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This article is taken from PN Review 127, Volume 25 Number 5, May - June 1999.

Magic and Metamorphosis (The Dawson Jackson/PNR Lecture) Marina Warner

It's a tremendous honour to be invited to give the Dawson Jackson lectures: I was delighted when Michael Schmidt invited me to succeed Eavan Boland and other writers in this series. PN Review pursues an original path, sticking to ideas and writing without obeisance to fads while keeping the exigencies of lucre firmly under control.

Which brings me to the remarkable man in whose memory these lectures are given. Dawson Jackson was a poet, idealist, ecologist, benefactor, and translator. In Ice and the Orchard, he writes, under the title 'Too Severe',

No man is
Generous who has still
Something left to give. A

Generous man gives, not gold eggs, but
His goose away...

I feel very lucky to have been brushed by his rather fairy tale-like generosity, and to discover what it's like to be given a gold egg - if not the whole goose. And I hope the theme that I've chosen - the comic and utopian aspects of myth and metamorphosis, as reflected in literary fairy tales of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries - will offer a proper memorial to Dawson Jackson's great gifts: gifts in more senses than one.

Changes of shape underpin the imaginative structure of the mythical universe; in Ovid's Metamorphoses, they constitute the fundamental principle of nature, a rationale for its mysteries; transformations explain the song of the nightingale, the deformities of Scylla, the constellation of the Little ...


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