, “Fairy Lovers” 105) Byrne stresses the necessity of self-sacrifce that makes it possible for the protagonist to reach a higher degree of fulflment than was initially available to him, reading the moral lesson of fairy romance in Christian terms as suggesting that “this world is not the natural place for unfettered gratifcation, but that another one might be” (“Fairy Lovers” 106). The “echo of Christian rhetoric” is evident (Byrne, “Fairy Lovers” 106), but it is just as important to note that the repetitive failures of human characters to uphold their end of the bargain, especially when contrasted with the

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unwavering fxation of fairies to keep theirs, serve to contrast the immoral nature of human actions not just with absolute morality or model ethics as represented by the Christian ideal but also with the radical amorality of the fairy world. Helen Cooper notes that fairy prohibitions “have something of the illogic, the quality of pure trial divorced from rationality, of the forbidden fruit of Genesis” (English Romance 215). To partake of the fruit was a sin because God explicitly told the frst humans not to do so, and the exact nature of the fruit was secondary to the breach of trust that occurred when the original sin transpired. With fairy taboos, the crux of the matter is also disobedience as such—the lack of trouthe, as the Gawain poet would have put it—rather than the actual details of the transgression. If the prohibitions themselves usually bear little relevance to the situation at hand, it is no wonder that the punishment, too, “generally bears no logical relationship to the terms of the initial condition” (Cooper, English Romance 215), the entire structure of fairy prohibition and punishment acting like a universal template of test and failure grafted onto any conceivable situation the human characters may fnd themselves in. The universality of human fckleness and the insistence of these texts that unlike fairies, and in direct contrast to them, men will always break their word in one way or another is easy to read in Christian ethical terms as a symptom of humankind’s fallibility or the world’s postlapsarian condition. It also introduces, however, a contrast of a higher order, that of morality versus amorality, intentionality versus the blind logic of ritual action or free choice versus the iterability of pure structure. Morality is an important aspect of fairy romance but one that emerges only with respect to, and within, the construction of human characters, and fairies are not subject to it. Failure to acknowledge this tends to produce critical readings that belie the fairies’ radical moral alterity and arbitrariness of action and mistakenly attribute to their behavioural templates familiar human motivations. A good example of this is the debate concerning the fairy king’s decision to challenge Sir Orfeo in his choice of reward for the song he plays on his harp in the otherworld castle. After Orfeo requests that the king let him depart with Heurodis, the latter expresses some reservations: ‘Nay!’ quaþ þe king, ‘Þat nouȝt nere! A sori couple of ȝou it were, For þou art lene, rowe & blac, & sche is louesum, wiþ-outen lac: A loþlich þing it were, forþi, To sen hir in þi compayni.’ (ll. 457–462) Seth Lerer reads the fairy king’s response as an “attempt to renege on his promise to the minstrel” (104). James Wade believes it to be an expression

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of an ethical code that governs the otherworldly monarch’s behaviour and argues that “the Fairy King shows himself to be particularly concerned with Heurodis’s well-being” (102) and that even when he eventually lets her go to honour his word, this, too, “attest[s] to a sort of orthodox ethical code” that he follows (103). N. H. Keeble also reads Orfeo’s later reaction to the fairy king’s doubts as a successful appeal to a “moral order by which . . . the King is bound” (203). There is, however, nothing in the text of Sir Orfeo that would suggest a genuine concern of the fairy king with Heurodis’s well-being. His reservations have more to do with aesthetics than morality: the ragged minstrel and the lady under the grafted tree are visually no match for each other, and even Orfeo must acknowledge that. To note that the two of them would be a sorry sight—“sori couple,” “loþlich þing”—is both a valid point and a perfectly rational strategy aimed at making Orfeo change his request. Were he just a random minstrel asking for a random trophy this appeal to aesthetics may even be successful. The fairy king’s words are not to be mistaken for an attempt to renege, and given the folkloric context of the presentation of the fairy race, Patrick Schwieterman is adamant that they imply nothing of the sort: The characterization of fairyland that emerges from these comments stands in stark contrast to the reputation of fairies in both medieval and modern folklore. Fairies are usually represented there as possessing an obsessive, even legalistic concern for truth-telling. Though typically manipulative of humans and quite willing to mislead them, fairies almost always have a high regard for their own word, and they also value the same quality in humans. (155) This is not to say that the fairy king may not harbour some deep desires for Heurodis, but he eventually “chooses principle over his own desires” (Schwieterman 163). Or, to be more precise, principle determines his actions beyond any desires he may have. The scene is similar to the fnal confrontation between Sir Bertilak and Gawain, where the former admits he feels sorry for Arthur’s nephew and does not really blame him for his shortcomings even as he has administered the Beheading Game without a moment’s hesitation. Fairies may exhibit traces of individuality in that they hold certain opinions, experience desires or make aesthetic judgements, but they are ultimately governed by their nature of rule-bound beings, and Orfeo knows exactly what to say to secure his hold over Heurodis: ‘O, Sir!’ he seyd, ‘Gentil King! Ȝete were it a wele fouler þing To here a lesing of þi mouthe: So, Sir, as ȝe seyd nouþe

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What ich wold aski haue y schold, & nedes þou most þi word hold.’ (ll. 463–468) Just as with his realization that he ought to retrace his steps and leave the otherworld as soon as possible, here, too, Orfeo proves to be a character well familiar with fairy lore and capable of employing this knowledge to ensure the success of his mission. The fairy king attempts to persuade him to ask for something other than Heurodis, but once this fails, he needs no reminder that his word must be upheld. And even though Orfeo’s response does seem to have the form of such a reminder, it is more of an unequivocal statement that there is no room for any negotiation and that the original request still stands. That is all it takes to produce the desired effect, and the moment the fairy monarch realizes the subject is not open to debate, he replies with an automatism reminiscent of Tryamour’s attack on Gwenore in Sir Launfal: Þe king seyd: ‘Seþþen it is so Take hir bi þe hond & go: Of hir ichil þatow be bliþe!’ (ll. 469–471) There is more emphasis in Sir Orfeo on fairies keeping their word than on human characters going back on theirs, but the idea of the overall contrast remains the same as in the other romances. Even if Orfeo himself never lies to anyone, the disarray of the court and the duplicity of the steward as it emerges from Oren Falk’s political reading of the text highlights the difference between fairies and men: while the former will always keep their word no matter what, the latter need to be pressured and coerced into loyalty. One obviously would not expect medieval, or, for that matter, modern readers of Sir Orfeo to sympathize with the fairy keeper of the otherworld, but in describing his situation at the end of the tale, it is diffcult not to speak of a sense of him being cheated. However diffcult—and potentially pointless, given the folkloric construction of the fairy folk— it may be to probe into the mind of the fairy king, it is reasonable to argue that to release Heurodis stands in opposition to his desires, or at least his initial plans, and if any mortal were to fnd himself in the fairy king’s place, he would certainly be tempted to say that what has happened by the end of the tale is not fair. Comparing this situation with Robert Henryson’s Orpheus and Eurydice, in which it is Orpheus who loses whatever he managed to reclaim in the course of the story, a certain contrast is to be noted: “[f]rom the point of view of Proserpina’s hard ‘law,’ what has happened is fair; from the point of view of human feelings, it is monstrously unfair” (Gray 227). Fairies and mortals are subject to

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the same rules and engage in contracts that could lead to a loss incurred by either side, but only the human party could ever appeal to a sense of fairness or justice other than that contingent on strict adherence to the letter of the particular deal. For literary critics to speak of fairness from the perspective of human emotions in interpreting these tales is a valid procedure, but it is also to look at the fctional world through the eyes of the human characters; to ascribe the same emotions or attitudes to the fairies would be a mistake. Henryson’s text, like much of fairy romance, actually prompts the readers to reconsider the criteria that govern their readings and to ponder the implications, both philosophical and practical, of following a pure and blind form of justice. And in this respect, there is nothing to criticize Henryson’s fairies for: unlike the fairy lords in Sir Orfeo, Pluto and Proserpine here keep their word without contesting the hero’s request: Pluto’s court might be a doleful and dark place, but justice is respected there. They are no real enemies to Orpheus, who has only himself to blame for his failure, for it is he who breaks the promise made to Proserpine to respect her condition. (Mameli) The contrast between the human and fairy sense of justice spelt out in Orpheus and Eurydice, Sir Launfal, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Thomas of Erceldoune and Sir Orfeo goes beyond highlighting the imperfections inherent in human nature and accounted for by the Christian faith. The dichotomy of the two senses of fairness intimates more than a realization that perfection is unattainable for the human being in this world and awaits only in another. Instead of embodying the principle of perfection as hyper-essential agents, romance fairies offer themselves as somewhat subversive, hypo-essential role models, whose actions arise out of their liminal implication in structure and order, not their consideration of morality or fne intentions. Their justice is neither of this world nor that of a realm of wish fulflment, and its liminal nature makes it both an ideal to aspire to and a potentially unwelcome and destructive aberration that brings destruction on men and women in the blink of an eye, like Tryamour’s attack on Gwenore—perhaps deserved, but terrifying in its blind automatism. In this respect, the fairy world emerges not as a viable alternative to the workings of the human world, or a heavenly ideal to be communed with once the limitations of the human fesh are overcome, but rather as a radically alien reality governed by a system of contracts and taboos and always seeking to meddle in human affairs. Fairy romances reinforce the basic truth of engaging the liminal: becoming involved with that which lies in between is not always subject to human discretion, and it is utterly, unmitigatedly dangerous.

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Notes 1. Emphasis mine. 2. See Briggs, Fairies 123–126 for a discussion of time in fairy lore, including the phenomenon of time warp. As Briggs explains elsewhere, “[t]ime spent with them [fairies] passes at a different rate than when spent with mortals; seven days in fairyland is generally equivalent to seven years of mortal time, but occasionally it is the other way round” (Anatomy 14). Buccola, too, notes that the discrepancy between the two regimes of time can work both ways (38). Gwyndaf gives examples of an instant in the fairy world being equivalent to periods ranging from one year to a hundred years (161). 3. See Cross for a selection and discussion of examples. See also Green (Elf 186, 191–192) and Byrne, (Otherworlds 61). For an unusual use of the convention of time warp in romance literature, see Saunders, Magic 205.

Conclusion

To approach medieval fairy romance in its own right and its original context is to entertain the idea that fairies may be real. It is not a matter of facts to be ascertained in the process of analysing extant literary material but a mode of making sense of romance works and acknowledging literary texts for what they are. This goes beyond the obvious observation that in the fctional worlds of romance fairies make their presence felt in a most real way for their human partners, for that is beyond question. Neither does it amount to the trite disclaimer—so often to be found in academic books on the subject—which clarifes that in the real world that we live in this is not so, or at least need not be so. The romance texts that this study has reopened to scrutiny direct the reader’s attention elsewhere: to the space between the real and the fctional, the equivocal space where the question of reality loses its relevance, but where the effects of fairy agency are most acutely felt. Romance fairies are not just a theme, a motif, or a collection of in-text characters, and neither are they mere copies of what the folkloric-magic consciousness of the day made of their real-world counterparts. They are indeed all these things, but more signifcantly they also stand astride the division between fction and reality, channelling their magic into both, and this magic is predominantly of a hermeneutic nature. The mysterious appearance of the Gawain poet’s Green Knight, the apparently motiveless assault on Heurodis in Sir Orfeo, or the arbitrary taboos established by fairy ladies such as that of Dame Tryamour in Sir Launfal invite and coerce interpretation. The fairies’ interventions drive forward not only the action of these poems but also the eerily parallel interpretive vicissitudes of their characters and readers. The fgure of the fairy thus becomes of interest not just to the literary historian or the folklorist but also for the theorist, inviting the critical baggage of contemporary literary theory to bear on these texts in the hope of capturing some essential meaning that they may carry—all in vain, for fairies ultimately prove to be irreducible to any and all particular interpretations. In resisting these, however, they also make interpretation as such possible and problematize it at its

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inception, and in this way, fairy romance becomes a kind of a hermeneutic laboratory, in which, to quote the words of Jeff Rider, the fairies themselves emerge as important elements, perhaps paradigmatic elements, for a science which studies the means by which texts provoke interpretation. They might well be said to represent or emblematize the obscure impetus to interpret, the text calling interpretation into being. (366) Robert Henryson’s Orpheus and Eurydice is a particularly apt example of how fairies may simultaneously engender interpretations and escape the hermeneutic dynamic they energize into being. But this drive to provoke interpretation is also mirrored by another obscure impetus that they may be said to emblematize within romance worlds, that is, their proclivity to meddle with the lives of men and women and engage them in interactions, often in the form of corrective or destructive incursions into the heart of the human domain. It is a corollary of their liminal positioning both within the literary text and between the text and its readers that fairies facilitate romance indeterminacy while maintaining their nature of liminal agents as defned in folklore studies. Thus, just like their non-literary, folkloric counterparts, romance fairies engage humans in deals and contracts, exploiting both linguistic ambiguity and disjunctive shifts of time in the process, and warn their mortal partners about taboos in operation or impose taboos of their own. They mirror and mimic human behaviour, observe pollution-type laws with no concern for ethics and bring upheaval or change to the status of both individuals and communities that they happen to intrude on. Following the various characterizations of their behaviour in selected texts, this study has argued that liminality is an interpretive key that can best encapsulate the entirety of their manifestations, both on the in-text thematic level and on the in-between equivocal plane of analysis where the position of the reader becomes aligned with that of the characters. By considering a number of alternative ways of approaching the concept of liminality, it has shifted the critical focus beyond discussions of specifc liminal rites without losing sight of the term’s original anthropological context, which made it possible to overcome the problem of applying Van Gennepian terminology where no direct rites are to be observed. This is important, because by opening the feld of inquiry to liminality in its khoratic or abject formulations, the discussion of particular romance texts can be generalized to a comprehensive theory of how culture conceptualizes the non-binary, one implicated both in the structuralist legacy of the anthropological school of Arnold Van Gennep, Victor Turner and Mary Douglas and in the post-structuralism of Jacques Derrida and Julia Kristeva.

200

Conclusion

The incursions of fairies witnessed in the worlds and texts of medieval romance are a testament to the danger of formlessness which informs the conceptual edifce of human thought and challenges its oppositional, dualistic grid. Far from being evil in itself by virtue of escaping all dichotomies, this force can nonetheless be demonized and many times has been, giving rise to images such as the grim tableau in Sir Orfeo or to the fairies’ association with the devil in Thomas of Erceldoune. Both the anthropological and the philosophical paradigms, offered as ways of seeing through the diffculties involved in making sense of that which is neither this nor that yet simultaneously both, point to a double sense of dread and promise accompanying the liminal. Indeed, romance criticism has had to face the challenge of telling the two aspects of the phenomenon apart, producing readings that are often conficting or downright contradictory. By addressing a body of romance works that both do justice to the range of fairy references in the genre and carry with them a rich and interesting history of criticism, this book has deliberately explored the interpretive plight of romance readers making their way through the maze of fairy-ridden texts just as it followed the adventures of Orfeo, Launfal and others. In surveying critical reactions to romance fairies with the aid of post-structuralist insights into the nature of language and the limits of conceptualization, it has thus endeavoured to present the various critical voices “less as external accidents or deviations to be rejected than as manifestations or displacements of important forces within the work” (Culler, On Deconstruction 268). As medieval romance drew on the liminal, folkloric image of fairies and utilized it as source material, it attempted the impossible task of representing forces that defy the notion of representation, and in doing so it engendered readings that would then recast this very dynamic onto the meta-level of critical analysis. The history of the reception of these texts is therefore a necessary track record of aporetic blundering and dissonance, and together with the range of all potential interpretations open to the readers, it illustrates the transposition of the folkloric fairies’ liminal oscillation beyond the level of the literary text, to a metaliterary plane where it reverberates in patterns reminiscent of its original folkloric tenor. As Manuel Aguirre, Roberta Quance and Philip Sutton have argued, probing the iterability of liminal attributes across various planes of reference, “correspondences and movement between attributes on different planes are to be expected” (52), and the body of texts selected here for analysis provides an excellent case in point. Distinctly literary or meta-literary modes of liminality supplement and reinforce the folkloric construction of the fairy race whether the text in question is courtly (Sir Gawain and the Green Knight) or popular (Sir Launfal), whether it is a fragment of a larger unit (the romance section of Orpheus and Eurydice, the narrative section of Thomas of Erceldoune) or an independent, aesthetically unifed whole (Sir Orfeo).

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In qualifying the nature of fairies, whether folkloric or literary, one faces a twofold problem. One troubling aspect of making pronouncements about them has to do with reliance on notions of existence and non-existence. With the linguistic apparatus predicated on the law of non-contradiction which states that one thing cannot both be and not be another, the only option is to attempt a description with tools diffcult to reconcile with the fairies’ liminal ontological condition. The other issue, at the core of the very idea of a fairy, is that the latter is essentially characterless and only superfcially seems to assimilate certain qualities, structuring them rigorously according to the logic of liminal oscillation but also altering this confguration depending on the context. That is why both fairies and belief in them are particularly interesting in their performative dimension, that is, in what they do rather than what precise nature they have. Romance literature explores these issues and offers a number of solutions that subtend the construction of its narratives and fctional worlds and the creation of these texts’ meaning for their readers. It therefore seems natural to ask if a similar dynamic may not be observed in other genres that involve fairies. The preceding chapters have interspersed their readings of medieval romance with a few references to traditional ballads and pointed out parallels which indicate that the ballad genre, with its dependence on popular culture and folklore and its affnity with the romance form, may offer a related illustration of the phenomenon. Whether texts other than romance indeed produce distinctly literary modes of liminality when they address these liminal beings certainly warrants further study, but what the preceding chapters suggest is that the name or precise characterization of fairies or their equivalent is ultimately irrelevant. In medieval romance, fairy is but a name for the liminal, an encapsulation of an aesthetic and a dynamic that operates under different names in various other discourses, like the khora of the philosophers. Common ground is therefore likely to be found not only with texts that include references to fairies but also with other works that address the problem of the liminal and investigate its abject or khoratic manifestations. Conversely, it is reasonable to assume that texts which speak of fairies will exhibit certain affnities to the hermeneutics of fairy romance only so long as they draw on the folkloric-magic consciousness that originally gave the liminal its fairy shape. Distanced from the particularity of popular beliefs by its engagement with the fundamental experience of shifting boundaries and the power of thresholds, the fgure of the romance fairy nonetheless still retains a powerful thematic and structural connection with its folkloric roots, which its distinctly literary transformations only accentuate. It is this connection that propels romance forward, fuels its transformations and produces the shifting sense of double negation and ambiguous identity that informs both the inner workings of the romance text and the hermeneutic experience of its readers.

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Index

abjection 120–123, 146–153, 199 aporia 68, 70, 118–119, 162–167 Aristotle 136, 160 ballads 2–3, 37, 39, 96–98, 103, 171, 173, 185–186, 201 Beowulf 9 binary oppositions 17, 21, 24, 30–31, 46–48, 51, 54–55, 57, 64–67, 77, 100, 112, 114–116, 118–124, 127–130, 133–134, 139, 144–145, 149, 153, 164–166, 168–169, 189 Boethius 69, 141, 167 Breton lays 2, 61, 70–71, 73, 78–81 brownies 12–14, 42 changelings 7, 9, 43, 54–55, 59, 147–148 Chaucer, Geoffrey 3, 4, 10, 30, 37, 172, 187; “Friar’s Tale, The” 172; “Tale of Sir Thopas, The” 10, 37, 187; “Wife of Bath’s Tale, The” 4, 142 Chestre, Thomas 80–85, 103, 143, 182, 184; see also Sir Launfal Child, Francis James 3, 37, 39, 96, 103, 171, 173, 185–186 chora see khora Chrétien de Troyes 26, 70, 73 Derrida, Jacques 36, 104, 107, 110–120, 124, 126–127, 129–138, 160, 162–170, 175, 190, 199 devil 12, 20, 76, 94, 97, 102, 153, 155–157, 170–176, 188, 200 Douglas, Mary 25, 36, 40, 45, 48–55, 57, 92, 123, 147, 199 Eger and Grime 149 Elfand see otherworlds

elves 4–5, 9–10, 13, 15, 17–18, 23, 42, 145–146, 154, 171; see also fairies equivocation 151, 162, 170–175, 188 fairies 1–28, 34–40, 42–44, 53–103, 136–162, 167–201; analogous beings 4, 9, 12–13, 39, 43–44; arbitrariness of action 27, 35, 58, 71, 77–78, 162, 167, 176–177, 179, 189, 192–193, 198; areas associated with 15–17, 19, 26, 61, 83–84, 137; belief in 4–10, 16, 24, 42–44, 55, 59–60; bodies of 20, 62; and bodily penetration 92–93, 145–153; danger of interaction 20, 22–23, 25, 38–39, 54–56, 90–95, 145–147, 170, 173, 176, 182–184, 189–190; deals with 90, 162, 168–196; demonization 10–12, 14, 17, 37, 153–159, 176; dependence 18–19, 23–24, 35, 38–39, 43, 54, 64, 69, 73, 75, 84, 138, 167, 176, 180, 185–186; diminutive kind 11–13; eating food belonging to 56, 91–92, 95, 150, 189, 191; gifts from 81–82, 84, 90–91, 95–96, 162, 178, 180–181, 189–191; human abduction by 7–8, 18–19, 38–39, 44, 61–65, 67, 70–71, 97, 147, 150, 171; illusions of 2, 11–12, 20, 38, 63–64, 74–75, 152–153, 155; and justice 183–184, 195–196; khoratic nature 137–139, 143–145, 159, 167–168, 199; means of reproduction 19, 35, 38–39; mirroring human society 9, 11, 20–21, 24–25, 54, 64, 73, 75, 78, 97, 138–139, 167, 199; morality

218

Index

10, 14, 22–25, 27, 55, 64–66, 76, 83, 85, 98, 100, 153–158, 176–177, 182, 188, 192–196; perpetual recession of 4–6, 24, 138, 167; rule-bound nature 55, 162, 168, 170–186, 194; sexual relations with 7, 10–11, 20, 43, 63, 79, 84, 92, 94, 101, 103, 150, 171, 182, 190; summoning 185–187; times associated with 17–18, 25, 34, 60–61, 63–64; time warp 74, 102, 187–188, 197; see also changelings; otherworlds; pollution Freud, Sigmund 27, 40, 114 Generides 158 glamour see fairies, illusions of Graelent 70, 80, 103 Guingamor 188 Heidegger, Martin 160, 165–166, 178 Henryson, Robert see Orpheus and Eurydice Herrick, Robert 55 heterochronia see fairies, time warp Huon of Bordeaux 157 Ireland 6, 9, 12, 16, 21, 23, 30, 38–39, 42, 138, 152, 161 James VI of Scotland 11–12, 20, 156, 172 Kearney, Richard 122, 128–130, 165–166 khora 104–139, 143–145, 159, 162–170, 199; demonization 124–130, 159; and giving 113, 125–126, 162–168, 170; mirror metaphor 108–110, 139; and promises 169–170; see also fairies, khoratic nature Kirk, Robert 5, 14, 17, 20–21, 23, 38–39 Kristeva, Julia 36, 104, 111, 114–123, 134–135, 139, 148–149, 152, 164, 199 Lacan, Jacques 114 Lanval 2, 70, 79–83, 85, 103, 160, 190, 192 Lewis, C. S. 21, 39

liminality 14–104, 107, 110, 120–126, 130, 133–134, 137–139, 143–178, 180, 188–190, 196, 199–200; and ambiguity 23–24; equivocal level 32, 35, 66–68, 144, 187, 198–199; in literary studies 30–34; moral (see fairies, morality); ontological 18–24, 27, 34–35, 39, 54, 61, 83–84, 139, 158, 188; spatial 15–17, 24, 49, 61; temporal 17–18, 25, 34, 60–61, 63–64 loathly lady 98 Lybeaus Desconus 158 Macbeth 171 Marie de France 2, 70, 78–85, 102–103, 182, 185, 190; see also Lanval; Yonec Mauss, Marcel 163–164, 168 metaphor 24, 31, 34, 36, 52, 92, 94, 103, 105–114, 116, 118, 124–128, 133–136, 144–146, 167 metonymy 34, 92, 147 Midsummer Night’s Dream, A 13, 40 Orpheus and Eurydice 2–3, 59, 69, 93, 130, 139–144, 150–151, 160, 190, 195–196, 199–200 otherworlds 2, 10, 26, 66, 68, 71–74, 78, 84, 89, 91–95, 99, 144, 150, 158–159, 180, 182, 187–188 Partonope of Blois 70, 75, 159 Pearl 73, 99, 101 Plato 36, 104–112, 114–115, 117, 119–121, 124–139, 168; see also Timaeus pollution 25, 50–53, 55–56, 91–95, 121–123, 147–148, 182, 189, 191, 199 popular culture 2, 4, 8, 10, 15, 21, 28, 33, 37, 55, 58–60, 62, 78, 154, 174, 201 post-structuralism 123, 138, 145, 160, 199 rites of passage 24, 26, 29, 31, 40–41, 44–49, 52–56, 78–80, 85–90, 92, 100, 120 ritual 24–25, 29, 31, 36, 45–55, 60, 79, 88–89, 92–93, 100, 122, 193 Robin Goodfellow 4, 12–13, 38

Index romance 2–4, 10, 15, 26–28, 34–37, 42–43, 56, 58–103, 136–162, 167–168, 170, 172, 175, 177–201 Saussure, Ferdinand de 46 Scot, Reginald 4, 24 Scotland 5, 11–13, 19–21, 23, 38–39, 57, 96, 160, 172 Scott, Walter 21, 38 self-referentiality 81, 131, 142–145, 159–160 Shakespeare, William 11, 13, 15, 30, 40, 42, 171 Sir Gawain and the Green Knight 2, 59, 71–79, 85–87, 151–152, 159, 172–173, 177, 179–182, 186, 190, 194, 196, 198, 200; fairies 72–75; Green Chapel 72, 74, 86, 151, 182; Green Knight 37, 72, 74–77, 85–86, 102, 151–152, 172–173, 180–182, 186, 198; Hautdesert 72–75, 77, 86, 181; theme of interpretation 72, 75–78, 151, 172–173 Sir Landevale 80–81, 103 Sir Launfal 2, 59, 80–85, 87, 89–90, 97, 103, 144, 158–159, 182–186, 190–192, 195–196, 198, 200; ending 84–85; and Lanval 80–83, 85, 103; sexual innuendos 82, 84, 103; sources 80; Tryamour 81–85, 90, 182–185, 192, 195–196, 198 Sir Orfeo 2–3, 26, 59, 61–72, 75–79, 84–85, 87–90, 93–94, 97, 100–101, 139–140, 148–152, 157–159, 167,

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179, 190, 193–196, 198, 200; abduction of Heurodis 61–64, 77, 84, 100, 140, 198; avoiding pollution 93–94; different versions 64, 101, 157–159; grafting 61, 67; grim tableau 64–67, 148–150; madness 62–64, 68, 87, 149, 152; ritualized transitions 88–89 stock bodies 150–152, 161 structuralism 46–47, 51, 57, 123, 199 subtle bodies 62 taboos 2, 16, 27, 35, 36, 43, 55, 79, 90–93, 122–123, 141, 162, 168, 177–178, 185, 189–193, 196, 198–199 Thomas of Erceldoune 2, 37, 91, 94–100, 150–152, 155–157, 159, 179, 187–188, 191–192, 196, 200 Timaeus 36, 104–112, 114, 117–118, 120, 125, 130–136, 139, 160, 168 Tolkien, J. R. R. 15, 18, 42, 56, 177 Turner, Victor 24–25, 29, 31, 34, 36, 40–41, 45–46, 48–50, 52–54, 56–57, 69–70, 77, 86, 92, 145, 155, 199 Van Gennep, Arnold 24–26, 30, 36, 40–41, 44–47, 49, 51–56, 58, 69, 88–89, 92–93, 100, 104, 137, 199 witchcraft 4, 11, 17, 20, 34, 37–39, 53, 57, 62, 153, 160, 171–172 Yeats W. B. 56, 146, 161 Yonec 78–79