The Manticore

Overview

Hailed by the Washington Post Book World as "a modern classic," Robertson Davies’s acclaimed Deptford Trilogy is a glittering, fantastical, cunningly contrived series of novels, around which a mysterious death is woven. The Manticore—the second book in the series after Fifth Business—follows David Staunton, a man pleased with his success but haunted by his relationship with his larger-than-life father. As he seeks help through therapy, he encounters a wonderful cast of characters who help connect him to his past ...

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Overview

Hailed by the Washington Post Book World as "a modern classic," Robertson Davies’s acclaimed Deptford Trilogy is a glittering, fantastical, cunningly contrived series of novels, around which a mysterious death is woven. The Manticore—the second book in the series after Fifth Business—follows David Staunton, a man pleased with his success but haunted by his relationship with his larger-than-life father. As he seeks help through therapy, he encounters a wonderful cast of characters who help connect him to his past and the death of his father.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Robertson Davies is one of the great modern novelists." —Malcolm Bradbury, The Sunday Times (London

"Robertson Davies is a novelist whose books are thick and rich with humor, character and incident. They are plotted with skill and much flamboyance." —The Observer (London)

Library Journal
Released in 1972 and 1975, respectively, these are volumes two and three in Davies's "Deptford Trilogy." Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Peter Prescott
"One of the splendid literary enterprises of this decade." -- Newsweek
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780143039136
  • Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 2/28/2006
  • Series: Deptford Trilogy Series, #2
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 288
  • Sales rank: 526,265
  • Product dimensions: 5.26 (w) x 7.84 (h) x 0.68 (d)

Meet the Author

Robertson Davies (1913-1995) had three successive careers during the time he became an internationally acclaimed author: actor, publisher, and, finally, professor at the University of Toronto. The author of twelve novels and several volumes of essays and plays, he was the first Canadian to be inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

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Reading Group Guide

INTRODUCTION
One of the most ambitious works of fiction of the twentieth century, Robertson Davies’s Deptford Trilogy reaches from rural Canada to the Swiss Alps and introduces a cast of characters as varied and fascinating as any in recent literature. It is a work of towering intellect, exploring ideas of good and evil, history and identity, truth and illusion, art and mysticism, and much more. But at the center of each of the three novels—Fifth Business, The Manticore, and World of Wonders—is a theme that connects the trilogy’s many intertwining stories: the need to recover a genuine experience of the marvelous, a sense of wonder, in a world from which it has been all but banished.

Each of the main characters in the three novels—Dunstan Ramsay, David Staunton, and Magnus Eisengrim—narrates his life story. And in the course of each of these interrelated stories, we find a common desire for a mythical or magical world that exists within the confines of ordinary, rationalist, desacralized modern society. In Fifth Business, Dunstan Ramsay, history teacher and hagiographer, finds access to the marvelous through his study of saints and their miracles. He delights in “pointing out the mythical elements that seem to . . . underlie our apparently ordinary lives” (Fifth Business, p. 38), and feels certain that Mrs. Dempster, the mother of Paul Dempster (aka Magnus Eisengrim), whom others consider morally degenerate and mentally deficient, is in fact a saint. David Staunton, a highly successful criminal lawyer, embodies a thoroughly rationalist belief system. As a law student he takes his teacher’s advice and puts his “emotions in cold storage.” He eliminates from himself all the messy feelings that so often get his clients into trouble. Nevertheless, after his father’s sudden and mysterious death, he undergoes Jungian analysis—and a perilous descent to the underworld—to reconnect both with his emotions and with humanity’s mythic past. The trilogy’s most enigmatic character, the magician Magnus Eisengrim, both enacts and elicits a sense of wonder, as he satisfies “a hunger that almost everybody has for marvels” (The Manticore, p. 242). Indeed, Magnus’s greatest work of magic is his own self-transformation, from a shy, abused, and outcast boy growing up in a small Canadian village to the greatest magician in the world. He is an exemplar of what his friend and manager Lisel calls the “Magian World View,” which prevailed in the Middle Ages and which is based on a “sense of the unfathomable wonder of the invisible world that existed side by side with a hard recognition of the roughness and cruelty and day-to-day demands of the tangible world” (World of Wonders, p. 293).

Around this central theme, Robertson Davies spins a story, or rather a multitude of stories, that illuminate the human condition with uncommon brilliance. The novels themselves, written with extraordinary wit, charm, and intelligence, are wonders to behold. In this sense, Davies not only points his readers to a world of marvels and mysteries, he gives us one.

ABOUT ROBERTSON DAVIES

Robertson Davies (1913–1995) had three successive careers during the time he became an internationally acclaimed author: actor, publisher, and, finally, professor at the University of Toronto. The author of twelve novels and several volumes of essays and plays, he was the first Canadian to be inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION: The Manticore

  • David Staunton’s therapist tells him: “I am going to try to help you in the process of becoming yourself” (p. 57). In what ways is David not himself when he begins therapy? What must he do to become a more integrated, authentic person? To what extent is this therapeutic process successful for David? How has he changed by the end of the novel?
     
  • David has a dream in which he appears as a manticore, and Dr. von Haller tells him that “the Unconscious chooses its symbolism with breath-taking artistic virtuosity” (p. 150). What does the manticore symbolize for David? Why is he able to dream of it even though he’d never heard of the creature before?
     
  • Discussing his “autobiography,” which Ramsay has written, Magnus tells David that “because I satisfy a hunger that almost everybody has for marvels, the book is a far truer account of me than ordinary biographies,” even though he admits it is largely invented. He claims it is truer to the “essence” of his life than a more factual account would be. Why would an invented story be truer to one’s essence than a more strictly accurate story? Is it true that we “hunger for marvels”? Why is Magnus able to satisfy those hungers? Has David given a “true” account of his life?
     
  • At the end of the novel, Liesl takes David into a cave, and getting back out proves to be a terrifying experience. Later that night, David feels “reborn” (p. 259). What is the significance of this episode? What is it about the cave that is deeply relevant to David’s relationship to his father and to the bear that he dreamed of early in his therapy? Why is this an apt way to end the book?
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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 24, 2002

    AN EXCELLENT READ!!

    The second part of a wonderful Triology. I read this for an assignment for school, and I found myself reading more often that I usually read. It pulled my attention like no other book ever did before. I would personally recommend for you to read the whole Triology, because you will find that it is much better that way. I don't want to spoil it for you, but I'll give you a brief summary. David Staunton, the main character, a big time lawyer, faces the reality that his ever-so-famous father has just died. He steal himself to Zonich (I don't exactly know how to spell it! Sorry) for some Jung therapy. There he discovers himself and the mystery of his father's death is still vague. (You have to read 'World of Wonders' to find who killed him! That's intersting too) So if you want an excellent easy read, you have to read this book!

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