Last week I raised the issue of the frequent, sometimes intense disapproval of popular storytelling in our time: of the “category fiction” that sells millions of copies while “literary fiction” sells thousands, and of the corresponding forms of commercial film. These works are often regarded as trash rather than art, and dismissed as, at best, a waste of time, at worst a form of self-destructive addiction. When social anxieties invade a debate over the arts, the conversation quickly becomes muddled and irrational. In such cases, the useful thing to do is to detach and look first at the larger picture, which often involves taking a historical long view. I began to do that last time, only to find that my long view got so long that I was unable to arrive back in the present time by the end of the newsletter, and promised to complete the discussion in this present newsletter.
All forms of storytelling descend from, and inherit the narrative patterns of, the first forms of storytelling, myth and folktale (once again, for our purposes “folktale” and “fairytale” are synonymous). Popular storytelling descends more directly from folktale via the literary form known as romance, of which the commercial category of “romance” is only a subvariant. From folktale to romance to popular storytelling: the relationship is not causal. A writer of popular fiction today has probably not been influenced by older romance or folktale. The relationship is one of resemblance, of recurring formulas that recur because they express deep human concerns, enduring desires and anxieties. Like folktales, however, popular stories are told for entertainment, and are thus relatively free both of the ideological baggage of mythology, with its desire to teach and reinforce sacred and political truths, and also of the moral seriousness of realism and irony, which work to challenge, often to subvert or “demystify,” to use a critical buzz term, the popular formulas.
Not every realist has been hostile to romance, as George Eliot showed by writing Silas Marner, a modernized folktale. But demystification tends to become something of a crusade. I remember a television interview in which the literary critic Harold Bloom dismissed the Harry Potter stories as “goo” in comparison to earlier, greater examples of what we might call children’s romances for all ages. Mind you, Harold Bloom loved to play the role of the maverick, which could be defined as someone who achieves fame and influence by repeatedly and publicly shooting himself in the foot, like John McCain or Boris Johnson. But what greater romances did Bloom have in mind? I was around when The Lord of the Rings became a publishing phenomenon in the 1960’s, and there were plenty of mainstream critics who found it pretty gooey.
What are the formulas of romance that make their way, in contemporary commercialized form, into today’s popular fiction and film? We all know them, so deeply that it sometimes seems they must be innate, the products of some kind of collective unconscious, as depth psychologist C.G. Jung maintained. But it is equally possible that they sank into our minds so early and so deeply that we cannot remember having learned them—much like language itself. The general formula of romance is simple: a contest between good and evil, light and darkness, hero and villain, often taking the form of the hero’s quest to achieve something redemptive. The circular form of the quest adventure that Joseph Campbell calls the Monomyth in The Hero with a Thousand Faces might better be called a Monoromance, as we can see by its resemblance to the pattern Tolkien traces in his famous essay on fairy tales. The circular quest hits bottom at a moment of crisis and lowest fortunes, often including threatened, seeming, or temporary death, before the upward turn that Tolkien called the eucatastrophe, often a symbolic rebirth.
There is one further feature of romance that I did not identify last time, however: the presence of another realm on the other side—whatever that means—of ordinary reality. When I was editing Northrop Frye’s notebooks on romance, I began calling this realm the Otherworld, out of Celtic romance, and that term worked its way into The Productions of Time. I have since discovered that other critics have picked up the term, presumably from the same source. The Otherworld is a place of magic and wonder, but also of darkness and danger. Farah Mendelssohn, in Rhetorics of Fantasy, defines a “portal fantasy” as one in which the characters travel from the ordinary world to the Otherworld through some kind of gateway: a looking-glass in the Alice books, the back of a wardrobe in C.S. Lewis’s Narnia books, the wall of a railway station in Harry Potter. What she calls an “immersion fantasy” is set entirely within the Otherworld, like The Lord of the Rings. The Otherworld is ambiguous, shifting, metamorphic, resembling dream more than waking reality. But for that very reason it represents a hidden power of change, and is therefore necessary to bring about the eucatastrophe or happy ending. It is a symbol of the latent power of the imagination itself.
Last week’s discussion ended by distinguishing between the literary fantasy written by serious romancers like Hawthorne, or, like George Eliot, realists on an outing, and the main form of popular romance, the melodrama of the 19th century theatre, of which early silent film is a direct descendent. As last week I used Robertson Davies as a guide to the little-known world of melodrama, this week I will make grateful use of another intrepid explorer of the literary frontier, John G. Cawelti, whose book Adventure, Mystery, and Romance: Formula Stories as Art and Popular Culture provides an invaluable encyclopedic guide to popular category fiction up to its publication in 1976. Cawelti was that rare phenomenon, a scholar with full academic credentials who, appropriate to the material he is discussing, is also wonderfully readable. I discovered him through Gary Wolfe, an important critic of science fiction and fantasy who began as one of Cawelti’s students, so it was a pleasant surprise to discover that Cawelti acknowledges a primary debt to Northrop Frye’s Anatomy of Criticism and its theory of archetypes or recurrent forms (319). Cawelti is explicitly aware that modern formula stories derive from melodrama rather than literary romance, which means, as he says, that he has to modify Frye’s discussion for his own purposes. He was not able to make use of Frye’s own, equally readable book on romance, The Secular Scripture, because it was synchronistically published the same year as his own book, 1976, but the two books agree about what can be gained by venturing into the valley of the disreputable.
After a theoretical overview, Cawelti begins his historical exploration by discussing a form of formula fiction that, unusually, has been enjoyed by both popular and educated, elite readers, the mystery or detective story. The enjoyment is not unanimous: the famous literary critic Edmund Wilson, in a notorious essay that appeared in the New Yorker in 1944, said that the appeal of mystery stories by otherwise intelligent people was a mystery to him (he has a theory, but it’s a silly one). Other intellectuals have loved the form, however, including my hero Jacques Barzun, who, with Wendell Hertig Taylor, compiled a major bibliography, A Catalogue of Crime (1971). We now know from his diaries and notebooks that Northrop Frye was addicted to mystery stories, even though for reasons that are actually somewhat a mystery to him, and that he occasionally scratches his head about. Cawelti points to the diminishing popularity of the mystery story since its heyday in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. His explanation is mostly sociological: the pleasure of seeing the murderer apprehended is one of seeing a return to secure conditions after seeing an unknown threat to the social order neutralized. But the criminal motives are usually individual rather than systemic, often just sheer greed for money and status, and the social order, including the class system, is implied to be relatively stable and benevolent. This genially conservative view of the world is not, to put it mildly, the one that we are living in now.
Recently, Kenneth Branagh, famous for making Shakespeare intelligently accessible, has offered film versions of two of Agatha Christie’s most famous detective stories, Murder on the Orient Express and, just this year, Death on the Nile. Are these mere exercises in nostalgia? In Death on the Nile, Branagh stresses the date of the action, 1937, at the end of the brief period between one world war and the next. As we learn in the introductory and concluding scenes, Christie’s detective, Hercule Poirot, was seriously wounded and horribly disfigured while fighting in the trenches in World War I. He sports his ridiculous-seeming huge mustache in order to cover the hideous scars of that accident, which led to the break-up of his romance. Ever since, the solitary Poirot anesthetizes his grief and loneliness by immersing himself in the cerebral pleasure of detection. By the end of the main plot, however, as the finger of guilt successively seems to point, in true mystery-tale fashion, to just about every member of the cast, although only two people are actually responsible for the murder, in the process of uncovering them, Poirot has seen the selfish greed, snobbery, envy, and cruelty beneath the respectable masks of those who are innocent only the exact legal sense. This is Agatha Christie channeling Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, another tale about a journey into the dark Otherworld, here symbolized as Egypt. No cozy conservatism here.
Poe invented not only the form of the mystery tale but the figure of the detective as an eccentric but brilliant figure whose powers of detection are invariably far ahead of the plodding efforts of the police. Arthur Conan Doyle developed this type into the most famous detective of them all, Sherlock Holmes, and Cawelti is not alone in identifying Holmes as an adaptation of the Romantic figure of the solitary genius. Holmes’s claim to be a purely ratiocinative calculating machine is belied by his cocaine addiction and his moody violin playing. He claims to have disciplined himself into a detached, impersonal objectivity as a scientist does: his detection is an application of scientific method, and in his first meeting with Dr. Watson he is very proud of his monograph on the varieties of cigar ash.
Yet Holmes does not employ logic alone, but in rather in conjunction with a pattern-reading intuition and an insight into the depths of human nature. In short, although he too is a kind of wounded hero, he is also the hero as what Wallace Stevens called a figure of capable imagination. It is the imagination that, as we tell students, can read patterns that other people do not even see as patterns, thereby seeing far more of reality than ordinary people see. Holmes is no wimp: he is strong enough to struggle with Moriarty as they go over the Reichenbach Falls, but he is not the kind of action figure he was made into when played by Robert Downey, Jr. Quite the contrary: Holmes would agree with the repeated aphorism in Isaac Asimov’s Foundation Trilogy that “Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent.” One wishes Vladimir Putin had read more mystery stories when he was young instead of the thrillers he probably did read. It is no mystery why so many intellectuals love mysteries: on one level, they feature the Hero as Interpreter. But the pattern-reading imagination is by no means the exclusive property of intellectuals, which is why I think the mystery story, although it may be past its fifteen minutes of fame, will survive as a perennial story form.
Cawelti devotes an extensive chapter to a category that, unlike the well-known categories of mystery, Western, hard-boiled detective, and the like, is hitherto undefined. He calls it the “social melodrama,” which is, as he says, “defined by the combination of melodramatic structure and character with something that passes for a ‘realistic’ social or historical setting” (261):
If the setting is contemporary, the author, typically, will structure his story around an “inside” look at a major modern institution (Arthur Hailey, Airport, Wheels; Joseph Wambaugh, The New Centurions) or event (Irving Wallace, The Prize, The Chapman Report, The Plot). In other cases the effect of significant reality is generated by making the story a fictionalized version of the lives of some well-known group of celebrities (cf. the works of Harold Robbins or Jacqueline Susann) or of an actual place (Grace Metalious’s Peyton Place). (262)
I do not know whether any of these names and titles will have recognition value to a younger generation, but they will jog the memory of anyone who was around in the 60’s and 70’s. This was the heyday of the television soap operas, which I would say were also social melodramas. Indeed, Peyton Place became a soap opera running from 1964-1969—not my usual fare, but I watched it because I was a teenager with a crush on the 19-year-old Mia Farrow in her debut role as Allison MacKenzie. I am not sure what the fictional successors of these social melodramas would be, but in television of the 90’s I would suggest law enforcement shows like Law and Order and NYPD Blue, and medical shows like ER and Chicago Hope, themselves successors to earlier TV shows like Ben Casey and Dr. Kildare. Within recent years almost any biopic would fit the criteria, and, in television, something like The West Wing.
The forefather of social melodrama is Dickens, who combines serious social commentary with a melodramatic plot so labyrinthine that it is almost too hard to follow and close-up soap opera concerning the principal characters. The social commentary at times resembles investigative journalism focused on institutional corruption, as in Bleak House, with its alternating chapters focused in turn upon the institutional dysfunctionality of the law courts and the individual dysfunctionality of Esther Summerson’s soap opera life. It is a curiously double-minded form:
[T]he social setting is often treated rather critically with a good deal of anatomizing of the hidden motives, secret corruption, and human folly underlying certain events or institutions; yet the main plot works out in proper melodramatic fashion to affirm, after appropriate tribulations and sufferings, that God is in his heaven and all’s right with the world. (261)
Sir Walter Scott, creator of the historical romance, has one novel with a strong element of social melodrama in it, The Heart of Mid-Lothian, which, possibly for that reason, some critics consider his best. Scott was a lawyer, and, like Bleak House, the plot turns upon a courtroom trial in which the heroine, for both religious and moral reasons, refuses to lie in her sworn testimony even to save her sister’s life. I had a talent for blundering into the right courses in graduate school at the University of Toronto, and possibly the best course I took, not counting Frye’s, was Jane Millgate’s The Scott Tradition. From it I remember that The Heart of Mid-Lothian was made into a stage melodrama reviewed, if I remember right, by George Bernard Shaw. At the moment when the heroine nobly refuses to lie, a working-class voice from the audience shouted out, “I’d’a sworn a hole through an iron pot!” and brought down the house.
Mention of Sir Walter Scott takes the next step in the historical argument, as Scott’s form of the historical romance was adopted in the United States by James Fenimore Cooper, who became known as the American Scott. Cooper’s five Leatherstocking novels were instrumental in creating both the myth of the Western frontier that has had a profound influence on American ideology and the American imagination and also on the type of formula fiction that eventually became the Western. An unexpected side-effect of getting old is that you become an accidental witness, sometimes the only remaining witness in the room, to earlier phases of American history. I grew up in the golden years of the TV and movie Western, when the story of the Western frontier was regarded as the genuine American epic, before it all went bad, brought down in a wave of justified anti-imperialistic revisionism. There is a famously embarrassing photo of me around the age of five, in full cowboy outfit, drawing my six-guns upon the cameraman, my father.
Scott’s importance goes beyond the novelty of placing romances in a historical setting, in the case of his most important romances various phases of Scottish history. He was a genuine mythmaker, and in his first novel, Waverley (1815), he turned the historical conflict leading up to the defeat by the English of the Scottish Highlanders in the battle of Culloden in 1745 into a myth of contending cultural forces. The English and Lowland Scots stand for law, civilization, capitalism, and good old common sense that Scott the lawyer admired. But Scott the Romantic artist felt his imagination stirred by the passion, proud individualism, and imaginative vitality of Highland culture. The Highlands become Scott’s Otherworld, to which his hero, the partly autobiographical Edward Waverley, journeys in order to resolve the conflict in his mind between law and liberty, reason and feeling, reality and an imagination volcanically erupting after long repression. The currently ongoing television series Outlander, based on a series of best-selling popular romances, shifts the focus of interest from historical conflict to the love story of a British nurse who time travels back to the 1740’s and falls in love with a Highland rebel.
What Cooper did was to transfer Scott’s historical myth to the United States. In the myth of the West, the Eastern United States slowly spreads its orderly, lawful, prosperous civilization westward. But the ease and security of civilization lead to decadence, conformism stifles individuality, social manners repress spontaneous impulse, and decadence eventually results not just in effeminate softness but in self-seeking corruption. The best Americans, like Cooper’s Natty Bummpo, become increasingly restless and hemmed in by Eastern society and light out for the frontier, the American Otherworld. The frontier, however, keeps shifting, and Natty, called Leatherstocking, has to shift with it. When he was younger the frontier was the still-virgin forests of the East, where he could hang out with his Indian friend Chingachgook. However, by his old age, it has relocated westward to the prairie, where he dies, but where the myth of the Old West is born.
Natty is a scout and frontiersman, the advance guard of the westward movement, followed by the pioneers, the peaceful farmers of such romances as Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House on the Prairie series. But the West is a tough place, and farmers did not make good heroes, so the pioneer gave way eventually to the figure of the rugged rancher and his even more rugged cowboys. But the West is also a lawless place, where the only justice is that which you can enforce personally with a gun. So the cowboys and ranchers were gradually upstaged by the ultimate Western hero, the gunfighter, with whom the cycle of historical epic returned full circle to the point where it began in Homer’s Iliad: the hero is the man of violence. The comparison is exact, for Achilles and the Western gunfighter survive only by building up a reputation for being better at violence than anyone else, a reputation made and sustained through relentless competition. The implications of this slow evolution—or devolution—worked themselves out slowly, from the dime novels of the later 19th century to early Western novelists like Owen Wister (The Virginian), Zane Gray, and Max Brand, down to the television and film Westerns of my childhood.
There were plenty of gunfighters who fought to protect the women, the farmers, the townspeople, the defenseless peaceable citizens; some of these were in fact agents of the law. Others were romanticized outlaws, Robin Hood with a revolver.
But gradually it became clear that the Western Otherworld had been captured by an ideology of Social Darwinism, of the survival of the fittest in a ruthless and violent competition. Faced with psychotic, inhuman viciousness. whether of white bad guys or Indian “savages,” the only recourse, to protect both yourself and those you love, is to become inhumanly violent yourself. The price you pay is to become less than human, unfit to live inside the world you have protected. Clint Eastwood’s entire career has been devoted to working out the implications of this scenario, from his early days as the Man with No Name in the “spaghetti Westerns” of Sergio Leone through the modernized figure of Dirty Harry to the last showdown with tragic pessimism in Unforgiven.
Westerns have largely disappeared because the Wild West disappeared: the West because the expansion finally reached the Pacific, the “Wild” because the process or modernization and urbanization had become complete by the middle of the twentieth century. In addition, the myth of the frontier, as noted earlier, has been relentlessly critiqued: its shadow side, its exceptionalist imperialism, its sexism, its treatment of Indigenous peoples have all ensured that the only Westerns produced these days are deeply revisionist, like The Power of the Dog. What has replaced the Western is the crime story in all its forms: the hard-boiled detective novel and film, film noir, the spy story and thriller, the gangster novel, including stories and films about organized crime, like The Godfather. The myth of the Western frontier was a source of idealism and hopefulness for generations of Americans. Its decline, combined with the problems of modernized, urbanized life, produced a deep disillusionment, especially in men. “The social setting of both gangster melodrama and hard-boiled detective story,” Cawelti says, “was the corrupt and violent American city ruled by a hidden alliance of rich and respectable businessmen, politicians, and criminals” (61). The hard-boiled detective in a novel of the 30’s or the 40’s by Dashiell Hammett or Raymond Chandler, finds as he uncovers the motivation of a crime that his real antagonist is not one bad man but an entire hidden network of corruption so extensive that it comes close to seeming the real form of society itself. If this sounds like QAnon or paranoid fantasies of a “deep state,” that is exactly the point. Cawelti’s analysis of crime novels, itself now fifty years old, examining formulas that go back by now almost a century, reveals that what has seemed in the last half dozen years a sudden, inexplicable eruption of irrationality, of paranoia fascinated by violence, has actually been building for a very long time.
Cawelti’s primary example of this paranoia is not the literate and sophisticated Hammett or Chandler but rather the crude and psychotically violent Mickey Spillane, for a while in the position that Stephen King is more or less in now, of being the best-selling writer in the world, but for much more dubious reasons. All Spillane’s novels have revenge plots. The first and most famous is called I, the Jury (1947), but Spillane’s “hero,” Mike Hammer, is in fact judge, jury, and, most especially, executioner. His equivalent in high culture is Travis Bickle in Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver. I always remember the image of Bickle exercising furiously in order to get in shape before he goes out to shoot down some of the scum of the earth, a John Wayne Western playing on the TV behind him.
The following description of Spillane is so uncannily prophetic of our own time that it is chilling:
Spillane also brings to this formula something of the fervor and passion of the popular evangelical religious tradition that has been such a dominant element in the culture of lower-middle- and lower-class America. It is certainly no accident that this tradition also exemplifies many of Spillane’s primary social hostilities: rural suspicion of urban sophistication; nativist hatred or racial and ethnic minorities; the ambiguous hostility toward women of those anxious of their status and concerned about the erosion of masculine dominance. But, above all, it is the similar intensity of passion, growing out of a bitter, overpowering hatred of the world as a sinful and corrupt place that unites Spillane with the popular evangelical tradition. (190)
The only thing that Cawelti gets wrong about Spillane is what he calls “the fact that he is a prophet of the past, that his vision of the brutal redeemer Mike Hammer is the agonized final outcry of the evangelistic subculture of a rural America about to be swallowed up in the pluralistic, cosmopolitan world of the cities” (190-91). Unfortunately, this sounds like something that could have been said by a complacent member of the Democratic National Committee on the eve of the 2016 presidential election. Instead, Spillane has been a prophet in the traditional direction after all, a John the Baptist who foresees the coming of a Messiah to summon up a mob to storm the Capitol, hang all the traitorous elite, and make America great again.
Despite its misleading title, Adventure, Mystery, and Romance contains no discussion of romance in its narrower definition as a form of category fiction. The Western and the crime novel have a largely male audience and revolve around masculine obsessions, but the category romance is intended for women. The formula women’s romance is a love story whose plot is a woman’s search for the ideal man, defined as one who is sexually exciting and yet also sensitive—at least eventually, though he may have to be tamed a little—highly intelligent, and, last but not least, rich. In the masculine world of the Western and crime novel, women are helpless pawns in a boy game of violence. They exist to be rescued or to sit and keep the home fires burning while the men go off and do what a man’s gotta do. A woman who does not play this role is a dangerous temptress.
A typical women’s-romance fantasy inverts this male scenario: its plot is essentially that of Beauty and the Beast, the domesticating of the rugged, savage male just enough to make him a good husband but not so much as to make him boring. The plot has been enduring: it is already present in Samuel Richardson’s Pamela (1740), arguably the first novel, in which Mr. B. has to convinced that it isn’t polite to be a rapist before he can become a proper husband. With slightly more Gothic trappings it is the plot of Jane Eyre, and is still going strong in the revival of the Gothic as the paranormal romance—and beyond. Fifty Shades of Gray, whose sales numbers have been on the Mickey Spillane level, began as a fan-fiction spinoff of the Twilight vampire romances, substituting a BDSM dungeon for a Gothic one. In it, the heroine eventually has to run from the ironically named Christian when he proves too uncontrollable to be tamed. Wuthering Heights, again in the Gothic tradition, mirrors two scenarios. In the younger generation, Cathy tames the brutish Hareton, and they live happily ever after. But in the older generation, Catherine does not want to tame Heathcliff because she is as ferocious as he is. For such untamable spirits, the only possible happy ending is precisely as spirits: the couple roam the moors eternally as ghosts.
The role of women begins to hint at an alternative to the dismal scenarios we have been examining, and this suggestion is developed in Northrop Frye’s treatment of both popular and literary romance in The Secular Scripture. There, Frye says that “At the heart of all literature is what I have called the cycle of forza and froda, where violence and guile are coiled up within each other like the yin-and-yang emblem” (87). Frye uses Italian terms for force and fraud because these are the two worst sins in Dante’s Inferno, although they are also the two Classical heroic virtues, the violence of Achilles and the fraud of Odysseus. But, Frye goes on to say, “the growth of what we have been calling sentimental romance takes us into a second imaginative universe” (91). If the perspective we may call consensus reality ends in ironic pessimism, the imagination may always change the paradigm—as it does in the category of fantasy, one of three forms of what we may call non-mimetic romance along with its cousins science fiction and horror.
Cawelti’s book does not venture to discuss these non-mimetic categories, but Frye’s does. These days there is plenty of dark romance, shading into horror, but there is also the possibility of a transvaluation of romance from tragic to comic, from ironic to hopeful, so that force and fraud become positive virtues: “The comic side of this, the victory of guile, often takes the form of a triumph of a slave or maltreated heroine, or other figure associated with physical weakness. With the rise of the romantic ethos, heroism comes increasingly to be thought of in terms of suffering, endurance, and patience….Such a change in the conception of heroism largely accounts for the prominence of female figures in romance” (88). Frye notes that “This is also the ethos of the Christian myth” (88), but such a Christianity is a far cry from the kind of right-wing Christian authoritarianism that is really the religious adjunct of fascism—not really religion at all, but rather the euphoric godlike intoxication of the will to power.
Often the happy ending of such transvalued romance is brought about by a motley crew of marginalized characters. In the original Star Wars, what a later episode calls a new hope depends on the teamwork of an orphan, a woman, a genial outlaw Trickster, his furry companion, and two goofball robots. The hero’s mentor is a diminutive, syntactically challenged alien with big ears. Together, these defeat the forces of a seemingly all-powerful Empire. In The Secrets of Dumbledore, the third episode of the Harry Potter prequel Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, the triumph of the power-intoxicated Grindelwald is prevented by the conjunction of the childlike Newt Scamander, not so good with people but possessed of an empathic gift with animals; a fantastic beast who bows to the rightful ruler; and a Muggle named Kowalski, a baker who learns that he is more heroic than he thinks he is but whose main concern in the end is that the pierogis be properly prepared for the wedding.
Would it be better to acquire one’s wisdom through literature and films that were more artistic? That is a difficult question, complicated by the fact that, while a lot of popular art is basically throwaway, there is another kind that has its own artistry and its own profundity, different from that of high-culture art but valuable in its own right. Criticism has not yet fully recognized this, much less developed means to distinguish between the two. If it ever does, it may come to understand how it can be that the stone that the builders rejected may become the cornerstone of the edifice that Frye calls the order of words.
This newsletter will appear the day before Shakespeare’s birthday on April 23: a mere 458 years old and still going strong. I wanted to give a heads up so there will be time to plan all celebrations properly and get the pierogis right. Even though in Hamlet the Poles are fighting the Danes.
My own commemoration will be a newsletter next week on Hamlet, in conjunction with the film The Northman, based on the original version of the Hamlet story in a medieval Danish chronicle, which opens here in Cleveland on April 21.
Cawelti, John G. Mystery, Adventure, and Romance: Formula Stories as Art and Popular Culture. University of Chicago Press, 1976.
Frye, Northrop. The Secular Scripture: A Study of the Structure of Romance. In The Secular Scripture and Other Writings on Critical Theory, 1976-1991, edited by Joseph Adamson and Jean Wilson. Volume 18 of The Collected Works of Northrop Frye, University of Toronto Press, 2006. Originally published by Harvard University Press, 1976.
Mendlesohn, Farah. Rhetorics of Fantasy. Wesleyan University Press, 2008.