Ecological labyrinths and myths of the fall: An earth-centred approach to The Lord of the Rings and His Dark Materials
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AuthorsGreenfield, Stephen Richard
MetadataShow full item record
AbstractEcological criticism (ecocriticism) bifurcates between two paths that offer alternative definitions of ecology as a structure. One leads to a fixed, cyclical model, the other moves in a dynamic, evolutionary direction. These differences of orientation frame ecocritical responses that appear irreconcilable to each other. This research provides a way of reading the structure of fantasy texts as parallel to ecological structure in a way that brings the two definitions of ecology into dialogue. The divergence in approaches to ecocriticism has caused a chasm to open between the respective ends of an ecocritical spectrum in the polemical positions of deep ecology and ecohumanism. These positions reflect fundamental differences over the structure of ecology and tend toward mutual antagonism. This research addresses division in facilitating dialogue through analysis of structural ecological positions as a binary that creates meaning. Such a comparative approach leads to a nuanced understanding of ecological structure and its articulation through narrative design. The reading draws out structural ecological meaning, highlights inconsistencies and weaknesses, and reconciles divergent polemical positions as complementary. The general principle of reading the quest hero as exemplifying ecological structure has been used by Rachel McCoppin in her analysis of mythological texts to identify ‘botanical heroism’. McCoppin chose to map myths from pre-Darwinian ages to a simple seasonal cycle of nature as her structural model. As such her research does not deal with the complex and nuanced twentieth-century confusion over ecological structure. My research confronts that problem, proposing a method for understanding discontinuities that are, in any case, ecological in nature. I arrived at an alternative to the cycle of nature that articulates the struggle to define a pattern of ecological relationships, in the form of the labyrinth. The labyrinth comprises a dichotomy. On the one hand a unicursal model articulates structure as a series of concentric loops that act as boundaries and lead toward a point of illumination. This model incorporates the cycle of nature within a more complex scheme than McCoppin’s seasonal model of regeneration. On the other hand the labyrinth in multicursal form comprises a maze that resists regularity, replacing certainty with choice leading either to continued progress or dead-ends. The labyrinth as a symbol of alienation, disorientation and confusion captures the ambition of ecological readings of quests to reconcile humanity and nature. I apply the eco- labyrinthine model to my reading of two of the twentieth-centuries most popular quest fantasies, J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings and Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials. The following study shows that an eco-labyrinthine approach to reading modern fantasy quest provides a way of bringing together alternative perspectives of ecological structure in a dialogue that undermines claims to mutual exclusivity. By way of answers the eco-labyrinth provides a spectrum, or continuum, against which to plot inconsistencies. It opens up questions about heroism mapped against an ecological model. This thesis illustrates how an eco-labyrinthine exegesis works in relation to certain texts to reassess their ecocritical meaning. Some of the questions this research raises about how authors engage with ecology, biodiversity and evolution through structural modelling of fictitious worlds, reflected in narrative structure, will necessarily benefit from a lively and continuing debate.
PublisherUniversity of Wolverhampton
TypeThesis or dissertation
DescriptionA thesis submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements of the University of Wolverhampton for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy.
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