The Manticore – The Deptford Trilogy #2 by Robertson Davies

“You are not in the least like Judy Wolff.”

“Certainly not — in one way. In another way — let us see. Have you had any dreams since last time?”

“Last night I dreamed of you.”


“It was a dream in colour. I found myself in an underground passage, but some light was entering it, because I could see that it was decorated with wall-paintings, in the late Roman manner. The whole atmosphere of the dream was Roman, but the Rome of the decadence; I don’t know how I knew that, but I felt it. I was in modern clothes. I was about to walk down the passage when my attention was taken by the first picture on the left-hand side. These pictures, you understand, were large, almost life-size, and in the warm but not reflective colours of Roman frescoes. The first picture — I couldn’t see any others — was of you, dressed as a sibyl in a white robe with a blue mantle; you were smiling. On a chain you held a lion, which was staring out of the picture. The lion had a man’s face. My face.”

“Any other details?”

“The lion’s tail ended in a kind of spike, or barb.”

“Ah, a manticore!”

“A what?”

“A manticore is a fabulous creature with a lion’s body, a man’s face, and a sting in his tail.”

“I never heard of it.”

“No, they are not common, even in myths.”

“How can I dream about something I’ve never heard of?”

“That is a very involved matter, which really belongs to the second part of your analysis. But it is a good sign that this sort of material is making its way into your dreams already. People very often dream of things they don’t know. They dream of minotaurs without ever having heard of a minotaur. Thoroughly respectable women who have never heard of Pasiphae dream that they are a queen who is enjoying sexual congress with a bull. It is because great myths are not invented stories but objectivizations of images and situations that lie very deep in the human spirit; a poet may make a great embodiment of a myth, but it is the mass of humanity that knows the myth to be a spiritual truth, and that is why they cherish his poem. These myths, you know, are very widespread; we may hear them as children, dressed in pretty Greek guises, but they are African, Oriental, Red Indian — all sorts of things.”

“I should like to argue that point.”

“Yes, I know, but let us take a short cut. What do you suppose this dream means?”

“That I am your creature, under your subjection, kept on a short string.”

“Why are you so sure that I am the woman in the sibyl’s robe?”

“How can it be anyone else? It looked like you. You are a sibyl. I love you. You have me under your control.”

“You m ust believe me when I tell you that the only person you can be certain of recognizing in a dream is yourself. The woman might be me. Because of what you feel about me — please excuse me if I say what you at present suppose you feel about me — the woman could be me, but if so why do I not appear as myself, in this modern coat and skirt with which I am sure you are becoming wearily familiar.”

“Because dreams are fanciful. They go in for fancy dress.”

“I assure you that dreams are not fanciful. They always mean exactly what they say, but they do not speak the language of every day. So they need interpretation, and we cannot always be sure we have interpreted all, or interpreted correctly. But we can try. You appear in this dream; you are in two forms, yourself and this creature with your face. What do you make of that?”

“I suppose I am observing my situation. You see, I have learned something about dream interpretation from you. And my situation is that I am under your dominance; willingly so.”

“Women have not appeared in your dreams very prominently, or in a flattering light, until recently. But this sibyl has the face of someone you love. Did you think it was the face of someone who loved you?”

“Yes. Or at any rate someone who cared about me. Who was guiding me, obviously. The smile had extraordinary calm beauty. So who could it be but you?”

“But why are you a manticore?”

“I haven’t any idea. And as I never heard of a manticore till now, I have no association with it.”

“But we have met a few animals in your dreams before now. What was Felix?”

“We agreed that Felix was a figure who meant some rather kind impulses and some bewilderment that I was not quite willing to accept as my own. We called him the Friend.”

“Yes. The Animal-Friend, and because an animal, related to the rather undeveloped instinctual side of your nature. He was one of the characters in your inner life. Like the Shadow. Now, as your sister Caroline used to say, you know my methods, Watson. You know that when the Shadow and the Friend appeared, they had a special vividness. I felt the vividness and I bore the character of Shadow and Friend. That was quite usual; part of my professional task. I told you I should play many roles. This latest dream of yours is vivid, and apparently simple, and clearly important. What about the manticore?”

“Well, as he is an animal, I suppose he is some baser aspect of me. But as he is a lion, he can’t be wholly base. And he has a human face, my face, so he can’t be wholly animal. Though I must say the expression on the face was fierce and untrustworthy. And there I run out of ideas.”

“What side of your nature have we considered as not being so fully developed as it could be?”

“Oh, my feeling. Though I must say once more that I have plenty of feeling, even if I don’t understand and use it well.”

“So might not your undeveloped feeling turn up in a dream as a noble creature, but possibly dangerous and only human in part?”

“This is the fanciful side of this work that always rouses my resistance.”

“We have agreed, have we not, that everything that makes man a great, as opposed to a merely sentient creature, is fanciful when tested by what people call common sense? That common sense often means no more than yesterday’s opinions? That every great advance began in the realm of the fanciful? That fantasy is the mother not merely of art, but of science as well? I am sure that when the very first primitives began to think that they were individuals and not creatures of a herd and wholly bound by the ways of the herd, they seemed fanciful to their hairy, low-browed brothers — even though those hairy lowbrows had no concept of fantasy.”

“I know. You think the law has eaten me up. But I have lived by reason, and this is unreason.”

“I think nothing of the kind. I think you do not understand the law. So far as we can discover, anything like a man that has inhabited this earth lived by some kind of law, however crude. Primitives have law of extraordinary complexity. How did they get it? If they worked it out as a way of living tribally, it must once have been fantasy. If they simply knew what to do from the beginning, it must have been instinct, like the nest-building instinct of birds.”

“Very well; if I accept that the lion represents my somewhat undeveloped feeling, what about it?”

“Not a lion; a manticore. Do not forget that stinging tail. The undeveloped feelings are touchy — very defensive. The manticore can be extremely dangerous. Sometimes he is even described as hurling darts from his tail, as people once thought the porcupine did. Not a bad picture of you in court, would you say? Head of a man, brave and dangerous as a lion, capable of wounding with barbs? But not a whole man, or a whole lion, or a merely barbed opponent. A manticore. The Unconscious chooses its symbolism with breath-taking artistic virtuosity.”

“All right. Suppose I am the manticore. Why shouldn’t you be the sibyl?”

“Because we have come to a part of our work together where a woman, or a variety of women, are very likely to appear in your dreams in just some such special relationship to you as this. Did you notice the chain?”

“I noticed everything, and I can call it up now. It was a handsome gold chain.”

“Good. That is much better than if it had been an iron chain, or a chain with spikes. Now, what have we: an image that appears on the left-hand side, which means that it comes from the Unconscious –“

Page: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44 45 46 47 48 49 50 51 52 53 54 55 56 57 58 59 60 61 62 63 64 65

Categories: Davies, Robertson