chapter  2
46 Pages

Modes of Liminality in Medieval Romance

WithPiotr Spyra

Chapter 2 presents an overview of the various levels on which Van Gennepian anthropology emerges as a fundamental methodological context for understanding fairies in medieval romance. Arguing that fairies embody the power and danger of the liminal phase, the chapter first explores the idea of grafting in Sir Orfeo, both on the literal level of arboreal grafting referred to in the poem and with regard to the grafting of various discourses and different planes of reality in the text. Investigating how fairies contribute to the aporetic reading experience of Sir Orfeo and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, the argument then points out the centrality of the theme of ambiguity for fairy romance. The next section discusses fairies as agents of transformation and growth in Sir Orfeo, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and Sir Launfal in order to explain why, despite the intimate link between liminality and rites of passage, this is not the most fundamental manifestation of their liminal nature to be found in medieval romance. Finally, the chapter addresses fairy-related pollution laws and taboos in Sir Orfeo and Thomas of Erceldoune, before concluding by looking again at the text of Thomas in an attempt to gauge its generic liminality.