Gwendolyn MacEwen Elliott Gose - Essay

Elliott Gose

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

The setting of [Julian the Magician] is vaguely post-Renaissance, but the language is poetic and ironic, slangy modern and analytic. The ingredients do not mix smoothly. There remains the story: Julian is imitating Christ, as indicated not only by chapter titles but by long italicized passages paraphrased from appropriate sections of the New Testament. Consequently, the reader who knows what happened to Christ knows what happens to Julian the Magician. (pp. 36-7)

The parallels with the life of Christ are there mainly because Julian forces them on himself and others. By the time we reach the end of the novel, we are even ready to believe that they are the natural manifestation of an archetypal pattern. I mention this possibility to indicate that Miss MacEwen is also self-conscious. Undigested references to little-read religious figures help attest to this: we are given quotations from Celsus, in his anti-Christian work; Origen, the early church father who answered him; Boehme and Paracelsus; the Zohar, the Kabalah and the Pistis Sophia…. (p. 37)

Miss MacEwen needs a greater mastery of the genre to make the image patterns work for her as naturally as they do in the [fairy] tale (where the impersonal form of repeated tellings is presumably substituted for the conscious form that a single individual must give)…. [Yet] a great deal of effective patterning does exist in Julian the Magician. (pp. 40-1)

[By] allowing "the dead and disappeared life" to awaken in Julian and through him in other characters in the novel, Miss MacEwen has created patterns which may awaken her readers also. The only thing she lacks is enough control of the novel as a form, and by the time she gets into the diary, she has begun to develop that too. For the reader who can suspend his disbelief, Julian the Magician has a lot to offer. (p. 44)

Elliott Gose, "They Shall Have Arcana," in Canadian Literature, Summer, 1964, pp. 36-45.