The Course of the Heart is, in many respects, the novel that best brings together the various themes and practices of M. John Harrison’s work. He long held an impression of magic as a grimy, backstreet enterprise, something that belongs only in this world in its worst shape. This is shown in his story “The Incalling” (1978), and it is significant that the failed magical rite that the narrator finds himself unwillingly caught up in midway through The Course of the Heart is referred to as an “infolding.” Magic is something that goes not outward into the world but inward into the soul and imagination of the participants.
Harrison’s most famous sequence of novels and stories, about Viriconium, became in the end a fiction about imaginative escape from this world, for example in “A Young Man’s Journey to Viriconium” (1985). Novels in the sequence include The Pastel City (1971), A Storm of Wings (1980), and In Viriconium (1983, also titled The Floating Gods). The notion of a fantasy land alongside and accessible from the real world was further developed in another Viriconium story, “Egnaro” (1981), which was in many ways a dry run for The Course of the Heart. The central character of “Egnaro” is called Lucas and is prone to the migraines that beset Pam. As are these stories, the novel is ambivalent about escape. There are successive layers of imagination throughout the novel, but the way...
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