Saints and Mythology

(End of Book 1 of The Deptford Trilogy)

Debby: I found Ramsay’s peculiar interest in the Saints particularly interesting. As an Evangelical Christian, I was not raised with the tradition of saints and sainthood. I was told the stories of great martyrs, not the strange and gripping tales of people who performed miraculous deeds. Ramsay’s journey, like those of his precious saints, is equally strange and difficult to pin down. His search for the Madonna image, his interactions with Mary Dempster, his “place” amongst Boy’s dinner parties, all tie into a weirdly fascinating life story. Obviously, no one is trying to make Ramsay a saint. However, I think Robertson Davies was very intentional about Ramsay’s obsession for the very reason that Ramsay has lived a life worthy of such a calling.

Padre Blazon expresses this perfectly, telling his friend and mentee, “Oho, Ramezay, no wonder you write so well of myth and legend! It was St. Dunstan seizing the Devil’s snout in his tongs, a thousand years after his time. Well done, well done! You met the Devil as an equal, not cringing or frightened or begging for a trashy favour. That is the heroic life…” (p. 240).

Tim: Yeah, it’s funny. I know we both came at this book expecting some sort of magical realism. We didn’t get that, but we got a case study in mythology. Dunstan seems so interested in the mythic not because he believes that such things could happen, but that he wants such things to be possible. I think that’s part of why he’s so attracted to Eisengrim. It’s his way of participating in something truly otherworldly. He knows, for example, that Eisengrim’s biography is pure fiction because he wrote it. But it could just be true, couldn’t it? He seems like he’s almost searching for the things which defy his explanation. If he could land on the one thing that truly escapes his comprehension, he’d be happy. Well, except that he is happy to be active in the searching. Again, he’s chosen a participatory role in mythmaking. And it gives him energy.

Debby: Oh brilliant! This ties in perfectly with the first section of The Manticore. As David seeks psychiatric help, he tries to describe the “powerful force” that Magnus Eisengrim uses in his show that bothers him so much. His psychiatrist interrupts him to define it as “projection”. Ramsay is such a rigid, crotchety scholar, yet he projects an enormous amount on the world around him. He is fascinated by myth and magic. He wants to inhabit a reality in which nothing is considered “normal”. He loves the blurred line between fiction and reality.

That might be one reason Ramsay holds reservations about writing Boy Staunton’s biography. He is expected to tell the truth (and he’ll hold himself to it), yet the aura of Boy is so much greater. But Ramsay wants to have a hand in shaping things; he doesn’t want anyone, not Denyse, not Liesl, not even Eisengrim, getting in the way of his will.

Tim: Well, and he almost knows too much to make proper myth. In a lot of ways, telling mythology is filling in the holes of what is already understood. Ramsay feels like he has a pretty good grasp on who Boy is at his core. There aren’t holes for him to fill with mythic achievements. Boy was as close to myth incarnate as Ramsay ever encountered, I think, Eisengrim included. There’s nothing to propel him forward in his work, unless it’s to laud Boy’s achievements. But I don’t think Ramsay’s opinion of Boy is high enough to do such a thing.

Debby: Certainly not. The irony is that, to the rest of the world, Boy’s life appears fantastic and his death mysterious. Again, it is all perspective.

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