The Characters

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

Horace Zagreus is no less an “ape” than the zoological exhibits that he arranges for Dan. In spite of his verbal brilliance, his flawed judgment is shown by his choice of cloddish Dan as “genius” and disciple. Even Pierpoint, who invisibly presides over all and whom many commentators see as the author’s voice, is suspect, for he has picked Zagreus as his ambassador. Lewis, the painter, sought cold, unemotional objectivity in the depiction of literary characters. His distrust of subjective emotion is reflected in the name “Zagreus,” one of the names of the Greek Dionysus, a god of unrestrained emotions. Although Zagreus is derided by his author for his unbridled enthusiasms (while using him as a vehicle to revile still other characters), it is precisely these qualities that make Zagreus the most interesting character in the book.

Much of the narrative is told from the viewpoint (but not in the voice) of Dan, who attends one zoological exhibit after another at the behest of his mentor. Although this has the advantage of a hilariously naive point of view, Dan is too dull to sustain the interest of the reader or to carry the narrative for long periods—as he is sometimes required to do. Lewis’ characters are not people but grotesques, representatives of human imperfections and folly. Dan is merely a foil to bring out their inanities, which are brilliantly showcased. Most of the characters are then dropped—often never to reappear.

Matthew Plunkett and Melanie Blackwell are good...

(The entire section is 620 words.)