1st Edition

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

By Piotr Spyra Copyright 2020
    228 Pages
    by Routledge

    228 Pages
    by Routledge

    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, folklorists as well as scholars working within the fields of cultural history and contemporary literary theory.


    Chapter 1

    Liminal Fairies: the Anthropological Paradigm

    Chapter 2

    Modes of Liminality in Medieval Romance

    Chapter 3

    The Philosophical Paradigm

    Chapter 4

    The Khoratic Nature of Fairies

    Chapter 5

    The Gift and the Promise: Ambiguity in Khoratic Contracts

    Chapter 6

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



    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.

    "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 fiction, 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."

    Ronald Hutton, Bristol University



    "The Liminality of Fairies offers an innovative, superbly researched study of the relationship between medieval romance and fairylore, one that offers new insights and provides a firm foundation for future research."

    Dr Juliette Wood, Cardiff University